hjn abstract art, an cyepath is not so important, since we ordinarily dispense with much depth, and the eye rests the whole canvas as a flat plane, as it would on any flat design
Prophetic Plane by Mark Tobey, willard gallery, new york city.
La Femme à la Perle by Jean Corot, louvre ing with space between them. Two rounded and abrupt shores on a lake, with their reflections in the water, have been known to look more like two whales bumping noses than two shores on a lake. Double portraits, especially of two men or two women are equally difficult to bring off successfully. A mother and child make a good subject because one dominates the other in size. When you must paint two people, have one standing and the other sitting, or dress one in a dark costume, the other in a light one. Do anything to avoid giving two people or two similar objects equal importance in the painting.
^ ^ The use of overlapping units is a very good way to create unity of design. It ties the picture together and produces a stronger effect. Almost any number of units can be overlapped or arranged into a few groups for the sake of simplification. This was explained in some detail in the last chapter.
Never put a head or anything else of importance in the exact center of a picture. Drop it, lift it, or place it to one side. Center placement is particularly disturbing and irritating in a portrait. A head so placed is like the center point of a target; the eye is held there almost by forcc and has difficulty in settling elsewhere. In addition to this it gives the impression that the figure has slipped down and is about to fall out of the frame. Make the spaccs around the head unequal in three directions—upward, and to each side.
One more don't. In a portrait, never place head and shoulders so they face the viewer squarely. More often than not, this will make the subject look as if he were facing a firing squad, or posing for a passport picture. While this seems obvious, failure to recognize it account!» for many bad portraits.
I believe a great deal can be accomplished in design if we first try to analyze the feeling that a subject gives us, for in creating a painting both mood and atmosphere are very important. If the subject is serene, we emphasize horizontal lines and quiet, clcar color; if it is exciting, we employ sweeping curves, big forms, and contrasting colors[ If the subject is one of combat and confusion, then we use bold strokes at opposing angles, spearlike shapes, and a dramatic juxtaposition of colors.
In composition, the "S" line, or reverse curve, is a useful device when sheer beauty is our objective. It is perhaps the most beautiful of all lines, suggesting both grace and rhythmic movement at the same time. It flows in gentle rather than, rapid motion. Nothing in art moves as fast as a straight line. Even the line an arrow transcribes in the air as it leads to a target is curved, and an arrow's speed is about the maximum speed the eye can follow. Anything of faster speed, such as a bullet, is too fast.
The modern school is continually talking about emotional impact, but this can also exist in realistic art. Line has mood and emotion; so have shapes, colors, and values, apart from the literal. We are daily affected by these, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. It is my belief that the gray walls of a prison are punishment in themselves. Man would go mad without sunlight and color. To me, gray is associated with death—the rotting tree trunk and mold; gray is at once all colors mixed together and the absence of all those colors. It is ominous, like a leaden sky and water. Yet gray exists in nature, and as a foil for bright colors there is nothing to equal it. It is the most useful ncutralizer and modifier.
Too much of any one color is unattractive, and nature teaches us how to balance one with another. Warm colors are offset by the cool, just as heat is relieved by cold. We only begin to know nature when we begin to understand the balance of growth and erosion, life and death. The greatest beauty in painting coincs from this elusive and suhtle balance of forces.
Balance in a picture can be emotional as well as structural. This completeness seems most beautiful when contrasted in some way with incompleteness. Power in a composition is greatest when bold lines are contrasted with thin or un-~
The Fish Kite by Robert Vickrey, midtown galleries, new york city. Detail becomes more interesting when a picture also contains simple, broadly painted areas
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finished ones. Color is most cflfective when brilliance is balanced by quiet colors. Detail becomes more interesting when a picture also contains simple, broadly painted areas. Form is more convincing when there is a sense of underlying structure. And so on.
We must give equally serious attention to character and ways of depicting it. Character should be expressed in the simplest possible terms; otherwise its force will be lost. If superficial detail is needed to portray the character of a subject, then the time required to add such detail is well spent. But if structure is the main theme, then overly detailed surface decoration will tend to detract from rather than add to the main characteristic we wish to portray. The character of an animal can be conveyed better through the lines of its body, its graceful movement, than by the most exact duplication of its fur or markings. A tree is better represented by its lines of growth, its struggle against the elements, its spacing and proportions, than by emphasis on the outlines of individual leaves or the markings of bark. While such details are essential in the illustration of a field guide book, they hamper the freedom of style necessary in the execution of a painting. Where an illustrator's job is to be photographically correct as to detail, an artist's search for character goes deeper.
Feeling can be expressed better in realistic art than it can in abstract painting, for the latter is largely an intellectual affair. There is a "feel"
A tree is better represented by its lines of growth, its struggle against the elements, its spacing and proportions, than by emphasis on the outlines of individual leaves or the markings of bark
Shed in the Swamp by Charles Burchfield, carnegie institute, Pittsburgh.
about everything, even the time of day. Early morning, midday, twilight; in each we find a very different character of light and shadow, tone and color. It is hard to define the point at which our analysis of such things leaves oil and our emotional reaction begins. Both enter into the artist's conception. In any event, it is important that the feeling of the subject be conveyed to the viewer. Light and color have much to do with conveying it, design and character still more, and emotion, I think, however we express it, most of all.
It is one thing to copy nature, and quite another to express her in our paintings. By thinking in big terms and by using big masses and planes in a free, uninhibited manner the artist can express himself and the "feel" of things most vividly. Big truths can be obscured by many separate little ones if we allow the unimportant to gain the upper hand. The big truths in a landscape, surely, arc that the sun is shining, that the shadows reveal a blue sky overhead, that there is atmosphere between you and that distant tree, that the soil is rich beneath the vegetation, that it is a certain time of day and a certain time of the year. It does not matter how many trees or flowers or blades of grass there are, for their presence, en masse, can only be suggested in a representation of a landscape.
I speak of these things here because- composition and design cannot be governed by hard and fast rules. Without inventiveness—a certain amount of it, at least—and without feeling, which
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