How many times have you looked out a museum window or left an exhibition and seen the world differently? For just a little while you feel like you have stepped into a painting or else that you are seeing it as an artist might. If you're David Hockney, you paint it!
Picturing a World
Website alert: Geograph is a project that posts photographs of Great Britain and Ireland by Ordnance Survey grid squares. If you want to know what a place looks like or tour a region on line, it's a great resource. And some of the images from its more than 13,000 contributors might inspire you to take an imaginary journey into the unknown—like this amazing cloud formation from Derek Dye!
Blog post alert: I can't think of an equivalent exercise for writers, but I was fascinated by James Gurney's video demonstrating Painting Raindrops on a Windshield. If you like to watch a pro work magic, check it out!
Companies of traveling players performed Commedia dell'arte outdoors, a topic that can be explored from many angles—at what venues? to what sized audience? in what legal or illicit circumstances? What interests me most in Watteau's depiction of a troupe is the lighting by torch and moonlight. Remember Snout's question in A Midsummer Night's Dream, III, i: "Doth the moon shine that night we play our play?"
How much could be seen by how many spectators would vary immensely by how full the moon was on a given night, and whether the sky was clear. Torches would illuminate in a small area and add glaring, smoky focal points. But, oh, but what else could be going on off in the darkness—that's for the writer to visualize!
Lighting at night before electricity or even gas is hard for a 21st C westerner to imagine. That's something writers must keep in mind both in visualizing a scene and enabling their readers to do so. I read somewhere that, in Jane Austen's day, evening parties were scheduled for when the moon was full to make it easier for guests to get home. This painting by Petrus van Schendel implies that candlelight on the night of a full moon would make it possible for market stalls to extend the selling day into at least early evening. Glad I ran across it—and glad to find that the Athenaeum has 37 additional works by the artist, many of them night scenes.