Thursday, November 19, 2009
Regurgitation to Shape
As I write these posts about what I'm reading, I keep thinking: hey, didn't I learn that thirty-five years ago?? Why does it seem new to me now? Why do I have to keep reminding myself of these principles? Am I really that dense? For lack of a better term, it's called "regurgitation." I "ate" those principles decades ago, but they were only partially digested. It takes years of experience to test them in order to understand. So, from time to time I need to regurgitate a few "principles", chew on them a bit more, derive some nourishment, and swallow. Sorry about the crude imagery, but it fits. This is part of my life-long process of artistic growth.
In 1584 A.D., a Milanese painter named Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo published a book entitled "Treatise on Painting." In it, he divides painting into 7 elements: proportion, motion, color, light, perspective, composition, and form. Here's a challenge for you: since that time, 425 years ago, how many different books about these same seven elements do you think have been published??? I don't know the answer, but am certain the number is considerable. Is this unnecessary repetition (excessive regurgitaton) of the same old stuff? Maybe some of it is, but not all. "Art" is organic - it changes over time, culture, and geography. Artist authors need to find new ways to communicate ancient ideas in the context of contemporary art and culture, and to add a few new ideas. I'm guilty of owning and reading a TON of art books. It's not a compulsion, it's a thirst for understanding.
On occasion, I've been criticized by artist "friends" for reading too much. My defense is that I paint almost every single day, sometimes for as long as ten hours that day. I learn a lot from that experience. I also read a couple of hours a day, and I learn a lot from that. If I can learn from BOTH painting and reading, why not do both???
OK - I got that off my chest so I'll return to Arnheim's discussion of "shape." He mentions the impact of using similar and dissimilar shapes in a painting. If the artist's composition utilizes only similar shapes, then the individual shapes become somewhat invisible. Think of a school of fish, for instance. They all look alike so when they school together you really can't distinguish between them. But, as Arnheim states, if you place a different shape in your composition, it's distinguishable by it's difference. So, you put a tuna in with a school of cod, and you'll definitely see the tuna because it's a different shape.
I've included one of my own paintings to illustrate another way to break up the monotony of similar shapes. I altered the painting to grayscale so you could see that most of the shapes in this painting are alike. There's really not much to distinguish one shape from another. So, how did I overcome this problem? I used both color and value. The yellow/orange eggshell pattern can be easily distinguished from the blue/violet field. Usually, we opt to vary a few shapes in a composition to create variety, but, as you can see, color and value work just as well. So does texture.
More, next time.