That’s why I’d like to talk today about the many other artists whose names hardly tell us anything today – not because they’ve been forgotten (like Rembrandt and Caravaggio for a long time, for example), but because they were certainly technically good painters, but lacked great talent. I’m really not interested in making fun of them! I’m sure they all did their best. But some of them are so weird that only a completely humorless person wouldn’t laugh at them. I also don’t say I could do better. Like most of us (I’m just assuming now), none of the works I made in art class were worth preserving. But that’s why I didn’t become an artist.
Each picture confronts its maker with the hurdle of translating a three-dimensional model into something two-dimensional. That’s not easy, because our sense of sight is now set up for spatial vision, and it requires a series of tricks to create the impression of plasticity through shading, reflections, proportions, etc. on a flat painting support. Faces are particularly complex and complicated to draw because they consist of so many and minimal highs and lows. If we haven’t been trained in this yet and don’t know the secret, we would always put our eyes on the border between the upper and middle third of a head. That’s because we perceive the face as the area between the chin and the hairline (the orange oval). What we hide is the part between the hairline and the skullcap. If you consider that – what you should do if you want to paint a good portrait – the eyes are actually in the middle of the head .
The portrait of this young man shows two difficulties at once: 1. the correct reproduction of a face and 2. the representation in perspective distortion, which results from looking upwards (I forgot to photograph the whole picture because I was so enthusiastic about this great model for my work). Above all, of course, it is noticeable that the gentleman squints terribly. But even if this were not the case – as can be seen from my dilettante correction – the proportions and the arrangement of the individual parts of the face are simply not correct. To save his honor, however, one must say: If the painter had lived this portrait 400 years later, he would have become rich and famous. Just like Picasso, who still painted many slanted faces and thus became incredibly successful.
Big eyes were considered attractive then as they are today
The painter of this painting certainly had the good intention of depicting Maria as particularly pretty, which is why he gave her such conspicuously large eyes. However, he meant it too well, and his Madonna looks as if she has to fight with violent shield nozzle hyperactivity. Added to this is the strange nose, which looks more like a glued-on wooden wedge that is too wide and hardly modelled. The other figures in the picture also seem strangely flat and more like the early stage of a wooden sculpture, in which the details have not yet been worked out. The almost surrealistic overall impression of the picture is reinforced by the small putto on the left. Between the picture frame and the Christ Child, it looks as if it has been grafted in. Besides – what is he doing there? Hitting the Jesulein with a fly swatter?!
To sharpen your eyes
What distinguishes good from bad painters is not only the aspect that they can do much better. They are often more adept at making mistakes invisible. Rembrandt was excellent at this. Let’s look at his – respect, nothing for tender minds! – I’ll take a closer look at “Blinding the Simsons”. Do you notice anything? Take a look at the soldier who is ramming his dagger into Simson’s eye, more precisely, at his arm. Although the painting is very large (206.0 x 276.0 cm) and the figures are almost life-size, we don’t mind that the arm is actually much too short. And this is not due to the compression caused by perspective. If the man would straighten up and stand in front of us, his arm would not only grow out of his neck, it would only reach up to his hip. However, Rembrandt uses the general turmoil and especially the light, which is directed at the actual theme of the scenery, to make the most of the film.
Cézanne was fortunate not to know any money worries because of his origins, so that he could devote himself entirely to his passion, painting. This allowed him, more than other colleagues of his time, to experiment a lot and develop his own style. If you look at his pictures, you will see that he whistled for a lifelike reproduction. This is particularly evident in the depiction of people: in “Sitzenden Bauern” (1892-96) we are first captivated by the somewhat melancholy gaze of the man who has slightly collapsed into himself. If we then take a closer look, we not only see that his head is too small compared to his mighty body, here the details are also incorrect: the arms seem strangely mounted on the torso, the thigh of the crossed leg is as buxom as that of a Rubens woman, and the left hand is almost gruesomely huge. Even more striking are the proportions of the “boy in red waistcoat” (1889-90) – you can see why… Nevertheless, people (i.e.: I) like to look at the pictures, because their overall effect is harmonious.
Proportions, surfaces, forms; from the plastic to the flat – these are the challenges of art
Another is to depict things in motion. This shows once again what a complex process seeing is. Did you know, for example, that it is only at the age of 4-5 that children can tell whether something (e.g. a car) is standing at a distance or moving towards it? Against this background it is no longer so surprising that galloping horses have been misrepresented for a long time. On old representations they race through the landscape like dogs with their forelegs and hind legs stretched far from each other at the same time. It was only with the advent of photography and the resulting possibility of dividing movement sequences into individual sequences that it became clear that this was wrong. One must not believe everything one means to see…