Form And Vision: More On Exaggeration

As I continue to work I realize just how much I agree with Van Gogh and Pissaro.To have as my goal to paint only with precision and with perfect proportion becomes shallow. Feeling and empathy are my first priorities, expressed through exaggeration and abstraction.

See also…

Boldly Exaggerate: Reality Is Not In A Mirror
Balancing Chaos: Structure And Expression

Self Portrait by Pablo PicassoI think about Picasso’s ideas on children’s drawings and how he wanted to be, himself, as free to create. In addition to the importance of their inquisitive wonder, children seem to react instinctively to their feelings about the world they inhabit–they may paint a dominant parent more exaggerated in size than the other, for example. Their painted lines and shapes are not hindered so much by what something actually looks like.

…the best figure drawing’s expressive content can be found at both the figurative and abstract levels.  Nathan Goldstein Fiqure Drawing – The Structure, Anatomy, and Expressive Design of Human Form

Children, of course, haven’t yet developed the ability to render accurately. Children don’t appear to carry the adult’s burden of wondering if they are “good enough”, and therefore, early on, they retain an uninhibited self–they just create.

The adult, overly concerned with proficiency, can inhibit his childlike response. But luckily the uninhibited self does live on in the adult, oddly enough, through developed abilities, i.e., because I have become proficient at interpreting what I see I no longer have to think so much about that aspect of creation–it becomes a natural part of my expression–I am free to “just create”.

To varying degrees both form (rendering) and vision (empathy) are present in art…

  • Edvard Munch’s The Scream isn’t anatomically correct, hardly, but it shows the artist’s deep empathy for the subject.
  • Viewers of Kathe Kollwitz’s Woman With Dead Child, though it is drawn quite accurately, know this woman’s pain.
  • In my self-portrait , above, the gray coloration and drooping, narrowed shoulders reflect more of how I felt that day than the way the scene actually looked.

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

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8 Responses

  1. roopadudley says:

    IMHO there is no point to paint or draw if what we see we copy exactly as is….we have cameras for that. It also becomes boring to see photo-realistic or hyper-realistic artwork as it seems to me that the artist is hiding behind the mask accuracy and craftsmanship rather than having a head to heart or heart to heart dialog with the viewer.

    • MTMcClanahan says:

      I think you are right where it comes to a novice, but don’t you think a seasoned artist can be expressive when attempting photo realism. I don’t have any examples but expression comes in various forms and manipulations. The term “photo realism ” seems to contradict itself doesn’t it.

  2. roopadudley says:

    I call that a huge waste of time for a ‘seasoned’ skillful imitator. I would not call them Artists but Craftsmen Marcus as they are “reproducing” something that already exists…and through a man made machine like you eloquently pointed out. Now don’t get me wrong here for most artists including myself do use images as references from time to time but to reproduce it exactly like a photograph is akin to being an assembly line brainless worker showing off the remarkable skill to copy work immaculately — no creativity even worse feelings involved here because it is only making the viewer going oooh and aah with the accurately rendered painting/drawing of ‘what it is’. Boring! What is the glory in that? Any trained human can learn to do that in a matter of few months. Creativity cannot be taught, perfected or learnt — Creativity is Magic . It strives to make incredible credible without a shadow of doubt. That is the key element that separates a Craftsman from an Artist.

    • It’s a nuance thing, i.e., there doesn’t have to be fantastic elements in it. Like a realistic painting of a Martian or something else like that isn’t creative just because of the subject. And a work isn’t creative just because it is skewed heavily with abstraction. It is the nuance, from the deep feeling of the artist, that makes it Art, don’t you think, no matter the subject or method.

  3. At the beginning of this year I determined to focus on making marks on a surface. (I’m mostly a painter). So, here I am almst a year later and have just read (once through- forgive me) this article. words like expression and nuance have cropped up. Munch’s scream is an illustration of expression and anatomy.

    All I can add, which might not be much, is that every mark I’ve made has a double representation. At the level of the pigment on the stick, any residual mark represents the pigment applied to the surface. How that mark relates to the other marks (if any) as well as the surface area on which it lies is the second representation. That relationship is in the hands (literally) of the artist (producer) and his(er) intent.
    So nuance is a very large issue or should be, from what I have found across 11 months of production and a LOT of years of aesthetic inquiry. A painting should look like a paint on some level.
    Expression is exaggeration in that it defines the artist’s particular view. As to “realism” – what we think we see is, in reality barely substantial, relying mostly on the energy between the atoms. That we see a tree at all, for instance, is because we are the same density and bundle of energies as the tree. This is not new.
    There is a thought from ancient biblical texts “for we understand that is made, is made from that which does not appear.” I’m finding this more and more accurate and profound on a daily basis.

    • “Expression is exaggeration” – interesting Stephen. So now I’m trying to really define “exaggeration”.

      What do you mean “A painting should look like a paint on some level”?

      And the biblical reference, the last of it, seems to be able to be taken in various ways. I wonder what the original translation/meaning is.

  4. elenaslc9 says:

    It is very high level of art works.
    Love Picasso, but the self portrait of MT McClanahan is gorgeously executed. Love this portrait so much.
    I can see so much expressions in that eyes.
    Well done!

    • I hesitated to put my painting in the same article with the others but I felt it demonstrated what I was trying to say pretty well. No greater compliment than someone seeing the emotion in one’s work I think, thank you. Kollwitz is a favorite of mine, though I know she can be a bit dark, but I may be a bit myself.

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