Looking at landscapes: an ‘aha’ moment
Buying an a original work of art can be a minefield unless you can rely on your own authority. You don't have to be a fine arts grad to choose a quality work. Your most trustworthy resource is much simpler and closer to hand than that. It is your own perception.
We hadn't quite re-entered social circles since our trip to Greece but pulled ourselves together for an informal Q&A with artist Ed Yaghdjian at the Arts & Letters Club in Toronto. His solo exhibit In
Search of Beauty was up in the Great Hall and while his passion is to paint resplendent nudes, he was chatting intently about landscapes when we slipped quietly in the door, wine glass in hand, to find our
place at the long table.
We paused at several slides depicting the tossing sea on the shores of Monterey, autumn red leaves sprouting from craggy rocks, a hushed and golden painting of a wooded valley.
Ed Yaghdjian - Rouge Valley in the Fall, oil on MDF
One of our group commented that Ed’s landscapes were more impressionistic and less detailed than his figurative paintings. “Yes and no”, was Ed's response and he began to expand on that simple statement.
As Ed spoke, my companion nudged my arm and whispered “That's what always bothered me about so and so's paintings!” It's an explanation so simple that you are tempted to slap your forehead and mutter “D'huh!”. It is the reason a landscape painting often ends up looking “not quite right” without anyone seeming to quite know why.
The eye gathers information about our world which the brain interprets according to stored experience. Nuances are interpreted in simple primal language. For example, a hunter loping across the savannah after prey or a young executive dashing down the urban thoroughfare to an appointment will perceive their surroundings in the same way. The pride of lions or the sight of the convening board members is judged by distance and the time to arrive there.
We judge distance by proportion. What is there is 'smaller' than what is here. But is it really smaller? Of course not. The lions will be a big surprise when they are found to be larger than kittens to the imperceptive hunter. It is the painter's job to adjust the 'reality' on his canvas so that the message of distance is delivered convincingly.
Why do some landscape drawings or paintings confuse or bother us in spite of the fact that converging lines and vanishing point of perspective may read appropriately? We ask ourselves, what was it that made 'so and so's' landscapes a problem when the elements of trees, lake, canoe, and dock were all fairly well painted and in place, and trees in the foreground were larger than trees in the distance? What was missing?