Past Comments

August Issue 2005
A Guest Commentary
by James Daniel, III

Painting from Photographs - The Decline of Art

Artists, patrons, public. I am writing this letter, on a topic very close to my heart that cuts directly into the throats of honorable painters and draughtsman. This letter, which addresses how photography is helping pervert painting and drawing, comes at a time when soon there will be no sanctity amongst painters, and their craft. Photographers, this does not mean that your profession is a perversion; it is the painters who are encroaching into your field, and exploiting it. The reasons, which are many more than I could bring to light, are clear, concise, insightful and alarming. What is quickly becoming a distant dream, the craft of painting and drawing, without delusion, is upon us.

Photography, a beautiful art form, has become a refuge for painters motivated by greed, lethargy, and shortsightedness. Upon close examination you will find that there is reason for challenging these artists painting from photographs, and, that this letter is not without merit. I will begin by outlining and describing the problems with painting from photographs, provide the supporting comments, and finally offer the conclusion, a remedy to this mistake.

The first important aspect is how photos are only able to present one side of a subject (person in this case), when subjects appear to have many sides. We can all understand this. Most people we know show different sides to their personalities, depending upon the surrounding conditions. Any number of conditions can influence how a person is acting or feeling. So, when a painter uses a photograph to capture the subject's personality, it is impossible, because the photo only shows one side of something that has many sides. It follows then that the time spent with the subject, and his or her many sides, is invaluable. This is the most accurate way to capture the personality, because each side of a person is what makes that person profound. If everyone had only one side, we could not describe that as a profound experience. Not only would we become bored with each other, no client would commission a portrait. When a client is paying the high rates that painters deserve, the client should receive something equivalent, the full story.

The second important aspect is the difference in rendering and drawing. Rendering refers to making an original from a copy; drawing connotes making an original from an original. Drawing is the direct experience of re-creating what you are observing. Rendering is the direct experience of something already observed. When observing, the artist is capturing every instant that arrives to his or her eye. The natural world is always changing, so the artist needs to be present, as well as the subject, to re-create the impression of each instant. This is subtle because we do not always notice the minute changes that take place each moment, and, how capturing these subtle moments, is essential to describing our experience. We are not trying to capture a moment, as photographers do, but, trying to capture the passing of living time. Capturing a moment implies lifelessness, frozen time. The goal of the painter is to capture life. Rendering from a photograph does not represent, on a daily basis, how we experience life.

The third aspect is how using photography has allowed anyone to reproduce something, thus taking away from the highly trained master. There are some artists who work long and hard at refining their skills of drawing and painting. These artists spend countless hours working from life to refine their understanding of the changing world. When someone arrives at the idea of using a photo, he or she is saying that those hours are unnecessary, and that using machines, having some transferring knowledge, and rendering skills, are the only necessary requirements. These artists are fooled by the allure of the seemingly easy process of rendering, and fall deeper into the abyss of the masses, pulling all painters down with them.

The fourth aspect of how photography and painting are co-mingling, in a negative way, is that the painters using photos, are blinding the public. Our public, who are uneducated to these differences, and unfortunately, increasingly undereducated in the arts, believe that painting from a photo is acceptable. The market is becoming saturated with this condition. Our public needs to know that there is a distinct advantage in the more traditional sitting process, as opposed to the quick, get it over with mentality. Whether you are painting a CEO, who has little time, or a child, who does not sit still, or a landscape that will change everyday, it is the duty of every artist to figure out some way to convince that person to sit, or to paint that landscape as it changes. By taking the time to explain the benefits of sitting, all artists will benefit, our relationships will grow, and the work will reflect the effort.

The fifth point I would like to present, which photography/painting is directly related, is the ongoing problem of our consumers thinking that they should get what they want when they hire an artist. When an artist is hired to paint a portrait, or any picture, the public should understand that they are hiring the artist and his or her vision, not someone to render what they want. Photography encourages working on an ideal of the subject, instead of the actuality of the subject. We live in a world where everyone wants to look good and expects the artist to make them look good. When an artist is hired, you are hiring the vision, style, and insight of that artist, and, whether you like the result or not, the artist is not responsible. This does not mean that artists can intentionally offend the subject or not thoroughly complete the job. The artist is responsible for doing what they do best, to the best of their abilities.

The last aspect, and probably the most sensitive, is how using photos to paint is causing artists to focus more on their incomes instead of on painting. Money, of great importance to any artist, subtly engulfs the fabric of our motivation. When an artist sees that painting from photos can be more lucrative and more efficient than spending time with the subject, or spending time in nature, the focus automatically becomes the money. If the focus becomes money, there is no way that the artists can be focused on the painting, because there can not be two focuses at the same time. What client wants an artist who is not focused on painting? Over time, the financial fascination grows, other artists mistakenly see this as positive, and the web spins out of control. This is the primary, and most dangerous motivation artists have resorted to painting from photographs.

The solution is simple. Let go of the ideas, beliefs, and concepts of how things should look, and work to reveal the open space surrounding our experiences. Let go of the confinement, and the importance of painting from life will open up. We will begin to see how time spent with others is beneficial, how we can re-create our visual experience more accurately, and what it means to be a painter. I would like to dedicate this to all of those in doubt, all of those indifferent, and to all who believe.

James Daniel, III, was recently featured on the cover of American Artist Magazine works in oils, fresco, pen & ink, charcoal/pencil, etc. His approach to painting and drawing is largely based on a seven year apprenticeship with Ben Long, who was a student of the legendary Italian artist Pietro Annigoni. Daniel maintains a studio in Asheville, NC, where he paints pictures on commission, and exhibits in many venues around the Southeast. He can be reached by calling 828/582-9820 or at (

If you would like to respond to this commentary - do so before Aug. 12, 2005.



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