What is “Artistic License”? When Should it be Used?

What exactly is Artistic License?

Is it a license that an artist gets that certifies them to be “an artist”?

Well, No!  There can be several forms of Artistic License. For this article, Artistic License is when an artist is creating from real life or from an image, and there is too much detail in the background to do the final art piece justice, so the artist puts in or leaves out details as needed. Whoaaaa…you mean the artist can pick or choose what to put into their piece? Yes!  Of course!  I have seen so many potentially great paintings that put in ALL the detail from the photo that faithfully rendered the final composition uncomfortably busy and distracting. The goal is to have a balanced composition.

So, are you getting the idea that Artistic License has to do with COMPOSITION and BALANCE?

Then you are right on!  Compare the two photos of birds below:

a) Look at the bright colors of the bird breasts — how easy is it to distinguish them from the red and yellow flowers in the background?  It’s confusing, isn’t it?  Even though these are photos, many  artists would paint this EXACTLY as it is on the photo!  WHY? You have the power to alter the original scene as you need to! 

Artistic License #1

b) How quickly and clearly can you distinguish the birds from the background in the second photo?  INSTANTLY!  Because the background was made to be passive and not interfere with the silhouetted birds in front… just enough color blending and blurred background to be the perfect contrast to the sharp, in-focus, brilliant birds.

Artistic License #2

Can you visualize what the first photo would look like with the background from the second image? Those colorful birds would POP into life, and have better odds of having a better sales value, too!

Drag out some of your past art pieces and take a really good look at them — Turn them face down or cover them. FLASH one into your eyesight for 3 SECONDS ONLY! Then turn it over/cover it.  What exactly did your eyes focus on first?  How easy was it to distinguish the subject from the background?  Did you know that most jurors in art competitions only view EACH piece submitted from 1-3 SECONDS in the first elimination round? A subject with a confusing or ill-defined background contrast will most likely be eliminated in the first round. Search the web for “Images of ____” and scan through them quickly to spot the images that POP into your vision–99% of the time, there is no crowding of the image and the subject is defined from the background. This is speaking in broad terms, as there can be styles that break all the rules.

NOT using “Artistic License” can make or break the value of your art and sale-ability. I attend a lot of art shows around the valley, and in virtually every show, there are usually a few perfectly executed paintings that have such confusing and cluttered backgrounds, they distract the eye and ultimately lower their value and sale-ability.

Do you DARE to step out and CHANGE your visual perception to EMBRACE Artistic License and take your art to the next level? 

I will cover more scenarios involving Artistic License in future articles.