When traveling to Europe with students some time I am simply amazed at how they will voraciously snap pictures in art museums. Yes, it is wonderful that they can take pictures in the gallery and have images to remember their trip by, but as an artist I have to wonder if taking pictures of others work actually serves as a disadvantage to ones skill.
As of late in reading the biography of Rubens, Thomas Cole, and George Caleb Bingham, I’m struck at how they learned much of their skill by coping other artists work. They did not have a camera, and so would record the compositions they found effective or of interest. Peter Paul Rubens did it prolifically as he traveled and then would integrate what he learned from sculptors and other painters into his compositions especially his early ones. George Caleb Bingham like many artists in the 1800’s had access to engravings of famous works so would dilagently copy them.
These artists then built their skills as draftsmen and artists by learning more and more to see and translate visual information into a tangible form. Training their hands to “see.” It seems my art students would be better off with their sketch book in a gallery rather than a camera. It takes more time, but you would learn much more by disciplining yourself to draw a piece you like in the gallery rather than photographing it. And I do think there is a big difference between working from a photo than working from the actual work of art in a museum.
Van Gogh is another artist that was known for copying work of others and translating them to make them his own. While at the asylum at St. Remy he would often get etchings that were copies of paintings of artists he liked (Millet, Delecroix, etc..) and make his own versions of them. As the images were black and white, his “translations” are amazing integrations of what he admired about the composition and his own passionate painterly skills.
So next time your in a gallery I challange you to bring your sketchbook and not your camera. Get to work!