Doing His HomeworkA journalist, writer, or documentary filmmaker today spends weeks, perhaps months or even years putting together background material before ever stepping behind a camera or typing the first word. Today we call this "doing your homework". Most painters today don't go much beyond a few preliminary sketches, a photo or two, or maybe some quick colour studies before putting brush to canvas. It's little wonder our paintings today have about as much social significance as an aspirin tablet. It wasn't always that way.
Théodore Géricault, in preparing the scandalous Raft of the Medusa, went to lengths only matched in this century by Titanic filmmakers or perhaps the writer, James Michner, to immerse himself in his subject. He rented a massive barn of a studio, had the ship's carpenter build an exact, full-scale replica of the raft, interviewed survivors, had some of them pose for the painting, and even went so far to visit his friendly, neighbourhood morgue where he cajoled the coroner into lending him a few dead bodies to decorate the foreground of the movie-set-like conglomeration from which he painted. It made for an authentic painting, but it's doubtful he was very popular with his neighbours.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
18 November 1997