The Laws of Nature

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Four Hundred Year Old Argument


It's Sunday, so I'll take a one-day break from unpackaging Arnheim's ideas to ask your opinion.

Here's an ancient argument and I'd like your opinion:

Almost four hundred years ago (1600's) there lived a man named Charles LeBrun, who was once the Director of the Ecole Royale in Paris, which was established by the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. So, you might say that his opinion mattered! He got into an intellectual argument with another guy named Roger de Piles, a literary man and amateur painter who had a big following. So, you might say that Piles' opinion mattered, too! What was the argument? LeBrun believed in the primacy of design and Piles argued for the primacy of color in painting. In other words, LeBrun placed greater emphasis on the depth of the narrative structure of a painting and Piles thought that creating optical sensation through color was more important.
Design vs. color.

It seems to me that this four hundred year old argument is still being waged! Opinion has swayed back and forth all this time in a tug of war. But, I'm no expert. So ... what do you think?? Which side do you take?

P.S. the photo was taken aboard a brigantine a couple of years ago, sailing from Tahiti to Bora Bora and back. I'm the crazy sailor on the left struggling to keep the helm. Looks like a losing battle, doesn't it?? Consider it the struggle between design and color. Guess which of the two I am :-)

18 comments:

PAMO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hwfarber said...

I side with design. When I "see" a new painting in my head it's in grayscale--probably because I worked in sculpture or charcoal for many years. Color is a relatively new challenge and certainly not an easy one for me.

Constance McLennan said...

Rather than either/or, I think it's a spectrum. Although your wine pieces have some intense color, I see your work more on the design side. In mine I lean more toward color.

Myrna said...

Definitely, design! No amount of color can save a poorly designed painting. Not that I am opinionated or anything!

Casey Klahn said...

I don't think that even Rothko got all of the design out of his paintings.

But, I also wonder where these artists divided the differences - the overlap can be just as fascinating.

layers said...

congrats on being published-- I was going to enter the one on mixed media-- left it until the last day deadline and could not figure out how to upload the images-- pretty goofy I think :-)

Peggy Stermer-Cox said...

Congrats on being accepted into the book!
Regarding the debate, I'd side with design. Perhaps that's were I am in my experience and learning. Who knows what I might think in five or ten years!

Margaret Ryall said...

I've been thinking about this very topic over the last couple of days especially since I can change everything into grayscale thanks to my knowledgeable friends.I had not realized how I compensated with colour early in my career and let design come up second. As I've learned more, I side on design. No amount of fudging can cover up a poorly designed painting.

Sheila said...

First I'm so envious you got to travel to beautiful Tahiti...
second of all, my head is hurting because I could take either side of this argument.

Finally, I had to decide color because great color can save a bad design but even great design can't save bad color I believe. Now I need an Advil...

Four Seasons in a Life said...

No matter how colour is applied, it is composition and balance that determine the success of a painting, therefore design wins.

Of course this is a very simplified and watered down argument of the two ideas between design and colour, as I believe that an argument for colour can be made, but it is on another level completely.

If we look at photography and the difference between B/W and that of a colour image, the colourfull one deals on an emotional level as we react to colour emotionally.

A B/W photograph impacts us intellectually before we feel emotionally anything about the picture. I feel this can be translated to the 400 year old question that design is intellectual and colour emotional.

Congratulations on being published.
Egmont

Kathy said...

Hi everyone! You said it ALL. Thank you so much for casting your vote and offering valuable insights. I think that each of you raised valid points, and that Egmont's definition of design as the intellectual aspect and color as the emotional aspect of a work of art is "spot on!" Which one should dominate?? After all, this argument was over dominance. Maybe the reason the argument still rages is because it doesn't matter which dominates. However, I agree with all of you who feel that without a good design, it doesn't matter which colors you use. Any more ideas???

Kathy said...

Thanks, Donna and Sheila. I'm honored to be featurd in two books next year. Donna, I know what you mean about the submission process. What a headache! But, I somehow got past that hurdle. Now I'm looking at proofs. Ugh!

-Don said...

To answer your question: I think the sailor on the left is design and the one on the right is color. The sailor on the left has color in her shirt, but the color is arranged in a congnosant design, whereas the sailor on the right has solid masses of color with no real design.... Plus, "knowing" you from your work and writings I know how you feel about the importance of design.

As for the age-old debate: I'm a fence straddler on this one. I LOVE color, but I would never create a painting based on color alone. It would have to have a strong design to work as far as I'm concerned. I LOVE design, but if it has weak use of color then the strong design will not be enough to carry the image. They need each other.

-Don

-Don said...

I don't know what the heck I meant by "cognosant" in the previous comment. It should have been coherent. That's what I get for not proofreading prior to publishing. OOPS. -Don

Kathy said...

Well stated, Don! And, you're correct about which one I am :)

Celeste Bergin said...

My friend and teacher (Elio Camacho) told me..there are no "bad colors..but there are errors in relationship" I think about this a lot. He means that any muddy gray (any at all!) can be "right" if placed next to another color that supports it. I am having trouble deciding which is most important between color and design..it is next to impossible to determine. These two artists LeBrun and dePiles are kind of nutty. lol. All the world's treasures combine both design and color in equal measure. It's a question like do you still beat your wife? lol.

Mary Paquet said...

I can't resist weighing in on this question. It's kind of like which came first, the chicken or the egg (somewhat related to your series, I might add).

I am seduced by color, but I believe that design has it hands down.

Kathy said...

Thanks Celeste and Mary for adding to this great conversation!