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Painting by Daylight – Is It the Best Way for Modern Artists?


Painting by Daylight – Is It the Best Way for Modern Artists?

Before electricity was harnessed to human purposes, artists had only two options: daylight or firelight. The most ancient art on Earth can still be seen in caves of Australia. Carbon-dating suggests the age of some of these cave paintings at more than 40,000 years. In the 19th century, French Impressionism declared daylight the best for painters. For me, the best light to paint by is the one usually thought the worst. Let me explain...

Painting by daylight is seen by many art critics and working artists as the natural and best way. This position developed in France during the 1870s. Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and other luminaries of the time discovered the colours within cast shadows, which previous artists saw as 'grey' or 'brown.'

Working outdoors soon became popular among the artists of Paris. It provided a likely reason for inviting young women to join them for picnics and boating parties along the river. Painting 'en plein air' became comfortable with the co-incidental invention of tube paint and portable easels.

The new enthusiasm for recording 'impressions' of a scene and an emphasis on using colour from a scientific perception - as a property of light – combined to enshrine the idea of daylight as best for all painters. I'm one painter firmly in opposition to that idea.

  • In the first place, surely there can be no single 'Right Way' of making art. In every time and place art was produced according to one over-arching style, an authoritarian system ruled the society and its artists. We see the evidence in the stylistic uniformity of art produced by Stone Age Australians, the art of ancient Egypt and in the prohibitions on depicting human figures in Jewish and Islamic art. In modern times, only 'Social Realism' gained official approval in Soviet Russia and Mao's China, as is the case today in North Korea.

Other arguments against painting outdoors involve the hazards of unpredictable weather. read more on Weather Hazards...

When that longed-for day of your first professional exhibition arrives, guess where your art will be shown?

  • Yes, that's right: on a wall inside a gallery lit by electricity. read more on Studio Lighting...

Despite prevailing opinion, you might give thought to what lighting will best serve your art, even after it leaves your studio. I'm interested in other opinions, so please leave a comment. ©Dorothy Gauvin


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