On the Joys of Looking at Artwork (and the pitfalls of photographing artwork) in a Museum


One of the great joys of looking at artwork is that we can come ‘face’ to ‘face’ with alternative ways of seeing. To look at artwork is to encounter an interpretation of reality that may be different from our own. If we mediate this experience through a camera, we channel a unique way of looking at the world through the familiar technology of the 21st Century and as a consequence, we are not challenged to see differently or to empathetically engage with another worldview. Experiencing art becomes neatly reduced to a flat recording of light, and more recently, packaged into red, green and blue distributions of pixels and stored as data.

Photography is a remarkable information technology. In a very user friendly way, photography serves to enlarge, if not multiply, any given moment of time by recording reflected light – this, in an otherwise unrelenting continuum of experience. It is worth noting that photography uses a language of flat symbols, one that we in the west are well primed to understand given our rich history of making and viewing pictures made of pigment. But when we look at a work of art through a camera, take its picture and move on, how does this effect the ways in which we personally store and process information?

One way to understand the effects of photography is in comparing two different ways of recording visual information – 1) drawing a work of art and 2) photographing this artwork. The act of copying a work of art by drawing it is to construct a mental image over a period of time. The copy is the result of choices based upon sensory input and pre-existent mental models – where does a certain line fall relative to other lines, what does one value look like in comparison to another? How does this artwork differ from what I expected or originally thought? These questions become an active feedback loop with the work of art that is being copied, the copyist and the drawing that is being built.

To photograph a work of art, on the other hand, is a type of outsourcing of the mental models needed to make a copy. The storage of information falls upon the activation of pixels and not synaptic connections. Moreover, it takes time for humans to experience the mental process of empathizing. According to a study conducted by USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, MRI scans revealed that these processes are slow when compared with the more primitive pain centers in our brains. “For some kinds of thoughts, especially moral decision-making about other people’s social and psychological situations, we need to allow adequate time and reflection.” writes Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a member of the research team. “If things are happening too fast, you may not fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states.”1

Museums by their nature already remove artwork from their original context. When we walk through a museum armed with a camera we further distance ourselves from art’s challenging and stimulating potential. While we may increase our ability to consume data, we are missing an opportunity to project our selves into another’s shoes.

  1. Carl Marziali, “Nobler Instincts Take Time,” USC Web site, August 29, 2016,

Figure Sketches in Oils

Here are a few oil sketches of the figure. They are mostly 20 to 30 minute exercises but a few are for a bit longer. I think of these as training – they require quick choices with out much deliberation or correction. I have to place a line, value and color in fairly quick succession. They maintain an energy to them that sometimes can be lost in longer poses. They are also an opportunity to explore different skin tones, compositions, surfaces and techniques.











Mantastic Voyage

Chris and I have just returned from a climbing trip to Colorado. It is hard to believe that our first trip of this sort took place nearly 15 years ago as freshman driving out to college. Being on the cusp of my wedding, the tenor of this trip was something different.


From Cleveland I drive solo to Chicago. Chris flew in from Sweden in the afternoon but I arrived early enough to buy new tires for the truck and to visit the Chicago Art Institute. It was a beautiful day. Before picking Chris up I stretched out my visit in town by taking in Anish Kapoors installation.






On the road. Someone left us a curious note on the windshield??


The drive across the American plains also proved a bug bloodbath. Sorry bugs.


An interesting part of a climbing trip is figuring out where to sleep. I think I find this  so interesting because I have been fairly nomadic in my life and have found so many different ways and places to rest my head. Our first night in Iowa we sleep in a church parking lot. We first pulled off the highway around 2 am and into a Days Inn, with the plan of sleeping in the bed of the truck.  A woman, overtly high, parked next to us and engaged in conversation. She said she was waiting for her friend to meet her and get into her car with her. Then she asked if one of us was her friend. With was much politeness as you can answer such an overt question, we told her, no, that we were not her friend. We moved to a more quiet local from there.


Estes Park this time of year is a good time to climb in that we avoid major crowds. It is also a time of afternoon thunderstorms. Our first day out we were rained off our climb. After checking the forecast,  we chose to drive to Boulder, to climb in Eldorado Canyon.


That night we pitched a tent at the end of Colorado Road 47, also called Big Elk Meadow Rd.




In Eldorado, we climbed the classic Bastille Crack. In the afternoon, we met Chris’ friends Will and Mira at the restaurant, Illegal Pete’s on Pearl St. We spent the night in a tent in their yard.





Climbed Rewritten on the Redgarden Wall. That night, we wound our way up to Dream Canyon, off Sugarloaf Rd. We would camp out their for the next few nights.



Climbed The Great Zot, a classic four pitch route next to Rewritten.


Hopped on Starwars, on the Peanut Wall and then Chris cranked out The Great Course, back on the Redgarden Wall. Below, Chris leads the second pitch of Starwars. Further below, Chris is rappelling off of The Great Course.




Met up with Luke and Ema for a day of light cragging at Clear Creek Canyon. It was crowded and hot but a dunk in the frigid water made up for it.



We drove back to Estes Park for a few more days of climbing. Hopped on Pear Buttress, a classic four pitch splitter on the Book Wall. Below, a picture of me at the summit (photo courtesy of Chris)




For the last day of climbing we got on J-Crack, a hard and eventful 4 pitch route. We topped out just as blueberry size hail (below) began to pelt us. Lightning and thunder were not too far away and prompted a hasty retreat off the backside.




We drove into Rocky Mountain National Park, slept in the woods and aired out our wet belongings the following day. We spent much of the last day hiking. We stopped at Bierstadt lake where the painting supposedly worked and then hit the road back east, stopping in Kearney Nebraska for a night before reaching Cleveland the early morning the following day.




See ya, Colorado. Thanks for treating us so well.



Watercolors from Paros, Greece


Figure Painting Workshop at Studio Incamminati

Here is the progression of a figure recently made at Studio Incamminati. The workshop was taught by Stephen Early and Darren Kingsley, two immensely gifted artists and educators. It is my understanding that they work in the tradition of Nelson Shanks, the founder of the studio.

The two teachers taught a form based approach to painting. The painting began with a quick gesture from where we developed a more accurate rendering while maintaining the figure’s vitality. Easier said than done! Our first pass was a posterized figure of few values in the shadows and form light. From there, we developed the illusion of volume more – starting in the shadow we established the darkest areas to then key the rest of the figure around. We worked our way out of the shadows into dark light, all the while approximating color as best we could and really focusing on value. We then jumped up to a few of the highlights and created the full value range within which we had to work. All the while, we kept a conception of where the light was, how certain planes related to the light source and to each other. This logic helps keep values in there rightful place.

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