At the dentist


I spent three hours in the dentist’s chair today, one for cleaning by the lovely Asmeet, a young Sikh woman who is about to be married just next week. “A big traditional Sikh wedding,” she beamed, and she blathered on about it and her fiancée and her honeymoon while she dug her sharp cleaning tool into my gums.

“Oh, does that hurt? she says, a bit concerned.

“It would hurt you too,” I replied, “if someone was poking a sharp instrument into your gums who hadn’t been poked at so vigourously for a year.” I said it kindly but I really wished she would pay just a bit more attention and not poke into the soft tissue so pointedly.

I don’t like going to the dentist much. It usually involves pain. So I set my mind to looking actively at my environment. Since my visual memory isn’t very good at all, I think about how I could get a picture of the dental hygienist from that angle that the patient sees her. I try to think how I might crop the image so that I had a good painting. It would have to be a realistic painting or nobody would understand what they were looking at.

The dentist offers an even more space age image with his magnifying glasses perched above his regular glasses, his mask covering his face. His mask was baby blue coloured; his assistant was sporting a baby pink one. I can remember these details, including the very interesting hand positions the dentist makes to proceed through the various stages of his work. I remember them in words, but if I wanted to paint them I’d be missing all the details that make it “readable” – the texture of the mask, the angle of the goggle like shapes viewed from head on.

When the going got rough, I closed my eyes and started looking at the colours that are behind my eyelids. It’s mostly red generously speckled with greens and magenta, but there are floaters in a stong purple ground that swirl around like lava lights. Just close your eyes and look at your colours behind the eyelids and you will see! When one does this over a two hour dental appointment, the time goes faster, one can ignore the more constant pain that the dentist knows how to maintain.

So here’s a question. If I could get the perfect photo of the dentist peering over his patient, and then I use this photo as reference material for a painting, then is this considered “cheating”? I think using photos, as long as it’s not slavishly copying the image exactly, is simply a good tool as an aide memoire. I would expect to work along with the image, altering the composition to draw in the viewer, finding textures, rhythms and forms to enhance to make the picture.

Contrast this with the artist who takes the pictures from National Geographic (NG) and tries to reproduce it. What I find wrong with this approach for a serious visual artist, is that the painter has no experience whatsoever with the NG reproduction. He has no feel for the landscape, situation or the people involved, and is not bringing a personal perspective to the artwork.

So the question is, what is your opinion on the use of photographs upon which an art image is being created? What do you consider is a valid use of photographs in art, if any?


One Response to “At the dentist”

  1. vyala Says:

    Funnily this question has come up for me as well. I have my own opinion about it but this may change again. Currently I have 2 parts written on my blog where I am talking about this issue which reflect my actual thoughts on it. But more information, other views and arguments may put a different light on these. Discussion is not a static.

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