Passport Photos of the Art World

“Mr. P.C.,” ©2018, Molly Larson Cook
24 x 36, Acrylic on canvas

Over the years as an arts writer, a steadfast museum and gallery visitor, a buyer, a student of art history and now an artist, one thing remains uppermost in my personal Arts Appreciation endeavors – the photos never look as good as the actual work.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a professional doing the photography or an amateur with a pretty good digital camera, it just doesn’t happen.  And quite likely can’t happen.

I know I’m not alone in this.  More than one gallery owner has let me know that the work received based on photos for juried shows was too often a disappointment.  Or, for gallery goers, the work in person is sometimes a gorgeous surprise after just seeing the photos in the big expensive books.  Photos of paintings are kind of the passport photos of the art world.

The problem is more than changing colors and lighting. It’s also about perception.

On one occasion at a Georgia O’Keeffe show at the Boston Fine Arts Museum, I – a faithful lover of O’Keeffe’s work – came around a corner and face to face with O’Keeffe’s  “City Night.” I had seen this painting countless times in books, but nothing prepared me for the three-dimensional quality of the work.  I started to fall and a kind fellow next to me put his arm out to stop the fall, then smiled and said, “It does that to you.”

Indeed it did.

Although I post the photos here of my newest work, taken with my super duper digital camera for which I’m wildly grateful, I know, too, that what you see is never quite what you’ll get in person.  And I’ve been to enough galleries and museums to know that I rarely get the images I’ve seen.  Nearly always, the real thing is more vibrant and dimensional and that’s not an exaggeration.

Photographs flatten everything, including the rich textures of a painting as well as the highlights of paint colors in reflected light.

The push is so often on now to get our work online.  The new media is the thing.  The new marketing is the thing online.  Aside from my posts, I haven’t made the jump yet.  I’ve started more than once, but when I look from the paintings to the photographs and back again, I know I’m losing something in the translation.

I much prefer to show my work in person or have it in a gallery where potential buyers or appreciators can see it up close and personal.

That said, I’ve included here a photo of the last piece for the upcoming solo show, “The Colors of Jazz: Celebrating poetry, jazz, and visual art.”  The show opens on March 25 at the Inkspot Gallery (San Diego Writers, Ink.) in Liberty Station, San Diego, and the reception will be Friday evening, April 6 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. followed by live poetry.

If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you there.  Like the rest of us, the paintings always look better than our photos.



Sometimes You CAN Judge a Book By Its Cover

A beautiful Art Nouveau book cover. If this image belongs to you, let me know and I'll remove it.
A beautiful Art Nouveau book cover. If this image belongs to you, let me know and I’ll remove it.

I’m a writer as well as a sloooowly developing artist, and I love books, especially older books which were designed with care and treated as something more than bundles of information.

At the library today I ran across a lovely book about such books, or more precisely about book covers.

Alas, the days are gone when book cover artists worked their magic.  I’m not talking about dust cover art which is what we see on hard-bound books today but the covers of the books themselves.  If a book did come with a dust cover you could take it off and have something beautiful in hand.  Remove the dust cover now and you’ll have colored pasteboard with no art at all.

I lament this condition.

Book cover art in America had its heyday in the Art Nouveau period, and the covers are beautiful, often tending toward water lilies and other flowers as was the wont of much Art Nouveau design.  But these were not “art books” that cost an arm and a leg. These were ordinary books any bookseller might stock.  What a joy it must have been to walk through a bookstore in the 1930s or so – a walk through a gallery!

The publishing world has changed, of course, and is now run by people motivated by a lot of things unrelated to art.  I’m reminded of the words of writer Tom Robbins, a man with an artist’s heart I’m absolutely certain:
“People who sacrifice beauty for efficiency get what they deserve.”

And so do people who sacrifice beauty for the all-mighty buck.