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Archive for the ‘Composition’ Category

We have this painting at the National Gallery in Washington.

You may not believe this was painted in 1612. Surrounded by its Italian Renaissance neighbors, it stands out.  It is stunning.

What makes this image so distinct?

-the woman is fully clothed

-her clothing is not opulent

-she is not presenting herself

-she is turning her back to us

-she is absorbed in her music

-she has an interior life

-she is not a symbol or a saint

-this is not an illustration of Christian or Greek mythology

-this is a person

-there is no message, no moral, no lesson

 

Not only that, the composition is asymmetrical.  How did he get away with this?  In 1612!  In Rom!

The image engages us the way modern art engages us.

-the painter places the human figure off center

-half of the painting is a void, with the table cloth minimally suggested

-the foreshortened violin on the table points at us, as if to address us: hey you, you’re part of this.

 

When you walk through a museum you can spot a Gentileschi from a long distance.  He painted women unlike any of his contemporaries did.

 

Except his daughter, Artemisia Gentileschi, who was his student.

 

Orazio Gentileschi, 1563 Tuscany – 1639 London

Lute Player, 56-1/2 x 50-3/4, Natl Gal of Art, Washington DC, 1612-15

 

Find more of his paintings at:

https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ALeKk0364ow8HhwjPjQNrj7ifLsXwv-tZQ:1609707412251&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=orazio+gentileschi&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjX_f6z04DuAhVDPq0KHcHsArgQiR56BAgcEAI&biw=1274&bih=836#imgrc=nd4inKpPywjfBM

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Yes, I know what this is. This image shows skinny bare tree trunks in a dry hilly landscape.

What makes the stripes on the ground?

The stripes?  Let’s see.  Oh, the stripes are made by the shadows from the tree trunks.  Must be that the sun is low on the horizon.

Kinda cool?

Yeah,  pretty cool.

 

It’s not that you’re reminded of that afternoon in the state park, because you weren’t there, you didn’t take the photo.

It’s not that the image depicts some sexy scene.

Why is this image so compelling, even hypnotic?

Oh, I can chat about it. Try this:  Lines intersecting, over and over, with variation of angle, never mechanical, never repetitious. Focused attention,  like cross-hairs.  Rhythm. Percussion. There is no focal point.  No point of rest.  Your eye is constantly moving. The effect is purely visual, purely formal, not depending on any narrative.  No “appealing colors.”

If you only think this image is “pretty cool,”  I suggest you frame it. Frame it large or  project it on your large TV screen and look at it every day so that the memory of it will keep you awake at night without you knowing why on earth this is happening to you.

The past several posts have been about the power of composition.  This image is the culmination of all these past three month of looking and thinking about images here at artamaze.

Of all the things that grab you in an image—color, narrative, symbolism, etc.—the most powerful is composition.

Try to get some sleep.

 

Photo by Mary Shieldsmith

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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I came across this drawing recently and can’t get it out of my mind.

It’s small, 12x9in. Pastel on paper. 1951

All I can think of doing to it is flip it horizontally and, behold, it doesn’t work in this view.

What we have here is a non-representational image of such internal tension that it cannot be altered.

It looks like nothing.  Nothing?

When I look at this drawing–the original, on top– I want to project a vertical structure or a tree trunk between the red and black lines.  But that vanishes immediately. What’s left is the quick markmaking, apparently unconscious, and the dominance of “negative space.”

The choice of deep yellow paper is uncanny.  Imagine the paper gray or green or blue.  No go.

Clifford Still is known for his huge paintings, as seen in the Clifford Still Museum in Denver.

This painting, PH812, also from 1951, measures 115 x 104 inches.

https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ALeKk00_5B1hIExLDZoTfK3KAWVvje7PqQ:1607908360102&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=clyfford+still&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjgh4q1pcztAhVBeawKHQQ7A9MQiR56BAgnEAI&biw=1462&bih=836

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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In the last post we started by looking at something beautiful and ended up by suggesting that beauty may be a trap.  A breathtaking view becomes a trap if you think you can –how to say this—trap it.  The common word for this is “capturing it.”

“Oh, you captured that perfectly.”

“That is so beautiful; I want to see if I can capture it in my painting.”

People talk about “capturing” all the time. In music, painting, in a novel, a movie.  As if art making were some sort of hunting sport: you hunt the beauty down and then—gotcha!–you corral it in a fenced lot. You killed it!

So, art making is a form of execution.  If that’s too strong a word, how about strangulation.

In any case, “capturing” results in lifelessness.

We don’t want lifelessness, do we.

The reason that a painting that duplicates a photo would result in lifelessness is that it would make something monumental, i.e. static, out of a fleeting moment.  That would be a lie.

So, how can you allow yourself to be inspired by this image without deceiving yourself?

You can allow yourself to be mesmerized by a small passage that does not refer to a recognizable corner of reality.  It does not illustrate anything.

Now, that you can paint—or draw!  Not as a copyist, not directly, not in detail, but in gesture, in complete self-abandon.  If you pivot your mind into that level of fiction, you may be onto something.

Onto what?  We can’t predict.  Let’s see.

 

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/12/06/kitsch-101/

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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NOW WHAT!!  You want us to look at your boring geraniums in your boring kitchen???!!!

What caught my attention was how the afternoon light made the stems glow. On the right, see that?  See how the stems are outlined in yellow?

How would my camera see that?  As I framed the shot, before I zoomed in on that light effect, I noticed intimations of the Golden Section.

Not one, but two.  In the green lines, the square is on the left.  In the pink, the square is on the right. As a bonus, the red blooms define the corner of the next square in the Golden Section sequence.

In my peripatetic readings I recently came across a quote from Nicolas Malebranche: “Attention is the natural prayer of the soul.”   He had to talk like that because he was a Catholic priest trying to stay alive in 17th century France.  He’s classified as a rational philosopher, working in the shadow of Descartes: notice the word “natural” in front of “prayer.”

1600 years before that,  Epictetus said:  “You become what you give your attention to. If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will … and their motives may not be the highest.”  Epictetus was born a slave in the Roman Empire and became the teacher of Marcus Aurelius.

So, the difference between boring and ta-dah! is not out there in those overwintering geraniums but in that switch in your brain.  You can practice throwing your attention switch.  You can pivot from worry about your to-do list to…attention, now.

Nicolas Malebranche, 1638-1715

Epictetus, 50-135

Marcus Aurelius, 121-180

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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After you’ve identified this photo as a so-what view of a lawn, check that off and see if this might have some formal element worth noticing.

It does.  You can see it better in black/white.

The light zig-zags down from top to bottom with increasing looseness as if it came from some juggler’s pen light.

That’s it?  Yes, for this little exercise in seeing it’s enough to notice that the slivers of light appear to be superimposed on a surface.

The light slivers exist on one plane and the grass on another.   If you also notice that the grass makes vertical lines and the light forms horizontal lines, you’ve got a composition worth contemplating.

I’d like to print this up in high resolution, 6 ft high, and position it at the end of a long hall way.

My camera clicked it in color.  We are used to seeing images in color. But color is not necessarily more powerful than b/w.  Do you agree that the b/w is a more stimulating image?

Btw, all this is relevant to both photography and painting. Not such a little exercise, after all.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Even as a child, Soulage says, he liked black because it made the rest of the paper look all the more white.

When he was sixty, his paintings became all black, a black he calls outrenoir, which translates roughly as “beyond black.”

He doesn’t think of himself as painting with black paint, but with light.  The light reflects off the thick, textured black paint and that is what you see.  “I made these because I found that the light reflected by the black surface elicits certain emotions in me. These aren’t monochromes. The fact that light can come from the color which is supposedly the absence of light is already quite moving, and it is interesting to see how this happens.”

He was born December 24, 1919.  Approaching 101, he says he’s looking forward to more ideas to come to him.

The Musée Soulage, in Rodez , Southern France,  is devoted to his work.

 

 

I recommend the following links for more images of his work and of interviews with him:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw7tkgVnRTw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azb6K-R_q8M

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylZGz3NuidA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eydws5jJ6ys

https://www.google.com/search?q=pierre%20soulages&tbm=isch&tbs=rimg:CR8aTYMxIqhvYaEYr1reAWak&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CBsQuIIBahcKEwjQo_2WloPtAhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQFw&biw=1294&bih=836#imgrc=R9rQFXyA7wEFTM&imgdii=4-kpwBo3-mMrfM

https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ALeKk01-AFktcIGO9n0dcMT9GRy-irtSdw:1605223481914&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=pierre+soulages&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj3oLK7k_7sAhVSgK0KHVh7AGIQiR56BAgPEBA&biw=1378&bih=836#imgrc=Tj_-pYUAPfkJYM&imgdii=AM1Kn5-I38wLFM

 

Two days ago I was reminded of Pierre Soulage when I took the photo posted as “Not Levitating.”  When I framed the shot I saw the uncanny light that was coming through the front doors glass panel in late afternoon.  On the photo, which is unedited, the light “column” at the left appears so substantial that its weight equals that of the blue sphere, which would otherwise have to dominant the composition.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2020/11/12/not-levitating/

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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Time to watch “Blow Up” again.

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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The illusion of depth and perspective in an image is so beguiling that we—smart, scientific and skeptical—willingly suspend disbelief and get sucked into the illusion of receding  space created on a flat surface.

You don’t have to trek through Ecuador, like Fredric Erwin Church, to get this thrill.  Step out your front door and there you’ll find receding space as far as the eye can see even if that’s only to the end of the block.  Your camera will aid you because it will flatten the view for you, i.e. it will compact the three-dimensional reality in front of you into a framed two-dimensional surface.

When you treat yourself to a hike in the nearby state park, well, the phrase “as far as they eye can see” is ecstatically notched up.

The most powerful part is (1) because it’s the closest plant to the viewer and it sets the sense of scale.  All other plants—and that’s all we see—are therefore seen in relation to (1), with the result that we sense how far back they are.

You can compare this analysis to that of Fredric Edwin Church’s painting in the previous post.

The progression from foreground plants to distant hills –and pine trees way in the distance at upper left–occurs in similar layers. Church manipulates the gradations of color and light to heightened effect and just because he can.  In the photo, however, the gradations appear more subtle and to lovers of subtlety that effect may actually be more thrilling  than the technique in Church’s painting.

But wait, there’s more.  Even before you notice the little plant in the lower left corner, you want to look at this image.  It contains an approximation of the Golden Section.  You may not even know what that is, but our environment, both cultural and biological, has conditioned you to like this ratio.

The photographer may not have made all these compositional calculations consciously. This sense can be cultivated intuitively.

Knowing how to analyze why this works does not in the least spoil the pleasure of perception.  On the contrary, look how it deepens your experience.

(Click image for enlargement.)

Mary Shieldsmith ,  Brown County State Park, 2020

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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No real estate agent would like this photo.  It doesn’t show off the house.  No curb appeal!  And what’s with the trees!?

Sorry, sir/madam, this picture is not about the house.  It’s not even about Halloween.

Well, what then!!! –It’s not about anything.–Sound of doors slamming.

This is the last of three frames I took of this scene.  The first two have too much context.  Then I saw the juxtaposition of the straight vertical trees and the pumpkins marching horizontally. Click.

I saw an image, a play of lines and dots.

Here’s the first shot, rejected, due to too much information/illustration.

 

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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