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Archive for September, 2014

Bike2
Kandinsky would have liked this painting.

As with music, rhythm is an important element in visual art. In this painting by Arlene Tarpey, we see the repetition of circular and elliptical shapes. There are three patterns: the literal statement of bicycle wheels, the row on top of distinct circles, and the row at the bottom of ellipses in a blur. Your eye goes round and round, but, because of the variations in the pattern, never gets bored. It’s hard not to get entranced. The composition as a whole sweeps the attention upward, to the upper right corner because that’s where the human figure is—always a trump card in any visual work—and also because of the small red collage, way in the corner. What is that? Can’t tell, it’s too small and it’s just a scrap. But we can make out that it shows the rhythm of a set of vertical lines. Voila, a reinforcement of the work’s theme, this time in counterpoint: linear vs. circular. If this little red patch had circles in it, that wouldn’t work, would be boring, too much of the same. The black vertical lines echo the rhythm motif and at the same time provide counterpoint.
Arlene Tarpey, mixed media (acrylic, pastel, collage on paper), ~16″x20″

Now let’s flip it horizontally (in Photoshop).

Bike2flipOooo, totally different feeling!  In which version is she going faster?  When she’s going towards the left or to the right?

Kandinsky didn’t talk about this left-right business and I don’t know what the musical analogy for the left-right flip would be.  But in image making, left and right are weighty issues, as you can see from this example. 

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Kandinski
When he was in his thirties, Kandinsky got serious about art. He abandoned his law background and went to Paris to study art. It was 1900 and the arts were popping, all of them, in all forms. In literature, music and painting new forms were being invented, radically new ways of thinking about art were discussed in the cafes. I mentioned some artists and writers in the previous post. In science, too, let’s not forget, radically new ways of thinking about time and space were under discussion. Einstein published his theory in 1905.
This is the beginning of our modernism, which was not at all entertaining, but deadly serious about leading humanity into a new consciousness. The moderns wanted nothing less than to invent a new man. One of their ambitions was to intensify our perception of the world by fusing the senses. So that, for example, sound would be seen and paintings would be heard like music.
Schopenhauer, already in the early 19th century, had said that all art aspires to the conditions of music. This is not hard to understand. Think about it for a minute: music does not imitate anything; it is sound that is non-representational, is freely invented; the sounds we hear in nature come from birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind and doors creaking, but music doesn’t duplicate those sounds. The composer/musician makes things up. Music is pure form. It’s abstract. It’s also the most moving of the arts. Grabs us, makes us cry, makes us dance.
Here are some quotes from Kandinsky ‘s Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911) to show how he thought about the relationship between music and painting and the necessity of free invention:
p. 19 Despite, or perhaps thanks to, the differences between them (the arts), there has never been a time when the arts approached each other more nearly than they do today, in this later phase of spiritual development.
In each manifestation is the seed of a striving towards the abstract, the non-material. Consciously or unconsciously they are obeying Socrates’ command—Know thyself. Consciously or unconsciously artists are studying and proving their material, setting in the balance the spiritual value of those elements, with which it is their several privilege to work.
And the natural result of this striving is that the various arts are drawing together. They are finding in Music the best teacher. With few exceptions music has been for some centuries the art which has devoted itself not to the reproduction of natural phenomena, but rather to the expression of the artist’s soul, in musical sound.
P33 The adaptability of forms, their organic but inward variations, their motion in the picture, their inclination to material or abstract, their mutual relations, either individually or as parts of a whole; further, the concord or discord of the various elements of a picture, the handling of groups, the combinations of veiled and openly expressed appeals, the use of rhythmical or unrhythmical, of geometrical or non-geometrical forms, their contiguity or separation—all these things are the material for counterpoint in painting.
P32 There is no “must” in art, because art is free.
P19 (The painter) naturally seeks to apply the methods of music to his own art. And from this results that modern desire for rhythm on painting, for mathematical, abstract construction, for repeated notes of color, for setting color in motion.
P53 The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way…It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad one…A picture is not necessarily “well painted” if it possesses the “values of which French so constantly speak. It is only well painted if its spiritual value is complete and satisfying. “Good drawing” is drawing that cannot be altered without destruction of this inner value, quite irrespective of its correctness as anatomy, botany, or any other science. There is no question of a violation natural form, but only of the need of the artist for such form. Similarly colors are used not because they are true to nature, but because they are necessary to the particular picture. In fact, the artist is not only justified in using, but it is his duty to use only those forms which fulfill his own need. Absolute freedom, whether from anatomy or anything of the kind, must be given the artist in his choice of material Such spiritual freedom is as necessary in art at it is in life.

Kandinsky repeatedly expresses his optimism about the possibility of inventing a new way of being human. He is not alone. This is before the cataclysm of the 1914 World War. He shares his vision of a future with some contemporaries, including the theosophists. He quotes Madame Blavatsky’s book The Key to Theosophy, 1889: “The earth will be a heaven in the twenty-first century in comparison with what it is now.” P 14 (Alas, that didn’t happen. The 20th century was the bloodiest in history.)
P57 …in my opinion, we are fast approaching the time of reasoned and conscious composition, when the painter will be proud to declare his work constructive. This will be in contrast to the claim of the Impressionists that they could explain nothing, that their art came upon them by inspiration. We have before us the age of conscious creation, and this new spirit in painting is going hand in hand with the spirit of thought towards an epoch of great spiritual leaders.
P54 Painting is an art, and art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul.
P31 We may be present at the conception of a new epoch, or we may see the opportunity squandered in aimless extravagance.
P12 That which belongs to the spirit of the future can only be realized in feeling, and to this feeling the talent of the artist is the only road.

For excellent reproductions of some of Kandinsky’s paintings, see http://www.wassily-kandinsky.org/wassily-kandinsky-paintings.jsp Click the image for enlargement to study.

Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.
http://facefame.wordpress.com
http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com
http://www.katherinehilden.com
http://www.khilden.com

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