The Laws of Nature

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shape: the effects of separation, similarity, and color

Hi everyone! Ready for more shape analysis??
Here are two more insights from Arnheim's book:

1. Broken shapes are mended across spatial distance by similarity of color. I created the left and upper right studies to illustrate this principle. The whole shape (left) was separated into pieces spaced apart (right). Because they are the same color the mind wants to put the shapes back together again into a circle. This is a useful principle in painting, because broken shapes are far more interesting than whole shapes, and we can let the viewer's mind put them back together to suggest a single shape.

I think that Marcel Duschamp's painting Nude Descending Staircase #2 (left) is a good example of this principle. The figure is broken into a number of geometric shapes of similar color, and our mind wants to put them all back together to see a whole body on each step descending the stairs.

2. Difference in color is counteracted by similarity of shape. The study on the right shows the same four shapes, but they are different colors. These similar shapes unite the painting. If all the shapes were both different colors and different in shape, there would be no unity. So, as Arnheim point out, similar shapes (unity) counteract the effects of different colors (disunity).

A good example of this principle is the Three Sphinxes of Bikini by Salvador Dali. Here, the same "head" is painted three times. Although the scale of the heads changes as they recede into the distance, the shape is still the same. The difference is in the color and slight internal changes in the form as it gets smaller. The similar shape of the three heads unites the painting and the differences make it more interesting. If all three heads were identical in color to the largest one, the painting would be far less interesting - almost monotonous.

I'm not going to compare myself to the greatness of Dali or Duschamp, but I will use my humble painting to illustrate that I've used a number of different colors in this pianting and have counteracted that effect by using similar shapes to create unity.

Quote for the day: When I haven't any blue I use red. - Pablo Picasso


Margaret Ryall said...

A good summary Kathy, For once I am left feeling intelligent after your post, Ha! I think your work is the perfect example of the use of these principles. Looking forward to the next post. I see your blog as a series of workshops . I always have something new to think about and apply.

Kathy said...

Thanks, Margaret. Yes, I guess I am posting these as if they were portions of a workshop. These systematic explanations help me, and I'm glad they resonate with others.

hwfarber said...

This explains why Duchamp's painting always makes me feel jittery--my mind can't put all those bodies back together; and they wouldn't fit anyway.

I keep reading and rereading your blogs--so much information.

Kathy said...

Hi, HW - I know what you mean. My mind does "see" the reassembled body descending the stairs but I guess that, in reality, you couldn't do it with the actual shapes. Just my imagination :) Don't get a headache rereading all my blogs ;-)

-Don said...

This is an EXCELLENT art history/painting lesson. I love it. Your choice of examples is perfect, including your own painting.

In Duschamp's painting my mind always re-assembles her at the bottom of the staircase with motion trails of where she's been. I've always tried to "capture" her in mid-motion in her descent and my mind won't let me. It always pushes me to the bottom first. Even though Duschamp wasn't considered a Futurist this painting helped me understand what they were trying to achieve better than any of the actual Futurists' paintings did.

...and how can you go wrong with a Dali?


Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, Your posting reminds me that there can be something wonderfully magical and clever about a well composed painting. It's like knowing a special secret. I get that feeling the more I look at your eggshell paintings. Insightful discussion about similarity and unity!

Kathy said...

Thanks so much, Don and Peggy! I'm learning a lot from this too :)

Mike said...

I need to take a week and just study your blog, Kathy. It blows my mind whenever I visit here! Really! I need to send every distraction away and just concentrate here! Fabulous info!!

Kathy said...

Thanks, Mike. I'm working hard at articulating what I'm reading and learning and trying to apply it to my work at the same time. It's fun and I appreciate the feedback.