Summer Wheat Field, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
I hope you are excited about embarking on a summer of creativity! Please use this blog as a source of information, support, and inspiration as you hone your talent, skills, and discipline to create a body of work. This is your first step toward completing your AP Portfolio and discovering your personal artistic voice.
Be sure to check this blog often and remember any resources you may need can be found under the "Course References." Of course, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to post a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I thought we would start with one of my favorite paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, one of his wheat field series. Van Gogh lived in the late 19th century. Although he was Dutch, he worked extensively in France. Finding city life overwhelming to his delicate health and spirit, he preferred to work in the country. He only painted for 10 years of his life, yet created over 800 paintings!
I always find landscape sketching/painting to be one of my favorite activities in the summer. I am especially fond of getting on my bicycle and exploring the countryside in search of a visually compelling composition and captivating color. What are the kinds of things specifically that I look for? Well, let's take a look at Van Gogh's work closely and see exactly how he used the Elements and Principles of Art to create a masterpiece. Note how Van Gogh incorporates overlapping landscape elements of the more detailed grasses in the foreground, the expanse of the field of color of the middle ground, cut by the stand of trees and house, and finally on to the sky itself. Notice that the further away objects get from the viewer in the picture plane, the smaller they are, the less detail they have, and the cooler in hue they become. These techniques help create the illusion of three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface. Maybe you will want to try it in your sketchbook?
Lastly, Van Gogh's work is always noteworthy for its strong use of line: whether a literal line as made with a pencil or pen or in the movement he creates through how he creates brushstrokes recorded by his thick use of paint.
Van Gogh was a big believer in "being present" to the subject. He was a "plein art" painter or he rather painted his landscapes out of doors, painting what he saw right on the spot. He was often stymied in his painting when the weather was poor and he turned to painting self-portraits or still lifes from objects he had in his studio space. Working directly from his subjects in front of him.
Butterflies by Odilion Redon, 1920
In contrast, this "landscape" with butterflies by another artist who lived and worked in France around the time of Van Gogh (in fact, Van Gogh and his brother Theo owned a few of his works which they obtained through purchase and trade). Notice that Redon's landscape still has foreground, middle ground and background, but it is at a much smaller scale than Van Gogh's expansive wheat field. Microcosm or macrocosm, the same rules of space and composition and the Rule of Thirds (remember that one from your Drawing or Painting Class?) still apply!
The work and artistic outlook of Odilion Redon marks a change in artistic thinking at the beginning of the 20th century. He was part of a group of artists known as Symbolist. These artists were interested in dreams and the life of one's personal imagination. Both Redon and Van Gogh brought their imaginations to the canvas and mingled them with the objects before their eyes. Yet, each man had a different way of working. Here is what Redon wrote in his journal:
"I have often, as an exercise and as a sustenance, painted an object down to the smallest accidents of its visual appearance; but the day left me sad and with an unsatiated thirst. The next day I let the other source run, that of imagination, through the recollection of the forms and I was then reassured and appeased."
So Redon works both from life and then recalls the subject the next day and brings that intermingled vision of memory, recollection, and imagination to the canvas. Perhaps this might be something you would want to try? Chose a subject and carefully in great detail draw or paint it from life. Then the following day create a new work, you can even use a different media, composition, whatever your imagination choses to better express the subject as you recall it and try to capture the spirit/ mood/essence of it. Pay attention to your process. Note why you make the decisions you do. Then reflect on both works. (You may want to wait a day or two. Gentle time and space lend clarity to artistic perspective.) Which way of working felt more natural to you? From which process did you prefer your work? Remember there are no "right and "wrong" answers here...only a process of self-discovery with regards to learning how you work.
Both artists, Redon and Van Gogh, were avid letter writers and kept journals. Consider reading Van Gogh's Letters or Redon's journal "To Myself."
To learn more about each artist and see more of their work check out the following museum links: