Painting and time

An artist friend of mine, Carrie, has been exploring issues of ‘watching paint dry‘.  I have found her thoughts and images on this really interesting (she has a whole series of blog posts on this topic, such as this one; or just go backwards through her blog to find them as they’re not categorised as ‘watching paint dry’!).

I find all this fascinating – painters appear to have a very different relationship to time compared to photographers when creating art.  Most obviously, a photographer can use different exposure times which not only impact on aperture/depth of field, for example:

  • in a portrait, the capturing of a (partial?) expression in a fraction of a second is very much a question of time;
  • in a landscape, moving waters or trees are represented in different ways depending on the length of an exposure.

But apart from that, when I photograph is obviously important:

  • landscapes at dawn, midday and dusk all appear different as the light creates varied patterns;
  • photographing a person is also dependent on time, whether this be states of dress/undress, or fresh early mornings/tired evenings.

There are, of course, multiple other ways in which time plays a role: for example, I find Barbara Probst, a photographer who does incredible things with multiple cameras and very precise measurements of time, really stimulating (I’d love to try creating a version of this!).

But it seems to me that painters have a different relationship to time – even if it takes me time to set up an image and later perhaps ‘tidy’ it up a bit on a computer or in print, it seems to me that the actual process of creation is one that involves time in a quite different way.  Perhaps it’s to do with painters starting with a blank canvas and gradually filling it with an image they have visualised over a period of minutes, hours, days – they do this and life happens all around them, from the mundane (being hungry and eating, or being tired and sleeping), to the spectacular (the sudden inspiration to do something they were not expecting but that transforms the end result).  Making photographs sometimes seems to be about just that (unimaginable) 1/250 of a second – and that’s a very different perception of time!

Thanks, Carrie, for sharing your thoughts and reflections on this…