The Great Mysteries of Art

I’ve always loved reading stories about art sleuths. You know, those dedicated individuals who track down stolen paintings or other works of art, and those, also, who set out to prove or disprove the authenticity of a newly-discovered painting or artifact. One of my all-time favorite art detectives  is actress Sally Kirkland who plays the role of Detective Brook Murphy in the fantasy romantic comedy Starry Night, in which Vincent Van Gogh returns to the modern world and goes in search of his paintings. It’s not a great movie. It’s cheap, it’s cheesy, but for an art lover, it’s a fun film, especially on a hot summer’s day when you don’t really want to get out and do anything.

Another of my favorite “too hot to do anything” summertime movies is The Man from Snowy Riverbut that film has nothing to do with art or mysteries.

Lately, it seems, my paintings have become the subject of a real-life art mystery. No, no one has stolen any of my work. This is a mystery of a different sort. I’m calling it The Case of the Missing Foreground. 

Yep, that’s right. The foreground has completely vanished in a couple of my recent paintings. Here’s one painting in progress:
No Foreground 1

I started this to work mostly on capturing the sense of an early morning sky, then added in a bit of ground — and — hmmm… am I completely missing any foreground here? Or is the land all foreground with no middle ground to be found? The mystery deepens!

Here’s another. This painting proved to be a huge disappointment for me. I should have been more aware of the missing foreground as I planned this out and made my initial sketches. Alas, I simply never realized how awful the scene looked.

No Foreground 2

There are other problems with this painting, as well. Is it a river? Or is it a stream? Who knows! I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to be. And as I look at this scene, I’m inclined to think perhaps I’m getting too carried away with New Age philosophy while I’m painting. Those mountains look suspiciously like pyramids, don’t you think?

As artists, we’re rarely completely satisfied with our work. Instead of being overly critical with ourselves, a better strategy, I’ve learned, is to glean as much helpful information as possible from our failures, seeing both the strengths and the weaknesses in what we’ve done. A simple rule of thumb I recently read about is to identify three areas in which improvement is needed and to always find at least one thing we like about a failed or ruined painting.

In that spirit, these paintings are showing me that I need to work diligently on:

  • Establishing background, middle ground, and foreground in each scene I paint
  • Be more intentional and decisive with the preliminary sketches I make
  • Continue to work on light and shadow to increase the range of values

On the positive side, there are things I like in both of these paintings, despite my disappointment and mistakes.

  • I do like the colors I’ve achieved in both of these paintings.
  • I like the sense of light and shadow in the distant trees.
  • I like the clouds in the sky of the second painting.

Getting three distinct planes in my paintings is a problem I’ve struggled with from the beginning, and I’m working now to correct the problem. I’m reading a bit of technical info about scale, definition, and dominance and how these factors relate to foreground, middle ground, and background areas in art.

Of course there are guidelines, too — I hesitate to speak of rules — about temperature in our hues. Cool colors recede. Warm colors come forward.

Value plays a huge part in creating separate planes on a two–dimensional surface, so I will keep working on the values in my paintings — darker darks, lighter lights — and in time, I will get better.

Art SleuthThere’s much to learn, and like any good art sleuth I have to follow the clues to see where they lead me. Hopefully I will find those missing foregrounds — and missing middle grounds, too.

If you’ve seen them, or if you have any information regarding this art crime, please let me know!

Oh, I’ve also lost one of my sketchbooks. Yet another mystery to be solved. I guess I’ll get busy and see if I can track it down.

Happy drawing and painting!




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