Painting lessons

A couple of weeks back, while I was over in the US, I was given the opportunity to visit the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, to view a number of prints created by the famous French painter Henri Matisse.

Matisse saw printmaking as an extension of drawing and used the media as a way of demonstrating to his audience the way that he worked. And there was no greater example of that than one of the crayon transfer lithographs that were on show at the museum.

Called Seated Nude, Viewed from Behind, the image, which was created almost 100 years ago, has become almost synonymous with the name of the artist himself.

To look at the image, one gains the impression that it must have taken Matisse no longer than five minutes to create – it can’t consist of anymore than 20 strokes of the crayon. Nevertheless, it is an image that stays in the mind far longer than many other works of modern art that also reside in that particular museum in Texas.

As a person also involved in the creative process – albeit writing rather than painting – looking at that terrific piece of work by Matisse made me think again about my own writing style, and how it might be possible for me to communicate my thoughts in fewer words while still conveying the same meaning to the readers of my articles.

You see, as a writer of technical pieces, it’s too easy to get carried away explaining the meticulous details behind every feature of a new system, rather than focusing on its critical characteristics. I’m as guilty as the next fellow in this respect – with the result that one or two of my articles have even been compared to technical manuals rather than being described as interesting pieces of prose!

But just as I might learn a few lessons from Matisse’s Seated Nude as a writer, the simplicity of the artist’s creation could convey an important message to engineers involved in the world of design too, reminding them that in many cases, a simple solution to a design problem can be just as, if not more, effective than a complex one.

Perhaps it might make many reflect on how the countless designs that they have produced in the past might have been just a little over-engineered as well. It might also make others realise that the next time they pick up a mouse to create something new in their CAD packages, if they can’t bring a design to fruition with just a few strokes, then perhaps they’re taking the wrong approach.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

Dave’s comments form part of the weekly Engineeringtalk newsletter, which also includes a round-up of the latest engineering products and services. To subscribe click here