By Bogusław Deptuła
What is beautiful not always proves good.
Leonardo da Vinci
Seeing things as they are. Such a task is easy to conceive, almost natural, for it boils down to seeing with one’s own eyes whatever appears in front of them. The whole thing, however, is entirely different when it comes to these things being seen by a painter, just in order for him or her to paint them instantly afterwards. Painting things as they appear before our eyes marks one of the grand utopias of art. This sounds absurd, since what may be easier, and more natural too, than reproducing in a painting what we actually see: shapes, surfaces, colours? It’s so facile: an apple is an apple, isn’t it. Just take your paintbrush, colours, and paint what you can see in front of you. But how to do it? This may seem so surprising, but art, or theory of art, has only rarely posed such a basic question: ‘How?’
An artist cannot see things on his or her own; even though this remark might seem unjust to some artists, or surprising, it is a true one, for any artist is, in the first place, an offspring of his or her own time. The artist’s eye changes as the world of scientific and artistic achievements changes around. Incessantly and invisibly, the artist imposes a filter of artistic convention on a painting being made by him or her. For an expert, it is no major problem to recognise in which period a given picture has been painted. This recognition is perhaps nothing else than recognition of a convention having been assumed by the painter.
But there have always been painters expressing interest in the appearances of things, and this particular aspect absorbed their attention most of all. Each painting epoch had its artist whose manner of seeing was limited to depicting the outer skin of things. What’s more, those were grand painters. Leonardo da Vinci, the greatest painter in the history of art, was one among them. He was obsessed with a physical appearance of objects, and this was his only focal point. His studies of garment draperies rank among the most important and most interesting paintings made about the look of things. Drapery layers heaped upon each other, and how light appears placed on it, or slides down the drapery – and nothing else, for there’s nothing else which matters more. There are a dozen-or-so sketches by Leonardo preserved like those, and these are essentially one of the most important paintings in the history of art. And thus, there is nothing extraordinary and nothing surprising in the fact that there are artists presenting the outer skin or surface of things, of the reality.
Transparency of glass, mirror-like reflection quality of a metal, matt roughness of wood or wool sweater – all that may already serve as a satisfactory theme for a painting. Add to it the transient nature of human faces against durability of objects. A good human portrait means the transitory preserved. Objects are given more durable beings. And this is good as it is.