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Thoughtful Thursday: Artistic License

“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.” – Oscar Wilde

During the plein air event at Paint Annapolis, a gallery artist was approached and asked if what he was painting was Davis’s Pub. He replied in the affirmative to which the observer responded with, “but that house over there that you are painting doesn’t have a red door.” The artist politely and with a smile explained that he left his artistic license in his glove box in the car!

Artistic liberties abound in many art forms – poetry, conversion of books to movies, music and yes, in paintings! True purists of plein air paint what they see, while many more artists tweak that scene to reflect their vision. This plein air “plus” format results in a few chickens in the barn yard, a child playing in the sand, or an egret at the shoreline.

“Artistic license describes the freedoms artists take with the facts in the process of creating; disregarding facts for the sake of the art.”

But do we allow artistic license to apply in our everyday world? Young people are infatuated with the camera in their cellphones, posturing and pursing lips in exaggerated poses. Applying filters may be this younger generation's artistic license. The tech-savvy can manipulate images and videos to enhance, distort and misrepresent while photoshopping challenges the adage, “Seeing is believing.”

 Do we encourage such creative expression even when we know it toys with reality. We live in a time where truth is challenged, facts are questionable and veracity is no longer universally valued. What was once considered certain is now dubious. Even as we see and hear events in real time, pundits, assuming the roles of news media, explain how what you saw and heard is really quite different than your experience. We have become so boorish that friends fact-check each other during casual conversations. What is Fake News? All news, if factual and true, is real news. It maybe unimportant, irrelevant or even repugnant, but it is real news. The interpretation of that news is intensely personal and our judgements and/or responses should reflect that. The news shouldn’t change but we, as consumers of news, should expect reactions may span the spectrum and that is a good thing! News that is not based in fact is fiction, and in fiction great creative license is allowed, even encouraged!

Expressions of artistic license abound in a gallery. In Phil Carroll’s Back Steps, the green mildew on the house contributes to an overall, composite beauty; is it real or the artist’s creative license? How about the corrosion on Joseph Burrough’s Rusty Deadrise; real or a figment of the artist’s imagination? When I look at the paintings on my gallery walls, I have no idea where artists took liberties with their subject matter. I know that I am grateful for this artistic license as it lends interest, color and turns an observation into a story.

To see artistic license on display, please visit our gallery in Chestertown or shop virtually at

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