Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on June 24, 2008 in Resource Library with permission of Lonnie Pierson Dunbier. The article is an excerpt from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.  Dated 1982, the original typewriter manuscript is owned by his wife, Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, who edits and submits the chapters to TFAO. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Lonnie Pierson Dunbier in Scottsdale, AZ, at ldunbier@mac.com.



"To understand quality . . . use your feet."

By Roger Dunbier, PhD (1934-1998)


The following words put down in 1546 by Giorgio Vasari about a painter born in a poor village near Florence and dying in that city in 1336 are the very first lines in Lives of the Artists, often considered the greatest book on art ever written. They speak to us today:

"That very obligation which the craftsmen of painting owe to nature, who serves continually as model to those who are ever wresting the good from her best and most beautiful features and striving to imitate her, should be owed, in my belief, to Giotto, painter of Florence, for the reason that, after the methods of good paintings and their outlines had lain buried for so many years under the ruins of the wars, he alone, although born among inept craftsmen, by the gift of God revived that art which had come to a grievous pass, and brought it to such a form as could be called good."

With an undeniable poignancy, these words put emphasis on the individual artist and the artist as craftsman and are as clear today as they were when written. The author's belief that one man can make a difference and that this one man, Giotto, (1266-1337) brought us out of what was termed a "grievous pass" appeals to us in the field of representational painting because that "grievous pass" is exactly where art has been in recent years. The statement "nature as model", extolling the virtue in "wresting the good from her best and most beautiful features" is a timeless call to turn one's back on the contrived. Even the emphasis -- the artist's 'good' from nature's 'best' tells us that Vasari believed that man would probably fail in bettering nature but should give it a go nevertheless.

To understand quality, one must, as in so many of life's endeavors, use your feet.

As you enter a gallery, let your eyes pass very rapidly over the entire collection, quickly selecting one painting. Walk rapidly toward it, focusing on it all the time. Stop within a meter or so distance and then back up (being careful not to trip over any furniture) to a distance where you feel you can see it whole, yet discern significant detail. After a few moments turn away and try to recall as much of it as you can. Then observe it again, reinforcing the mind's impression by noting elements that you missed on the first occasion. Let the eye linger on some significant element. It might be the sky. Is it luminous? Does it sign out? Is it a color you normally associate with a mountain or sky? Are the clouds scudding in low? Can you recollect ever having seen a sky like that in Colorado Springs, Santa Fe, etc.? Then, after you have left it, let your mind dwell on such matters and perhaps some other aspect of the work, and when you have the opportunity, refresh your recollections by another examination of the original.

In the meantime, it is good practice to find a similar work either by the same or another artist. Compare, as best you can, your recollections of the painting in the gallery with the one (perhaps in a book) that you now have before you. What are the similarities? How do they differ? Exercise your innate ability to visualize what is no longer before your eyes. It is a skill that can be improved upon.

As Sherlock Holmes told Watson: "You see but do not observe."

Emulate Holmes!

-- Edited and Submitted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier who holds the copyright


About the Author:

From 1982, Dr. Roger Dunbier (1934-1998) combined his professional economics training, research skills, and love of art to develop an easily accessed, 'all-in-one-place' repository of factual information so that buyers and sellers of American art could make decisions based on hard-core data rather than just marketing hype.  With ever-more sophisticated computers, programmed by Charles Lefebvre, his long-time associate, Dunbier built an artist record database, which by the time he died 16 years later, had 21,357 names linked to their respective auction prices, literature and biographies.  Today the result of his dedication lives on as the foundation of AskART.com, an internet site since 2000.  

Dunbier's innovation of computer systems began in 1963, when he pioneered computer mapping on what were then relatively primitive computers.  In 1967, he utilized concepts of 'arbitrage' and 'comparables' in designing the first real estate Multiple Listing System.  Its direct descendent remains in use by realtors across the United States, and he later applied the same underlying principles in building his artist database.  (right: Roger Dunbier, photo courtesy Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, derived from a larger image at http://tfaoi.org/am/16am/16am17.jpg)

Dunbier was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska.  His interest in American art was natural because his father, Augustus Dunbier, (1888-1977) was a prominent landscape, still life and portrait painter and art teacher, whose studio and classroom were in the family home.   Although Roger showed few 'right brained' skills, he did have other talents.  He graduated first in his class and Summa Cum Laude from the University of Omaha in 1955 with majors in economics and history.   He then received a Marshall Scholarship, which led to enrollment at Oxford University in England from 1955 to 1959.  During that time, he was on the Oxford University basketball and track teams, and was a member of the British National Basketball Team.  In 1961, he received a Doctorate of Philosophy, Economic Geography from Oxford.  His dissertation, The Sonoran Desert, Its Geography, Economy, and People, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 1960, and subsequently used as a text book for college geography courses.

After formal education, Dunbier held full-time professorial positions for several years at the University of Omaha and the University of California-Irvine.  He lived most of the remainder of his life in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, and had economic-geography related jobs including CEO of his management consulting firm that prepared demographic and locational studies; and President of Metro Press, Inc., publisher of over 100 computer generated area directories for Metro Phoenix.  In 1991, he married Lonnie Pierson of Lincoln, Nebraska.

-- By Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, 2008


About this article's editor

Lonnie Pierson Dunbier of Scottsdale, Arizona and originally from Nebraska, married Dr. Roger Dunbier in 1991. From then, she worked full time on his artist database. After his death, she co-founded AskART.com, for which she was Research Director from 2000 to 2007. Ms. Dunbier is also the editor of all other excerpts from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting

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