… If beauty exists, to me it is like generosity: it is in the soul of the beholder …
This is from the essay ‘The Conceptualization of Realism’ found in Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes (2014):
When people ask me what sort of painter I am, I do not use the word realism. Realism is one of those words used by criticism to tidy up the range of art that exists. Criticism by its nature, is a herder: art, by its nature, does not herd.
When I am asked what sort of painter I am, I say that I paint pictures of places outdoors directly from nature. I use no intermediary tools, like photographs, nor do I paint from drawings. I draw, not to establish anything, but to gain an acquaintance with a place. A drawing, for me, is like a first meeting with a person.
One of the many reasons I started painting from nature was to escape a certain kind of aesthetics. I didn’t like thinking, should the picture be symmetrical, say, or asymmetrical. A good painting could be either. To have something in front of you to paint was to get away from such judgments. Here is a place: how do I get it onto a flat surface? Then aesthetics becomes secondary, it comes in by virtue of something else to which you are paying attention.
… When I work outdoors, people passing by often say that the picture looks better than the real thing. I don’t intend to “improve” nature. Since people say this, then perhaps I am to conclude that I am not a realist by a subjectivist or a romantic. I don’t know and I’m not concerned about it. To wish to know what you are might be a way of preventing yourself from being what you might become or also be.
[line break added] It might just be a way of being prejudiced. I do not choose the place I paint at for a reason, but by instinct; I like to investigate both the probable and the improbable. If beauty exists, to me it is like generosity: it is in the soul of the beholder and it might operate on anything.