Picasso famously said, ‘I don’t paint what I see, I paint what I know.’ Imagine taking this literally? How would a painting look if the people represented in a picture were not reduced in size because they happened to be further away. The brain would assume they were all occupying the same limited space The depth in the painting would disappear. The same effect would apply to buildings too.
What would happen if we did not use perspective to draw a road narrowing as it recedes into the distance? Instead we drew the road parallel. Imagine how different the painting would be. Painting or drawing the world as we see it is a very western approach to visualisation, invented with the flowering of the Renaissance. Not all cultures follow this idea.
Open your Mind to a different Reality
Have you noticed that drawings and paintings of figures in traditional Chinese art don’t have shadows on the faces. To our eyes their paintings of faces can appear flat. We draw/paint the shadows on a face, to give depth and solidity, but shadows are transitory and dependent on light. The colour of our faces doesn’t actually change, it is light that makes it appear to change. So maybe the Chinese are drawing/painting what they know, not what they see.
Artist’s have painted on canvas, wooden panels, boards etc., for centuries. Their surfaces are flat, so why do we use ‘visual tricks’ (perspective) to make the flat surface appear as something it isn’t? What if we painted something that was true to the surface it was painted on? No pretence at three dimensions. Hmm, we could call it abstraction.
Why should artists paint from one viewpoint? Painting from multiple viewpoints and combining them together in one image would create a summary of the vision seen. Cézanne used this in a subtle way, Picasso and Braque in a prominent manner.
What I am really saying here is that ‘real’ means different things to different people. The points above are somewhat simplistic, but they give an inkling into different visions. The fact is we all interpret colour, emotions, feelings and the visual world very differently. So why shouldn’t artists do the same? Artists should explore different visions and versions of reality and present them for our consideration. We in turn should open our minds and embrace the fact that our own vision of the world, is not the only true one that exists.