Sunday, 6 November 2011

UnMasterclass 44

In 1927 J.B.S Haldane published a wonderful book, Possible Worlds; one that remains fascinating for the contemporary reader. Perhaps it’s most celebrated essay is On Being the Right Size. He discusses how scientists of the time appeared to neglect to consider the most obvious differences in animals, their difference in size; “In a large textbook of zoology in front of me I find no indication that the eagle is larger than the sparrow, or the hippopotamus bigger than the hare, though grudging admissions are made in the case of the mouse and the whale.”  He goes on to make a wonderful rationalising of the children’s book Pilgrim’s Progress. He claims that if the Giants, Pope and Pagan, were to be 10 times larger in reality, then their bones would collapse and break under the weight of their body if their skeleton were to remain in proportion. “This is doubtless why they were sitting down in the picture I remember.”
This is interesting to us as literature and art are not bound by the rules of physics and so a giant can be 10 times as big as man in a novel or a picture, but not in real life. To bring this back to relevance for UnMasterclass, when it comes to painting from reproductions, as opposed to the original paintings, there is much in common with John Bunyan’s giants than with scientific accuracy. There is huge inaccuracy inherent in trying to figure out and learn how a master painter has constructed a painting from a photograph of it. One cannot garner true knowledge from the reproductions. To draw further parallels with Haldane’s argument, there is a major difference between a typical Joshua Reynolds’ portrait and Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew; their size. Just as it is obvious that hippo and hare are of different sizes, so it is obvious that Caravaggio’s masterpiece dwarfs Reynolds work. Naturally there are also major differences in style between the 2 artists as well, but on the page or the computer screen the difference in size are indistinguishable. What should be an obvious difference is not perceived without knowledge of scale. And unlike the hippo and the hare, unless one is to see the two artists work in the flesh then it is unlikely that this major difference will be distinguishable to the non-gallery viewer. Here at UnMasterclass we paint from small reproductions of paintings on a small sheet of paper. We never claim to make proper copies of paintings, and not just in relation to size, for every other part of the painting too. This week’s (weak) UnMasterclass is viewable here

No comments:

Post a Comment