I have a few artist friends whose opinion I pay attention to. One of them, Lilliana, told me once (though her philosophy toward a painting and mine are different) that I needed to learn how to paint something called “atmosphere.” I could NOT figure out what she meant. She tried explaining it, but…
Then I began to appreciate the work of J. M. W. Turner, work I’d always thought was just a bunch of muddy smudges. He pretty much ONLY paints atmosphere.
I believe atmosphere = humidity.
I tried explaining to my friend that I had learned to paint in Colorado where there is little or no “atmosphere.”
I began pondering the difference between “luminosity” and “clarity” and I realized that my friend was right. A landscape painting has to fool the viewer into believing they’re looking at a scene and it has to give the viewer information about what to look at. “Atmosphere” also gives the viewer information about distance.That was a new perspective (ha ha). It also conveys time of day. There is more atmosphere in the morning and in the evening than at noon.
Rita, the other artist friend in question, paints Colorado but her paintings have “atmosphere.” She even put up a video tutorial about how to paint this. I watched it and it was great for two reasons. First, it was only a couple of minutes long. Second, she SHOWED “how” to do it.
It’s like writing a compare/contrast essay. No writer sits down with that as an intention any more than a painter gets up and says, “Today I’m going to paint atmosphere, the middle distance, and the three values.” Those things are tools.
BUT…Where I live now there is, often, absolutely NO atmosphere. The only thing between me and the mountains fifty miles away is fifty miles. The light here — which I love — is NOT luminous. It’s CLEAR. You can see the clarity in the photo; what you can’t see is that I could see all the nooks and crannies of the distant Sangre de Cristo mountains from where I stood as I took this picture.
Clear light. I thought about it some more. That is probably the meaning of “art” vs. “nature.” A painting that imitates the absolute clarity of this scene could end up visually confusing.
In this painting, I painted atmosphere.
I’ve learned all this but I’ve yet to apply it to a landscape. Ultimately learning this has confused me as a painter. I don’t know if I want to have a system and to get things right. I don’t know anything at all.