All my life I have heard artists say that they want to capture the essence of the subject. It is one of those phrases that sounds good and makes the artist feel like they have insights into things that others don't.
So, I've been thinking about it lately (now that I'm nearing my late 50's) and I have on occassion captured the essence of my subject. When it happens I know it but it wasn't something I could force. The more times it has happened, the closer I have become to knowing what it means to me.
Artists must pick and choose what they want to focus on in a painting. Whatever that is becomes the center of interest. all else becomes subservient and takes on a suporting role. It is the difference between a painting and a photograph. The camera, at leasts for most of us, can't capture the essence as it sees all things equally. A good artist, however, transforms the landscape into important and unimportant features that all work together. Those who paint every blade of grass thinking they are capturing nature cannot possibly capture the essence of the subject. It may take lots of time but takes little skill to paint every detail equally. Essence is achieved when one captures an entire field of grass with a few strokes of the brush and gets the feeling of vastness, richness, depth, and light. If those few strokes convey those things they have captured the essence of the subject. Essence is the ability to take the complex, reduce it to the minimum but within that minimum reveal more than the combination of all those blades of grass put together.