Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Copying the Masters

This is a fairly large canvas I started some years back, for fun, and never finished - in fact, probably didn't even get past the start of it. It is a copy of The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault. I used a pretty good quality small print from an art book.

To "learn from the old masters" is a good adage (for any field), even if the old masters are, historically speaking, not all that old. The logical first step in this learning is of course to directly copy the paintings they did. While this is laudable it is also dangerous, insofar that one may be merely mechanically copying, and not fearfully learning.

For myself, I find the greatest thing about copying old paintings (and aside from the one above, I've only copied one other, by Rembrandt - also unfinished) is that it forces your hand to do something it would otherwise not do, and to go over something you thought you did right but which you have discovered is completely wrong in relation to some other part of the painting. In short, it humbles you - in one fell swoop.

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