THROWBACK THURSDAY: REVIEWING A REISSUE
I really really appreciate the publisher Dover for reviving/re-issuing some great art and art technique books. This particular book, Light for the Artist, from 1988, offers up some extremely valuable information. Light, its source and its effect on an object, might be one of the most important aspects of painting. Everything from color and hue to shadows depends on light.
Author Ted Seth Jacobs tends to get a little overly-complicated, explaining things multiple times, using paintings (his own) and painting diagrams to illustrate his points.
The difficult thing about art instruction by book is that the teacher/author must assume that the reader has no knowledge of what is being taught, otherwise they wouldn’t be seeking out the instruction book. Jacobs certainly packs in a lot of material here, but it reads very clinically and without any excitement. A little artistic passion would be helpful, but even the included paintings are subdued, dry works (the cover, as depicted here, might be the most ‘vibrant’ of his included paintings).
Yet dry or not, the information here is definitely respected by Jacobs. He has three chapters 1: “Symbolism and Perception: Word Versus Light”, 2: “The Nature of Light: Its Structure, Action, and Effects”, and 3: “Toward a Philosophy of Perception” with sub-chapters such as “Light as a Paradigm of Consciousness:, “Light Moving Through Space”, and “Unifying Washes of Light” among many others. If nothing else, Jacobs is thorough.
But in any discussion of light, as it applies to the painting arts, I would hope for examples beyond the author. How do you describe the power of light in art without acknowledging or sharing examples of Rembrandt or Caravaggio or Vermeer? While the budding artists who read this book aren’t likely to achieve the status of these masters, it would still be nice to see Jacobs’ teachings as illustrated by these masters.
Because of the dry nature of the writing, I did find myself losing focus and needing to re-read sections that I’d just read. And frankly, much of what is written here seems so natural to me that I don’t understand why it’s necessary to go in to such detail about light – its source and angles and effects. Jacobs does touch on this briefly in his preface:
As you might expect, many of the actions of light described here have been known for centuries. However, since the advent of nonrepresentational art, a large body of past knowledge about light, including some very basic ideas, has been virtually lost. This phenomenon is observed over and over in art schools—even among students who have been studying for many years. For this reason, I presume to hope that besides the student, even the professional artist may find here useful material about light.
I entered the university system as an art major, almost a decade before the book was first published, and I recall a number of my teachers talking about the importance of shadows and light (one small aspect of what Jacobs touches on) and very little discussion on “nonrepresentational art” so I’m not quite sure what he is referring to.
I was going to close saying that I wasn’t sure I learned anything particularly new; however, I do think that the next time I go to draw or paint something, I will take a second and third look at the source(s) of light on my subject before I draw (and that’s a good thing), so perhaps even this slight alteration to my methods, because of this book, suggests that even a dry, scholarly book on art can have an impact on the artist.
Looking for a good book? Light for the Artist is a thorough examination on how light can and should impact the artist, and though it reads a bit dull at times, it can still have a positive influence on the amateur artist.
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Light for the Artist
author: Ted Seth Jacobs
artist: Ted Seth Jacobs
publisher: Dover Publications
paperback, 144 pages