17 Jun Shoemaker, Stick to Shoes
Painting is the only art in which the intuitive qualities of the artistic may be more valuable than actual knowledge or intelligence.
— Lucian Freud
In his History of Art, Pliny the Elder recounts how a well-meaning art critic, a shoemaker by trade, told the Ancient Greek painter Apelles that he’d omitted a string in his picture of a sandal.
Apelles thanked the shoemaker and added the missing string.
The shoemaker then dinged Apelles’ rendering of the human leg.
The artist replied, “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam.”
Shoemaker, stick to shoes.
The advice became a Roman proverb.
While I’m open to a candid “crit,” sometimes I want to stifle the shoemakers—the critics who focus on minutiae.
I guess that makes me thin skinned. (Painter Lisa Yuskavage compares the crit to standing on a scale in the nude in public. I’d hate that.)
Painting accurately—achieving verisimilitude—isn’t the same thing as illustrating minutiae.
The shoemaker is within his rights to ding my rendition of a shoe, if my assignment were only to create ads for his shop.
But painting isn’t commercial (or scientific, fashion, or editorial) illustration.
Painting has another purpose.
“My object in painting pictures is to try and move the senses by giving an intensification of reality.” Lucian Freud said in in 1954.
With that goal in mind, subject matter expertise, whether about sunflowers, strawberries, screwdrivers or sandals, doesn’t count for much.
Nor does acquaintance with objectivity reality.
“Painting is the only art in which the intuitive qualities of the artistic may be more valuable than actual knowledge or intelligence,” Freud said.
A painting exists on its own, Freud insisted, without reference to the external reality it depicts.
“Whether it will convince or not depends entirely on what it is in itself, what is there to be seen,” he said.
When it comes to the object portrayed, many—if not all—minor details become superfluous to the painter.
“The picture is all he feels about it, all he thinks worth preserving of it, all he invests it with.”
Above: A Pair of Boots by Robert Francis James. Oil on canvas. 16 x 12 inches.