Learning from Turner
It may seem odd to illustrate the Studioriley blog with a painting from Turner but there is a reason. Turner was a serious innovator in two brilliant ways. Firstly he figured out how to paint the light rather than the object. This was a feat of imagination that bears witness to our capacity to create a world through our perceptions. My mother showed me this paining at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester when I was a young teenager. I remember the feeling of amazement I felt. It inspired me to do well at art, the only subject I got consistently good grades in. The second is that he wanted to capture the experience not simply observe it from afar. The story goes that he had himself lashed to the mast of a boat in a storm in order to witness the storm at first hand. In order to document the experience you have to be in the experience. A good lesson that was restated by Robert Capa as the photographic axiom; “If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough”.
Turner is my favorite painter and, for me, his work sets up my love of photography. Photography is an art form that is about both experience and truth. Truth is, of course, relative, so photography explores the many perceptions on truth and by looking through many lenses we see reality, or at least we create a reality that can be meaningful to us. Photography must now be the single most popular art form in the world with cameras becoming applications on smart phones and millions of people creating reality everyday all over the world. It is easy to look at these images as simply pictures, all adding up to a Microsoftly simple and total picture of the world. But, as the filters on Instagram have shown us, a few simple tools and some constraints create a deeply satisfying and complex art form. Todays Instagram Photographers are getting close and working with light, just like Turner. This is an art form that is also a universal language. Pretty powerful stuff as we transition to this new world of whatever it is going to be! We used to think of the internet as a huge library of knowledge. It may be that the most powerful knowledge is in our shared perceptions of reality, all adding up to some form of sensed universal truth. Turner would be pretty impressed!
The main image on our front page is “Slave Ship” by Turner. It depicts slave owners tossing dead and dying slaves into the ocean. Arts role as social provocateur remains critical as modern day photographers all over the world are demonstrating today.