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Re: Tracing and Thomas Eakins


From: Patricia Knott (pknott_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Wed Nov 28 2001 - 14:13:57 PST

Mark writes
> I haven't seen David Hockney's "Secret Knowledge," but this past Sunday there
> was a New York Times article about a recent discovery that Thomas Eakins
> secretly used photographs much more than just for an occasional referance.
> Everyone knew that he would use photos to document gross anatomy, help paint
> figures in a landscape or for accurate portraiture, but this article shows us
> that he actually copied photographic composition and changed virtually nothing
> from the photograph in his final paintings. The beautiful seascape, "Shad
> Fishing at Gloucester, Deleware," actually began as a photograph. I'll look
> into it more, if anyone is interested. Let me know.

I don't think it's such a secret about Eakins and from what I saw at the
current show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he changed much from the
photographic composition. Most often, he picked bits and pieces from the
photograph and rearranged in a new composition. The museum has done a good
job of juxtaposing the photographs with the paintings.
Eakins was using the new tool of photography to inform his own observations.
He did much in the style of Edward Muybridge whose photographic studies of
human and animal motion are still used as references. Know that Eakins was
also studying from casts of human forms. I find nothing to fault in his
explorations. As I stated in a previous post, a new technology used to
inform and progress a process is very valid.
Using photography to copy and trace --- questionable to validity.
Degas used photography and gave us a sense of the snapshot composition in
his work.

I think it is very important for us, as educators to fully understand the
intentions and practices of historic artists before we present misleading
lessons. Not only do we have to present the social and political context of
the art, but the technological influences of the times.
The only way I know to have a hand in fostering new artists, is to give all
the facts about the context of the artists work. Only then, can I expect my
future artist to observe the world around them, to take and explore and
investigate possibilities, and apply that to their own decision making about
what is valid to present as art.

In that sense, I do talk about Kincade and try my best to point out the
difference between producing for profit and producing for expression,
observation and informing.

Several years ago Pratt Institute distributed a poster with a child's
scribbles and the headline "Art is the first Communication."
I think most of us believe that. I think we have to think about the kind of
communication we want our art students to convey. Is it the fuzzy/warmy
Kincade communication ... or something a little deeper.
At the very least, I want my students to leave me knowing the difference
between Kincade and Picasso, and at the least, able to make that judgement.


BTW, what I got most from the Eakins show was his careful consideration of
the application of paint. He wanted not to have the brush stroke interfere
in any way with the viewing of his work. As opposed to what he thought in
Van Gogh's work was an added consideration-- the brush stroke adding another
element of light to be considered.