Museum observations: SAM and Frye Art Museum

How does visiting a museum and seeing artwork physically affects us compared to seeing things virtually? Do we learn anything new from it?  A couple of weeks ago my classmates and I visited the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, as well as the SAM for some art inspiration and research, as well as thumbnail exercises that gave us things to think about.

Personally, the way an image is perceived in a museum usually detonates introspection. Puts us to think deeper than usual. Comparing this experience with seeing, or more accurately said, scanning pictures in the internet sometimes makes art look seamless or insignificant. A painting, sculpture or object at the museum is in many ways more interesting, since the observer has a direct approach with the subject. The impact of both the physical presence and craftsmanship of the art piece asks for an immediate reaction, likeness or disgust from the viewer, analysing and observing the true colour scheme, composition, strokes, scale and all the formal elements. The isolation of the artwork in a specialised environment lets us appreciate even more.
On the other hand, the advantage of looking objectively at art in a medium as vast as the internet opens many doors to us. Research has never been as fast as today, and the resources are in constant flux and growth. If we want the biography of artists, their historical context and gallery of artwork, we can read or see two clicks away.

The Virgin Presenting the Rosary to Saint Dominic. Georges de la Tour. c.1630 Oil on canvas. 123.8 x 108.6 cm. Seattle Art Museum.

The Virgin Presenting the Rosary to Saint Dominic. Georges de la Tour. c.1630
Oil on canvas. 123.8 x 108.6 cm. Seattle Art Museum.

One of the important things to do as an artist when visiting a museum is thumbnailing as much as you can. Information such as composition, value range, scale and color can be translated in a matter of minutes to a piece of paper. It trains your eye to focus and understand how the artist thought of these design problems when creating the artwork, allowing you to gather your assumptions and apply it to your own work. This type of artist training may have limitations such as scale and the use of different materials (you won’t be carrying your easel and oil tubes), but it must be considered as a quick study to gather as much information as possible of the physical presence and feel you perceive and sense.

What information do you miss or you transfer accurately when doing this exercise? In my case I try to transfer the composition and values as accurately as possible. Usually, I tend to misunderstand the actual pose of the subject such as head tilts, since it requires an expertise to move the figure in 3d space inside a 2d space.

Regarding patterns or trends in my thumbnails, I think that I was mostly attracted to paintings that had an interesting lighting, which gave me a wide range of value to practice with. This was not a conscious choice, which is interesting in terms of style for your own work.  Lately I’ve been  interested in exploring value as the base for digital painting, which is challenging because of the technical problems you might encounter while using layers, color balance or layer adjustments in Adobe Photoshop®, for example.

Visits to museums as an artistic practice are sometimes underrated and forgotten, myself included. I believe it’s an important part of growing as an artist. This simple exercise is essential and probably the most basic and raw form of studying paintings at the museum, and I think it should stay that way. Today, we could bring our tablet and sketch digitally, but for me there’s something nostalgic and liberating about practicing in the most simple way that we can think of. Probably I will learn more like this, since technology will not do me any favours and I will not be staring at a screen as I usually do.

Finally I would like to add that thumbnails play an important part on today’s entertainment industry. Either if it’s a video game, a live action film or animation, thumbnails are a common way to plan animated sequences (called storyboards) with the function to tell a story through color, line, value and composition, the formal elements of the painting breakdowns that we have been reading on this blog. Here are some clear examples of color scripts created for the animated film UP, by Pixar studios. As you can see, these are very simple drawings focusing on shape and overall design, as well as color and value. Great for studying too!

Color script for "Up". Feature Film by Pixar. 2009.

Color script for “Up”. Feature Film by Pixar. 2009.

That is all for now. Hope you enjoyed the post!

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