At a time when photorealism and hyperrealism are all the rage, and when artworks are perhaps chiefly consumed online, I wanted to ask people about what size of paintings they think is ‘right’? I’m sure this is an issue which everyone must have thought about at one time or another.
The advantages of going big seem obvious to me:
It gives you so much space to get things correct. For example, if you’re doing a portrait, the human eye can be blown up to a size that it’s really a pleasure to depict it. Rather than clarting around trying to convey incredibly complex information in a tight space, doing it large is very therapeutic.
A large painting catches the eye in a gallery and can really command the room.
Online all art is displayed with small thumbnails of equal size. And people, who aren’t particularly savvy, will marvel at works of photorealism without ever bothering to check the actual dimensions of the real thing. Thus a big art work, when shrunken, can look very impressive.
So what would be the advantage of going small? Well here I see only one advantage, and that is that you don’t get overawed by the sheer amount of work there is to do. You are liberated into having the time to endlessly pour over the trivial details of each and every facet of the painting.
However all that said, I would argue that that is only an advantage if you really have the skills to be able to render all those tiny details.
Which leads to perhaps a second ‘advantage’ of working small: that you by necessity convey a greater virtuosity, so that the art work is more admired. Of course again, this entails having the requisite virtuosity in the first place.
So my conclusion would be, unless you’re a maestro, working big is probably the best route to go down. Unless someone wants to convince me that working small in and of itself actually hones your skill (which I don’t think it does, I think you need a lot of deliberate practice at the very least, as well as strategies on how to handle tiny details).
A final point. Whilst an observer might look at two photorealistic art pieces of great quality, one very large and one very small, and conclude that the smaller one is more worthy of interest and awe because it is so small, this only works to a certain extent.
I don’t think an observer would ever look at two reasonably good photorealistic art pieces, one of 10 inches by 10 inches and the other of 20 inches by 15 inches and conclude that ‘the smaller piece seems somewhat shoddier than the bigger piece but in fairness to the artist he was working on smaller dimensions.’
In other words unless you’re both working really small and displaying great virtuosity, it seems foolish not to give yourself the advantage of scaling up, because the ‘judges’ won’t really be taking size into account. I feel that if someone were to judge two of my portraits, one twice as big as the other, they would conclude the bigger one was better.
It also seems to me that doubling the size of an artwork, let’s say a portrait, might improve the look of it, not just by 'a factor of 2’. That’s certainly been my experience with portrait painting where often halving the dimensions of the face can lead to an array of problems.
It feels to me like there is probably a sweet spot to be had, so that choosing the right size to paint at can lead to huge advantages from the get go.