The most important aspect of art to me is its clarity, and ability to convey a message. Whether it be abstract squares, a photorealistic portrait, or an artful representation of the emotion of bashfulness there needs to be an artist’s intent and a result that can be construed to be successful result of their efforts. I do not like Joseph Mallord William Turner’s "Rain Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway"(1844). They make me very angry in that they simply do not look like how refined I believe they should look. “Rain, Steam and Speed" is supposedly a steam engine advancing “across a bridge in the rain” with a hare running for cover. The plaque displayed next to the painting praises the picture for its “ability to capture atmospheric effects in paint”. I think it captures the dreary atmosphere, but it doesn’t do much else. Part of me wonders if it was intended that half of the dreary atmosphere comes from its seemingly unfinished state. I found this painting succeeding in a hall after I found another that had me so taken, the Artist is now a source of new inspiration for me.
There is a painting called “Weymouth Bay: Bowleaze Cove and Jordon Hill”(1860) by John Constable which I think effectively represents what “Rain Steam and Speed” should be like. It is in the same room as Turner’s works and only a doorway separates them. They both effectively “capture atmospheric effects in paint” but the dissimilarity is that Weymouth Bay is so refined, crisp, and makes you feel as if you’re standing there on the beach. “Rain, Steam and Speed” does not give you a dark stormy night with a contrasting steam train like something out of the polar express. “Rain Steam and Speed” does not display a traumatic experience of the hare, or a refined foreground and background. “Rain Steam and Speed” claims to have a hare but I can’t seem to find it, it boasts the atmosphere but is really just using fog as a means to abstain from proper refining on an artwork. The only real distinction I can make in this work is that there is a train, it’s on a bridge, there is another more faded bridge to the left and they’re seemingly over water. “Weymouth Bay” beautifully captures a shoreline and grassy hills in a cloudy atmosphere and it isn’t even finished, it has visible canvas as the brown of the sand. Yet, even with less finality, the refined shoreline and the green hills are refined as if one was standing there themselves on honeymoon just like John Constable was. Turner’s art lacks a finished quality that can be found even in the unfinished work of John Constable.
“Venice” beautifully relays space, “Weymouth Bay” adequately relays an atmosphere despite its flaws, but “Rain, Steam and Speed” does not do anything for me. Turner’s lack of small detail and defined shapes leaves me with a disparity between what it supposedly portrays and what I perceive from it. The painting succeeds in its ability to create a foggy atmosphere and draw the viewer’s eye towards the moving steam train. Everything else in “Rain Steam and Speed” is blurred out into submission and it is jarring to me to find it placed alongside other more refined works that the National Gallery has to offer.