The Laws of Nature

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.


M said...

One thing I notice as I re-read books I read several years ago is that my depth of knowledge is far greater and I am internalizing more this time around. It is true that we never read the same text twice in the same way because the first reading has gives you new knowledge. I never apologize for being a reader or a thinker. Both are so woven into who I am as a learner, I could never operate otherwise. Thanks for your lively participation in my critique exercise. I'm working on my response post.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I'm so glad you pass your knowledge on to us and give us expamples with your paintings.

Once, during a "discussion" with my husband, he told me that my problem was too much reading and thinking. That comment sent me to the Amazon site for more books!

Painting for ten hours and reading for two sounds like a perfect day.

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret, I'm looking forward to reading your post on the critique. It was fun, and very challenging.

Hi HW - I like your response to your husband's remark! You go girl!!

Unknown said...

More good stuff! I'm chewing on it right now but I think I'll keep it around for a while. Thanks Katharine.

-Don said...

Maybe I misread this, but I think you just called yourself a dense cow! Yikes!

In middle school I was branded "bookie", a crude shortening of book worm, which was intended as a slight, but I accepted it with pride. I love books. I love to read books. I love to re-read books. I've always said its like visiting with old friends. You know each other so well, but you still learn something new from each other with every visit.

I like your grayscale example. It really shows the subtle value shifts you incorporated into the piece. It's like taking an x-ray to see how our skeleton holds us up. We may not notice it's there right away, but its an innate necessity which holds the entire thing together and makes it work.

Your work regimen is impressive and quite an inspiration. I must admit I feel like a total slacker in comparison...


Unknown said...

Hi Sheila, Thanks for considering all this! Would love to know your thoughts :)

Hi Don - I'm laughing too hard to type! "dense cow!" OK - I guess I did call myself that. How does that fit with "Oh, Nerdy One?" Maybe I should just be "the artist formerly known as Nerdy One." I thought you might be a fellow bookie. You're so articulate and that comes from being intimate with language in all its forms. And, I seriously doubt that your work ethic is an any way inferior to mine own. I've seen your output!! "Oh, Productive One" :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, It's interesting reading about composition and your work. And the comments on this blog are insightful! You know how to get a discussion going. I seem to be the reading/re-reading type. I'm amazed at how much I learn.
I like to "look/re-look" and I am enjoying your patterns in your shells/shapes!

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - I agree, I love reading everyone's comments because I learn so much from them! I can tell you're a life-long reader and student of art from your work. I really like the way you've been re-thinking your toy pony design!

Celeste Bergin said...

Thanks for the article, Kathy..You have done an outstanding job of "regurgitating" (meant as a compliment.
You friends who think you shouldn't read so much should pound sand! lol-- I am so dismayed by the artists (and I use the term loosely) who seem to think that painting a painting should be akin to taking a nice bubble bath..just splash things around! Yes...bubble baths make us happy..but reading, absorbing, achieving what was our vision..THAT is WORK. And hard work never killed anybody. At least that is what my Grandfather used to say.

Unknown said...

Amen, Celeste!!