Loose vs. Tight, Aren’t We Missing the Point?

The Devil is in the Intangibles

There is a larger issue artists of all stripes should spend more time contemplating. Loose and impressionistic, like tight and controlled handling of any art subject, involves numerous choices in the process, at the beginning and all along the way. In and of themselves, loose painting or tightly rendered detail are not artistic, regardless of what art snobs might say. Its how deftly you wield those styles that matter, right? Right! Sound a little obvious to you? Well it should, but its odd how little I see that aspect discussed. Loose painting is not more artistic simply because its loose. Its artistic because the loose passages were employed skillfully, maximizing the medium’s strengths and showcasing the beauty of color combinations, flow, center of interest, composition and a host of other elements that came together in a dynamic and pleasing way, albeit loose way. The same goes for tightly controlled, realistic rendering and detail. A piece is not strong because it is accurately rendered to the minutest detail. All the detail in the world, all the realism in the world can’t make a piece of art more artistic. Its the intangibles that matter: design, composition, light, value, leading eye elements or any of the other elements that also make a loose painting great.

Paint Like a Chef

Here is where I’m going with this. Art is a recipe. No master chef would say that if a little of one ingredient is good then a lot more of it is better. A pastry chef knows exactly what balance of ingredients gives dough the right rise, flavor and flakiness. And here’s a hint. Success usually involves much more that one ingredient. When you simply mix water, flour and salt together, all you get is hardtack. Among artists, this same sort of over simplification is rampant. There is a lot of artistic “hardtack” being made let me tell you. The loose artist should be more concerned with the less tangible aspects mentioned above, like composition or color, and perhaps consider where that little amount of detail might add the perfect touch. The tight realist should likewise spend more time considering the same artistic intangibles, maybe value or center of interest, but also be thinking about where their piece might benefit from a looser, more impressionistic feel. Artistic recipes! A pinch of this, a dash of that. Tweak. Experiment. See how the flavor changes with a new combination of ingredients. I frequently hear artists say, “I want to learn to paint looser,” or, “I want to paint more photo realistically.” I rarely hear artists say, “I want to learn to design better compositions, paint values more dynamically, create more harmonious color schemes or compelling centers of interest and learn better how to lead the eye through my painting.” Oh how I wish I did.

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