30 December 2012

The Admission and Omission of Details

Foolish critics often betray their ignorance by saying that a painter or a writer "only copies what he has seen, or puts down what he has known."

They forget that no man imagines what he has not seen or known, and that it is in the selection of characteristic details that the artistic power is manifested.

Those who suppose that familiarity with scenes or characters enables a painter or a novelist to "copy" them with artistic effect, forget the well-known fact that the vast majority of men are painfully incompetent to avail themselves of this familiarity, and cannot form vivid pictures even to themselves of scenes in which they pass their daily lives; and if they could imagine these, they would need the delicate selective instinct to guide them in the admission and omission of details, as well as in the grouping of the images.

Let any one try to "copy" the wife or brother he knows so well,—to make a human image which shall speak and act so as to impress strangers with a belief in its truth,—and he will then see that the much-despised reliance on actual experience is not the mechanical procedure it is believed to be.

George Henry Lewes, The Principles of Success in Literature

Painting: Claude Monet, Pathway in Monet's Garden at Giverny

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