Picasso's handicap

May 12, 2006

Last weekend I gave a two-day acrylic workshop. I don't
advertise these events because they fill up immediately, and
there are always many on the wait-list. It's not that I'm so
brilliant at workshops, it's just that I do them infrequently.
Of the twenty-four painters in this group, many were
well-advanced. Some of them were wizards. Workshops, as every
instructor knows, are a learning curve for instructors. I kept
asking myself how it is that we are all so different--and what
makes us tick?

Snooping over shoulders, I tried to isolate and analyze both
the strengths and weaknesses of the participants. There are the
brushers, the drawers, the patterners, the detailers, the
audacious and the timid. There are also those who see values
and those who see colours. This time I was paying special
attention to the value-colour conundrum. Neurobiologist
Margaret Livingstone in "Vision and Art: The Biology of
Seeing," makes some interesting assertions about the disparity.
Apparently the perception of colour and the perception of value
take place in vastly different parts of the brain. Just as in
left/right brain function, some folks have one faculty
developed and the other not. Great variations exist throughout
the animal kingdom--many animals do not see colour at all. It
starts with the rods and cones--the receptors within our eyes.
The cone-info (colour) goes to one part of the brain--the
rod-info (value) goes to another.

In my observation, value painters are likely to have patterns
happening early on in their paintings--often within a few
minutes or even seconds. Colourists, on the other hand, often
start out in a wishy-washy way. These color specialists often
end up with what I call "equal-intensity laybys"--handsome
effects, often in warm and cool. This (sometimes automatic)
"razzle-dazzle" was not really practiced until the beginning of
Impressionism. One sees that the picture-making process and
appreciation are undergoing evolution--in many different
directions. Also, different artist's brains are wired
differently. And some of us may be handicapped.

I've always thought that colour ought to be arbitrary--but that
may be my handicap. When looking at the work of others,
particularly in the context of a workshop, one tends to see
success where luminescence (relative darkness and lightness) is
in play. But that also may be my handicap.

Best regards,


PS: "The most basic, primitive and necessary visual information
is found in luminance variations. The parts of our brains that
analyze a scene are colourblind." (Margaret Livingstone)

Esoterica: Picasso noted that "Reality is to be found in
lightness and darkness." But this comes from a painter who
rarely thought in terms of colour. A shimmering orange sun
razzle-dazzling within an equal-intensity grey-blue sky was not
his style. You could call this Picasso's handicap. Many a fine
style has evolved from a decent handicap.