Canaletto, Badminton House, Gloucestershire.
Did you know that you were born into a manner? So was everyone else. Your manner is that which you naturally do, untrained. Even when trained, much of your time is spent compensating for that manner. Of course, I’m writing about seeing, drawing, and painting. And whether you are aware of it or not, the main goal of learning how to see is to release you from that manner.
Although intimately connected, there are manners of seeing as well as manners of drawing.1 For example, I naturally see too large. So do most people. How do I know this? Because Sight-Size allows me to directly compare one-to-one. Through it I can see whether my drawing, which represents my sight, is correctly sized. Often, mine is too large. That’s not as surprising as it might seem and the divergence is ever so slight. It is also far less than it was when I first began to learn how to see.
As to manners of drawing, that’s easily determined by looking a your handwriting. Assuming that you did not at some point in your life purposefully choose a handwriting style, you write in the style you were asked to copy as a child or, more likely, some unintentional variation of it. That variation is your drawing manner. It is what your hand naturally does when drawing your letters.
Take a few moments and quickly draw some circles, freehand, on a sheet of paper. Examine the results. Do your circles have anything in common? Are they consistently tilted, disconnected, oval-shaped, etc.? Whatever your answer — that is your drawing manner, and it is the result of your particular anatomy and habit.
Like many other terms, the word manner has various definitions. It is often conflated with the term style. Understanding the difference is of great importance to an art student’s training.
The current definitions of the two terms are usually given as follows:2
- Manner is defined as a method of artistic execution or mode of presentation.
- Style is a distinctive manner of expression or a particular manner or technique by which something is done, created, or performed.
So style is manner and manner is style. Huh?
Let me simplify.
Manner is unintentional, whereas style is a choice.
As a student, one of your goals is to mitigate your manner of seeing by conforming your eye to nature.3 Odds are you will never fully attain that goal, but you will at least realize where you fall short. That knowledge will, hopefully, provide the means for you to compensate.
Your manner of drawing will likely change along the way as you get better at accurately seeing.
Once you have learned to accurately see, then and only then is it time to consider style in drawing and painting. Since style is intentional — that is, an intentional deviation from nature — you must first truly see nature before you can correctly deviate from it. A good example of this is Sargent’s portrait of Coventry Patmore, which is shown below alongside a photograph of Mr. Patmore.
Notice how Sargent changed the shapes of Patmore’s face, elongating him almost to the point of caricaturization. That elongation was the style of the age, intended to convey elegance. Many artists of the time took that on. It was also a common style used during the Renaissance, only in those times it often implied holiness.
While we are contrasting manner and style, below is a pair of images (on the left a portrait by Pontormo, and on the right one by El Greco). Pontormo was known as a Mannerist, a group of artists who took their inspiration primarily from Michelangelo. Despite the use of the term, The Mannerists purposely styled their work after Michelangelo.
Once again, manner is unintentional and style is a choice. But it is a choice that can only be made after you have left the confines of your manner.
1While there is a manner of seeing, there is no style of seeing. In other words, you cannot intentionally see differently, only more or less accurately.
2Manner and Style defined by Merriam-Webster.
3Conforming your eye to nature is best done through Sight-Size cast drawing.