July 14, 2017

“I paint what I see” – or not...

J.M.W. Turner & Manet montage 02


“I paint what I see.”
       Widely attributed to both J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and Edouard Manet (1832-1883).
       Many books and websites credit this proverbial artists’ response to criticism or questions about their work to British landscape artist Joseph Mallord William Turner. Many others credit it French artist Edouard Manet.
       The attribution to Turner is derived from an anecdote noted by British art critic John Ruskin in a lecture he gave at the University of Oxford on February 29, 1872 titled “The Eagle’s Nest.” (Later reprinted in Vol. 22 of Ruskin’s widely-read collected works, published in 1906.)
       Ruskin said Turner once showed a drawing he’d made of Plymouth Harbor at sunset to a friend who was a naval officer. His friend “objected with very justifiable indignation” that the ships in the drawing had no portholes.
       “No,” said Turner, “certainly not. If you will walk up to Mount Edgecumbe, and look at the ships against the sunset, you will find you can’t see the portholes.”
       The naval officer said “Well, but you know the portholes are there.”
       “Yes,” said Turner, “I know that well enough; but my business is to draw what I see, and not what I know is there.”
       Later retellings changed draw to paint, probably because Turner was famous as a painter. Eventually he was wrongly credited with saying “I paint what I see.”
       The second common attribution is based on another legendary art anecdote, this one about the pioneering Impressionist painter Edouard Manet. As a young man, Manet studied at the studio of traditionalist painter Thomas Couture. According Manet’s biographers, Couture once criticized a painting by Manet that presaged his non-traditional style.
       Manet’s insolent response is variously given as “I paint what I see and not what it pleases others to see” or “I paint what I see, and not what others like to see” (with the emphasis on the word I, not see.)
       I suspect that “I paint what I see” was already a philosophical principle and an inside joke familiar to many artists even before Manet said it.

Pablo Picasso with Cubist painting


“I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”
       Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
       Spanish artist who pioneered new styles in art in the 20th Century, most notably Cubism
       A quote by Picasso included in John Golding’s influential book Cubism: a History and Analysis (1959), later cited by thousands of books and websites

Edvard Munch & The Scream 02


“I do not paint what I see, but what I saw.”
       Edvard Munch (1863-1944)
       Norwegian Expressionist painter and printmaker
        An oft-quoted comment he is said to have made in 1890 regarding the key role his personal emotional memories played in his choice of subjects and distinctive style, as embodied in paintings like “The Scream” (1893)

Edgar Degas & The Absinthe Drinker, 1876


“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”             
       Attributed to Edgar Degas (1834-1917)             
       Many books and sites say Degas write those words, but I’ve been unable to find the original source. If you know it, please send me an email and let me know or post a comment on The Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Norman Rockwell self portrait cropped


“I paint what I like to paint. And somehow, for some reason, a good part of the time it coincides with what a lot of people like, it’s popular. Which some (the art critics, for instance) would say, makes me a low type, mediocre, slightly despicable, et cetera. And it may be true (when I’m depressed I think it is)... But there’s really nothing I can do about it. I paint the way I do because that’s the way I'm made...I paint what I do the way I do because that’s how I feel about things.”
       Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)
       American illustration artist
       In his autobiography My Adventures as an Illustrator (1960)

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash 1967


“I paint what I like, when I like, and where I like, with occasional nostalgic journeys.”
       David Hockney (b. 1937)
       British Pop artist             
       From the “personal statement” he submitted for a catalogue about a 1962 art show that included his work           

Gahan Wilson I Paint What I See book


“I Paint What I See”
       Gahan Wilson (b. 1937)
       American illustrator known for his dark-humored magazine cartoons depicting monsters, horror and fantasy             
       For the cover of his book I Paint What I See (1971) Wilson used an illustration he did of himself working on a painting of “scary” creatures, suggesting that they are the kinds of things he sees.

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