This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak with the juror of a recent show, of which I was a participant. The juror, a 3D glass artist and gallery owner in Alexandria, had chosen selections for the "Best of Showcase". (My painting was one of thirteen chosen out of approx. 100 pieces.) As the conversation evolved, she mentioned her process in choosing the "Best of Show" works and revealed that she had allowed a few of her "painter" friends to preview the works. One of her friends had been astonished that the juror had chosen a painting (or paintings) that may have been completed from a photo reference.
As a non-academic artist (someone who has not attended a formal art school) and as an artist who knows of many award-winning studio painters who use photographs as inspiration, I walked away from the conversation somewhat bemused. Is a painting created using a photograph as inspiration less valid than one created from life? ...even if the painting is the artist's authentic vision (her own vision, her moment, her photograph, unmanipulated)?
I continue to greatly admire those artists that can prop an easel in a field for hours and paint, or those who can perfectly stage a still-life painting and work for weeks from the same still life (and I have done so myself many times), but admittedly for me, working from "life" and "en plein air" is highly impractical to my process. Honestly, if I set a crate of apples out for 2 weeks to paint them, they would get knocked over during "hide-and-seek" and rearranged and eaten by my children on the first day (ok, maybe the second). I am proud to say, that I am a studio painter who works from my own photographic references. For if I weren't working from a photo-derived inspiration, in the bits and pieces of time I do find to paint; between being a mom, a nurse and the magician who maintains "good order and discipline" at home, I wouldn't paint.
No doubt this debate will continue without agreement. And just as I appreciate and respect the methods of other artists, I am thankful to the juror for choosing work that spoke to her "from the gut" and not a preconception that art created from something other than life is less valid and worthy of recognition.
For me, validity is in the vision, the translation from the spirit, and the courage in doing and much less about the method and process (though I find great joy in the process). The vision is from life, the process in between, merely a vessel on an open road.