The Reporter

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John MacDonald, a brilliant landscape painter and thoughtful writer and teacher, has offered some very interesting observations about five roles you can play as a painter. Somewhat like an actor, the talented artist has the ability to switch roles as needed. Whether you create as a Poet, Reporter, Storyteller, Designer, or Virtuoso, is really up to you, but is determined by your conceptual intent.

This week we discuss the Reporter’s role. (Click images to enlarge)


The Reporter

John MacDonald in his analysis of the Reporter, one of five categories or roles in which painters can maneuver, describes the primary interest of the artist Reporter.

“The Reporter’s main desire is to capture as honestly and clearly as possible what is seen. For the Reporter, the artist is an Eye that examines and records.”

I can already hear the objections coming from the audience, “Oh, you’re just copying, where’s the creativity in that? Anybody can copy.” I suppose that’s true if you have some degree of ability, and if you’re working from a photo that you projected or traced, but it’s a totally different deal if you’re working from life; it’s there that the painter’s individuality shines forth. The paintings displayed in this article prove that to be true.

John Pototschnik – “The Bells of Innsbruck” – 50″ x 50″ – Oil

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1975) – “View of Rome from the Farnese Gardens-Morning” – 10″ x 16″ – Oil

Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) – “Still Life with Fish, Vegetables, Gougeres, Pots, and Cruets on a Table” – 27″ x 23″ – Oil (1769)

Joe Paquet – “Cave Shadow” – 40″ x 50″ – Oil


It seems to me that the role of painter Reporter is probably one of the most common, second to that of Storyteller. I certainly fill that role consistently, especially when working en plein air. To me, the Reporter as artist is extremely important; it presents an accurate record of the times. Before photography, what would we know concerning the appearance of things, various cultures, people and dress, if it wasn’t for the artist Reporter? I can’t help but think that when we hear the word “Reporter” today, we think of a news reporter. Typically, there are two kinds of reporters: 1) One that is unbiased and reports truth that is observable and provable. and 2) One that reports something that is not fully observable or provable, but is selectively chosen in order to make a falsehood believable. I believe the word that should be associated with the artist Reporter is honesty.

Edward Seago (1910-1974) – “October Morning, upper Horning” – 12″ x 16″ – Oil

David Curtis – “Low Winter Light, Staithes Beck” – 10″ x 12″ – Oil

Joseph McGurl – “The Harbor Islands Project, Bumpkin Island” (Plein Air) – 12″ x 9″ – Oil


According to MacDonald, “Some painters may concentrate on one aspect of a scene more than others, such as light, water, receding forms, etc., but generally, the Reporter paints what nature gives him. Whether working from life or photographs, the best paintings in this genre are never mere copies of what is seen, yet all place an emphasis on approximating the values and colors and rendering the forms as they are.” Also, with artist Reporters, the title of the painting often describes their intention to report. Sculptors and painters of portraits tend to be Reporters.

Canaletto (1697-1768) – “The Entrance to the Grand Canal and the Church of Santa Maria Della Salute” – 47″ x 60″ – Oil

Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan Bouveret (1852-1929) – “Breton Women at a Pardon” – 49″ x 55″ – Oil (1887)

Peder Severin Kroyer (1851-1909) – “Roses, Marie Kroyer Seated in the Deckchair in the Garden by Mrs. Bendsen’s House” – 27″ x 30″ – Oil


MacDonald further points out that there may be some overlap of categories, in other words, a painting may include both reporter and storyteller categories; what MacDonald emphasizes is that only one message should dominate, the other should remain secondary. Applying this to my work, I realize many of my paintings usually include two categories…only one dominating fortunately…but it’s been an interesting revelation. I tend to believe that our natural disposition will cause us to gravitate to one or two of the categories. Yes, with effort and the appropriate skill, we could create paintings that fit all categories, but our natural tendency will be to favor one or two over the others. In this post, Camille Corot demonstrates this truth. Basically, Corot is a “Reporter”, but every now and then he jumps into the “Poet” role.

Peder Mork Monsted (1859-1941) – “Watering the Garden” – 28″ x 19″ – Oil


Finally, and very importantly, MacDonald stresses that we can’t just freely jump from one role to another without possessing some primary skills required for each role. As with all roles, drawing is very important and foundational to all painting. As artist Reporter, it’s necessary to have the ability to see and understand values and be able to identify and mix colors. “Nailing the values and mixing the colors accurately are key to becoming a good reporter.”

Once again, thanks to John MacDonald for his shared insights. Next week, we’ll look at the Storyteller.


To view John MacDonald’s website, click HERE.

To view David Curtis’ website, click HERE.

To view Joseph McGurl’s website, Click HERE.

To view Joe Paquet’s website, click HERE.


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