Recently Robert Bateman raised some eyebrows when he said: "I think some plein air artists are in a rut. They go for the easy scene". C.W. Mundy spoke about the difference between painters who are content to record a scene and artists who interpret a scene.
These two great artists are not wrong. The Plein Air movement has attracted a lot of people to painting and many of them have gone through the circuit of workshops and events that have molded an almost uniform voice or rather more specifically method coming from the mountain and west of the USA. If you look at enough Plein Air works done south of the boarder you begin to notice two things.
1- Except for a few brilliant artists, the majority seem to have graduated from the Clyde Aspevig and Jim Wilcox and Scott Christensen copy schools. Don't get me wrong they are great artists, but we don't need a legion of them. As a matter of fact, while I put Christensen in a slightly separate category, I would dare you to tell me the difference between Wilcox and Aspevig. There are very few individual voices in a land that prides itself on individuality.
2- the second thing you notice, and that is endemic of the global Plain Air movement, is a lack of thought, design and composition. The need to render a scene as is has become a battle cry and some misguided jurors in some of the mushrooming events in the USA have been re-enforcing this literal trend and contributing to the vulgarization of the movement.
We Canadians Plein Air painter are sadly not immune from this. We don't have an Clyde Aspevig aping mania, but we do have a post-impressionist/ Group-of-Seven malady that dots the art scene everywhere you look. And we also not immune to the lack of thought-design-composition phenomenon albeit we don't go for the literal as much as our southern friends do. That could also be because of the G7 aping phenomenon.
My challenge to all of us is to find our unique voices. To walk away from aping Thomson, Jackson, McDonald and their Quebec contemporaries and find new ways to interpret our surroundings.
How many crooked leaning houses outlined in black like theirs do we still need? How many windswept trees on rounded rocks like Jackson's do we still need? Why have we not progressed from their seemingly unique style that they borrowed from Van Gogh, Degas and other post-impressionists? We need new voices, new images, and a lot more thought, design and composition. We need to think for ourselves and not through the frames of dead artists. They did their work. We need to do ours and not repeat and copy. We need to break free.