The Laws of Nature

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why should artists strive for balance?

This is an important question that Arnheim poses in the first chapter of his book Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye. I'll paraphrase his answer. One reason is that by stabilizing the relations between the various aspects of a painting, the artist creates a work of art that is unambiguous. Ambiguity confuses the artistic statement because it leaves the observer hovering between two or more assertions that do not add up to a whole. But, Arnheim provides an additional answer, which involves our psychological make-up. He states that man strives for equilibrium in all phases of his physical and mental existence, and that this same tendency can be observed not only in all organic life, but also in physical systems. From there he ventures into a wonderful discussion on the principle of entropy and the universe. However, this is not the final point. On page 410 of his book, Arnheim introduces "dynamics," the counter-principle to balance. Although I haven't yet fully digested that principle, I can tell you that there must exist a tension between the elements on the painting that the artist must balance. I prefer to see it as a dynamic equilibrium. Take a look at my wine painting at the upper left. There's a lot of tension and interplay between the shapes, hues, etc. That's tension. I had to balance those tensions by considering the weight of each element (discussed on the blog two days ago). I think it's balanced pretty well, but I suppose I could do better. It's all about experimenting and having fun with it. Like a "mad scientist" in her lab at midnight howling at the moon! Now, there's and idea for a painting :)


Caio Fernandes said...

good post KATHARINE
it is always great to remember ...

Mary Paquet said...

Katherine, fabulous painting. I would not have thought to use the red orange background with the rose hues, and it works beautifully. Perhaps it creates an equilibrium with the tension between the background and foreground?

I am learning so much from your posts. You are an amazing teacher. I am appy to hear you now Mike Bailey, another terrific teacher. I've had the pleasure to take his "Watercolor Beyond the Obvious" class a couple times, and the France trip was with Mike. I enjoyed seeing him featured in Watercolor Artist last month.

-Don said...

Your rich use of color in this beauty is something I can definitely relate to. Your statement, "I suppose I could do better" really made me smile. What artist ever looks at one of their finished works and doesn't say that?

Ambiguity, assertions, equilibrium, entropy, counter-principle... YIKES! I took art classes in school so I could get out of any classes that involved words with this many syllables! Just kidding... This is a very interesting blog about balance - upon which I will ponder all day as I create. Once again, though, I'm glad it's you that's wading thru this book and passing on these nuggets of wisdom... I don't think I could do it.

Kathy said...

Hi Caio, thanks so much for visiting my blog!

Hi Mary - yes I was a little hesitant at first to put those two color together, but I decided that the high chroma and the warmth of the orange worked. Your observation about equalizing the tension between the foreground and background is spot on!! Thanks.

Hi Don - I know what you mean about terminology, but it helps me to jump in the pool and swim around in it. So much to consider ... so little time! Thanks for taking the time to read all this and comment. You're a dear!

hwfarber said...

A beautiful painting.

When I saw the word "entropy" I was taken aback. That's the working title of a painting that's been "almost finished" for a month. Read a book by that title back in the early eighties--and it stuck.

These last three entries have led me to take another look at paintings--such as Arthur Dove's Moon--and try to discern why they grab me. I might have to buy the book and add it to my stacks.

Do howl at midnight; that's how we find our pack (from Women Who Run with the Wolves). I have three copies.

Kathy said...

Hi HW - what a coincidence? Let me know when you post "Entropy." I'd love to see it. Yes, I keep looking back at paintings I've seen before with a more critical eye. Analysis can be tough, but it's so useful and can propel us forward at light speed as we develop artistically. As for howling at the moon ... boy have I got stories ;-0

Dan Kent said...

AAooooooooo! (that's a howl).

You are certainly correct. Balance plus tension are absolutely necessary to a great painting, I think. You put it very well.

I read once that tension (and interest) can be created in a still life by depicting the impression that something is about to happen and that the still has been caught in the moment before.

For example, while the elements of your still life are in balance, when I look at your painting (either too big or too small on the screen) it looks like the wine glass on the left is about to fall off of the table. I expect I am incorrect and it is just my poor computer view, but suppose it were true: should an element like that be added, would this be an acceptable tension? Or would it upset the balance? Or create a dreaded ambiguity? Just philosophizing..

Kathy said...

Dan - Oh! I like the idea of anticipation as part of the tension. Thanks for contributing that idea! You correctly observed that my wine glass is tipping. In fact, most of the glasses in my Wine Series are on a slight tilt as are many of the objects. There's an arc that I decided to embrace and it was the wrong decision. I should have either eliminated it or exaggerated it. Fence sitting is always the wrong decision! Thanks for pointing it out.