Paradigm Shifts For Success in Drawing and Painting: "Knowing" vs. Seeing

An Ongoing Conversation ...
By Paul Ingbretson

When critiquing the work of students of direct representational painting, I am frequently reminded of the numerous shifts in thinking and behavior I had to go through to achieve routinely good results. The neophyte comes into the studio with many assumptions and behaviors that are ineffectual, counterproductive, and often actually disastrous. In other words he comes in with a paradigm or model in his mind of how to paint. It's a fairly fuzzy one,  received from a partial understanding of the thinking of another painter, and it works barely adequately. The gradual realization that his model delivers inferior and/or irregular results typically causes him to try different approaches, forcing the renovation of his previous model. The following blogs will review one painter's progress toward better models, discussing his newly adopted paradigms which enabled greater success in painting from life. At the time you read this, the 'shifts' are rather random. Yet taken together, they will serve for now. Our first example is in the area of "Knowing vs Seeing." Gammell once said to a young student: "You don't see with your eyes what is in front of you, but with your ears what people have told you.” It is a common assumption that one can think one's way into an accurate painting or drawing, that one must know about things and apply knowledge learned elsewhere to get good results when working from nature. Schools are built around such presumptions. Typical of this category are knowledge of anatomy or of perspective which are, of course, useful in certain ways - but often a hindrance to a beginner in becoming masters of the true visual likeness. Names of colors or even of objects themselves are such hindrances. How many times have I awakened in the morning to astonishing color outside my window only to have its beauty vanish when I discover what it actually "is." The reality for the painter of the world as it is before them is different indeed. In fact it is axiomatic that “you must be out of your mind to be a painter,” free of all the assumptions associated with what you think you know. More to the point: You must be in your eyes. Notice this next time you find yourself standing before the model, looking for answers entirely in your head and trying to figure it out, rather than seeing what is occurring visually before you. Catch yourself. The shift from "head knowledge" to direction by visual observation of the general impression is a classic mental shift which must occur for maximum success in mastering the look of nature.

  "You don't see with your eyes what is in front of you but with your ears what people have told you.” - RH Ives Gammell

"You don't see with your eyes what is in front of you but with your ears what people have told you.”
- RH Ives Gammell