What is Transcription? Transcription in Painting
Transcription in painting has historically been an essential method of study. Rather than transcribing words, the transcriber deals in images. The Metropolitan Museum in New York has a Copyist Program to provide just this service for artists who want to transcribe works of art in the collection.
Transcription often refers to words, and frequently refers to audio-to-text conversion. But there is visual transcription as well, and you might call it transcription in service of art.
For a historical view of art transcription, see the Art Institute of Chicago website for this print of Art Students and Copyists in the Louvre Gallery, by Winslow Homer.
Transcription in painting is copying, but often with a different purpose than to produce a replica. Artists use transcription to learn how another artist worked: how she constructed her painting, produced brush strokes and visual effects, and how she mixed colors. When you transcribe a painting, you come to understand the work far more deeply than you ever could just by looking.
Pablo Picasso famously said “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
Even in a transcription of a painting, which is a copy really, you can ‘steal’ what the earlier artist did – get inside it, see what she was up to, rather than simply reproduce the surface appearance.
Transcription is useful for learning techniques, but it is also useful for analyzing composition, color, value, and noticing the path the artist took–the order in which she created her work.
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