St. Mary's Project in Studio Art

Perceptual Paintings by Becca David


I approached my St. Mary's project as a way to evaluate perceptual painting and how I feel about it. As I am committing myself to making art for life, I wanted to be sure this was the right decision. I paint from observation, directly from life. My intentions for my project were to figure out if this style of painting was still valid in our fast-paced technological world and to find ways that representational paintings can express ideas beyond what is depicted.

I found answers to my first question in certain implicit qualities about painting. Why bother painting at all when technologies, like computers, film and photography provide the means to make effective and communicative images? A painting's value can be found in the fact that it is handmade, or crafted with no mediating machine recording the image. The painter views the subject with the naked eye; the image is processed by the artist's brain and reproduced by the artist's hand. There is no distance between the painting and the artist, and this immediacy seems to be a valuable aspect. Another significant aspect of painting from life has to do with the way we see. The attention span is shorter today as opposed to many years ago. Painting from life requires the artist to spend many hours looking at every detail of a collection of objects or even their own face in the case of a self-portrait. I think this long term patient looking is a rare and meaningful ability that should be preserved.

My second question: "How can a perceptual painting express something more that just its depicted subject matter?" arose from envy. I've always felt that abstracted works had more to communicate to audiences than paintings done purely from observation. After all, what can a bowl of fruit have to say? Plenty, I discovered. Many of the forms of content that can exist in paintings are not overt, but they all contribute some meaning to the artwork. Considering the painting's size, title, formal qualities, medium, relationship to art history, tone (humorous or otherwise), and Iconographic or symbolic suggestions, the bowl of fruit could express anything from the beauty of simple things to a criticism of the painting tradition. Seeing content in an artwork is dependent on the interpretation of the viewer, however I now know that there is always content to be found. One only has to look a little bit longer to see it in perceptual paintings.


 Artist Statement


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