Saturday, January 06, 2007

Thank You Prof. Gombrich

‘There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.’ These are a surprising couple of opening sentences for a book about the ‘The Story of Art.’ Back in December I read reviews of Ernst Gombrich’s best seller which Phaidon have reprinted as a pocket edition. The reviews prompted me to take a fresh look at my own copy – a weighty paperback which is a reprint of the 16th edition of 1995. Like many other students my first acquaintance with the book was via a college library copy and I immediately took to the direct plain language of his writing.

I’ve always discovered new insights from Gombrich. Even after having ‘The Story of Art’ on my bookshelf for around ten years I was taken by his comments on Raphael’s sketch books in the introduction. The sketchbook drawings were Raphael’s studies for his ‘Virgin in the Meadows’ of 1505 now in Vienna. It’s regarded as the most charming of Raphael’s ‘Madonna’ paintings and the pages of pen and ink sketches reveal the trouble he took to get the group of three figures into a harmonious relationship.

Few of us take similar pains or are inclined to give much thought to composition today. Painting manuals gloss over the problems in demonstrations – giving descriptions of each stage but little about the thought processes needed to compose the painting in the first place. When sketching ‘en plein air’ all too frequently I take the subject as presented and often have to make major changes in the studio. The Professor's words and Raphael's sketches prompt me change my ways!

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