Sam Smith recorded a song back in 2014. “I’m Not the Only One” is a sad song, actually. but I’ve always found it “catchy”. It has a rather bouncy rhythm. For me, it’s one of those songs that sticks in my mind for a long time after I hear it. And, it’s also one of those songs that comes to mind whenever I say those words, “I know I’m not the only one.” The song, of course, is about infidelity. In matters of the heart, we want to be the only one.
In other things, though, it’s sometimes comforting to know that we’re not alone, that we’re not the only one dealing with a particular problem or frustrating situation. One of those “other things” is perspective in art.
I’ve written about perspective many times, and as often as not I’ve received encouraging words from readers, along with a few helpful tips, and lots of good wishes for eventual success in learning about and using perspective. Since sharing my recent experiences with perspective exercises over the past week, I have again received encouragement, tips, and good wishes. I’ve received something more, too. In comments and messages, e-mails and chats, many of you have shared your own struggles, your own frustrations. Indeed, it has been comforting to realize that I’m not alone in my feelings here. Perspective can be challenging. Despite numerous books that claim otherwise, perspective is not always easy.
I deal with my perspective problems largely by not dealing with perspectives. I avoid painting too many barns or other man-made structures in my landscape art. With graphite drawings, I occasionally do need a bit of perspective, and there, I simply do my best and move on. Yes, I make mistakes. But, hopefully I’m getting better.
When I began studying art history, I was a bit surprised to learn that early artists didn’t know about or use perspective. Paintings — generally religious or mythological figures — were rendered in a very flat manner. It wasn’t until the time of the Italian Renaissance that perspective actually became “a thing” in the world of art. If you’d like to know more, you might want to check out A History of Perspective in Art.
Now, here’s an interesting lesson in life. Just because we can do something, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. In many situations, inaction can be preferable to jumping in and taking action. A related concept is that even though we may have the right to do something, it might not be right to do it. Just a few things to think on there. You may or may not see any connections to what I’m writing about.
So, let’s bring the discussion back around to perspective. Early artists didn’t bother with it, at least not to any significant degree. Other artists knew about perspective but chose not to use it all that much. There is an art form known as primativism which often includes paintings that don’t make correct use of the principles of perspective, either through lack of formal training or as an intentional decision. A lot could be said about “primitive art”, what it is, and what it isn’t, but I won’t get into all of that here. The point is that, yes, we can create art without using perspective, or by using it in odd ways.
I was recently looking online at several still life paintings by Paul Cezanne. I’ve always found his still lifes inspiring because they are so obviously imperfect. They’re bright. They’re colorful. And they’re wonky. Really, they are. Take a good look at Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses:
As I was researching cubism as part of the recent “Art Quiz” feature, I learned that Cezanne was instrumental in helping to establish cubism as a form of artistic expression. He became interested in form, saying that “Artists should process images of nature using cylinder, sphere, and cone. Each object should be put into the correct perspective, so each side of the object faces a center directly.”
This was in contrast to the traditional rules of linear perspective. It has been called “mixed perspective”. You can see this clearly in Still Life with Apples and Peaches:
In this single work of art, Cezanne paints different objects from different perspectives! The result has been described as looking “clumsy and slightly heavy,” which, to me, is another way of saying wonky.
Yes, I love Cezanne’s still lifes because they are wonky… almost as wonky as my still life drawings and paintings. Cezanne knew what he was doing and chose to paint in this “mixed perspective” style. My wonkiness comes more from lack of knowledge and experience, but I like to think that my wonkiness is perfectly acceptable, too.
Why did Cezanne come to his conclusions about how the physical world should be represented in art? Why did he move away from using all those traditional rules of strict, linear perspective? I don’t know. But the fact is, that’s what he did, and I’m glad. His wonky works inspire me. From him I’ve learned that I don’t have to fret over every line, every angle, every precise measurement whether I’m attempting some urban scene or happily drawing a bowl of oranges or apples.
Maybe my tables are turned at odd angles when I do still lifes. Maybe my bowls of fruit are threatening to spill out. Maybe my perspectives are all wrong. So be it. I’ll do my best to use proper perspective when and where I feel I must, but at the same time, I won’t concern myself too much with perfection and precision. Cezanne’s works are memorable because he broke the rules. Who knows why! But maybe he just didn’t like perspective much more than I do. Maybe he found it a bit of a bother. Maybe I’m just putting thoughts in his head. But somehow it makes me feel good to know that even in this wide world of art, I’m clearly not the only one who doesn’t care a lot for perspective.