Writing on painting


I have been thinking about painting and more particularly about what painting means and why I paint what I paint.

Being an art student, I have to write about the paintings I paint. I am never really sure if I am writing the right thing, but everything I write could be quoted as an illustration of how I feel about a particular painting, painting in general or even taken out of context with a Freudian slip to explain how I feel about anything whatsoever.

Sarah has a very rare disease and went to see a specialist doctor in Madrid. The doctor gave her the most marvellous news, the day after receiving the news she took this photograph from her hotel balcony.

Figure 1 Digital photograph taken by Sarah

As a northern European it is not difficult to be inspired by the sun glinting off clay tiled roofs in a hot climate there are many such photographs, indeed I have taken such photographs myself when the opportunity presented itself.

This is one I took;

Figure 2 Digital photograph, taken by myself

I thought about this for a while and decided that such photographs are like a dose of vitamin D for Northern Europeans so that Northern Europeans would have a likeness for such views even though they may be considered mundane in more Southerly climes.

Then I thought of the motivation of the photographer, my own photograph was taken as a reference for a yet to be executed painting that I now realise would appeal to Northern Europeans. I know this because I took the photograph, I did the looking and I did the noticing and I eventually realised that such a view would appeal to Northern Europeans

I have no idea of Sarah’s motivations for taking her photograph, there is probably an equal amount of looking, noticing and milliseconds of camera time, involved as in my own photograph. Probably more of each is involved because Sarah’s photograph is taken on a proper camera, not a mobile phone.

In order to reconcile my view of Sarah’s motives for taking her photograph, I like to think that Sarah’s photograph was taken in a new spirit of hope, wonder and happiness resulting from the good news she received the day before. Sarah’s journey must of necessity fit my perceived story or impression of Sarah’s journey.

This may or not be true, and I will of course discuss it with Sarah the next time we meet up, in the meantime inspired by what I perceived to be the emotions contained within Sarah’s photograph I painted this;

Figure 2 Hope wonder and happiness in Madrid, oils on 50 x 40 canvas board

I hope it makes you feel hope wonder and happiness because these are the emotions I have tried to express in this painting along with a bit of technique of perspective and the golden section. If you just feel a bit of vitamin D don’t worry because that is, I have decided, a Northern European thing.

I could say that this painting encapsulates the contrast between the Spain of Don Quixote and the vibrant modern Spain of the twenty first century, but having read the foregoing, you would know I was making it up as I went along.

What is written about paintings or photographs is the writers subject opinion of the same and rarely if ever coincides with the opinion of the artist or photographer. Writing about painting must always be approached with a heavy dose of scepticism while reading.

No votes were influenced by this painting but the writer would like to point out that the references to Northern Europeans were not made with any partisan or racial intent.

P.S.I have been reading the new edition of What is painting  by Julian Bell on my tube journey and I have managed to answer some of my own questions in the regard and be able to cite high authority for these answers. George Berkelya philospher in the !8th century came up with the ding an sich theory  Which roughly taranslates to the thing in itelf is unknowable, meaning that objects only exist as they are percieved . Kant ran with this theory that material.representations of an object are the only thing we can know. It follows that all figurative paintings are an expression of the object in themind of the painter.

Joshua Reynolds addressing the Royal Accademy in 1786 said;

If we suppose a view of nature represented with all the truth of the camera obscura, and the same scene represented by a great artist’ how little and mean will one appear in comparison to the other where no superiority is supposed from the choice of subject.(Bell p. 54)

Reynolds said this more than 50 years prior to the invention of the Camera ( for use of the camera obscura in art see Hockney’s Secret Knowledge)

Bell goes on to propound a theory of expressionism with its roots in the 18th century alongside the accession of artists leaving mechanical reproduction to the camera.

I think it is really nice when things come together of their own accord and I am at last beginning to understand what the philosophers are going on about


Bell, J (2017) What is Painting, Revised Edition: London. Thames and Hudson

Hockney, D. (2006) Secret Knowledge, New and expanded Edition: London. Thames and Hudson