Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts on Sargent, and An Artist's Hardest Question

Sargent did excellent portrait commissions, but some never felt quite alive—just accurate.

"Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes" by J.S. Sargent.

Some portrait commissions looked more lively than others, but even with more dynamic airs and more dramatic lighting, about the best you could say is that they were accurate.

"William M. Chase, N.A." by J.S. Sargent

After a certain point, every artist must ask themself: what separates my work from what a skilled photographer can do?

Portrait shot by Craig Spence. CC-BY-2.0.

An artist who cannot answer this cannot steer their own ship.

Sargent's best works were never his realistic/naturalistic portraits, but his more Impressionistic pieces.

"Market Place", by J.S. Sargent.

Look at the life in these strokes and textures. The composition is fresh and impactful, and even the obscured underlying pencil structure has a dancing quality.

One remembers "Market Place" long after one forgets the portrait of the Stokes.

It's notable that the most moving portrait works that Sargent did were those of his loved ones.

"In the Generalife", J.S. Sargent. Featuring Emily Sargent (his sister) and friends.

Answer for yourself: what do I do that a skilled photographer with access to a number of Photoshop filters could not do?

This is the most important question for an artist to ever answer.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at avajarvisart.com. If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.