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Archive for the ‘Technique and Demo’ Category

While we were analyzing Bellini’s Madonna of the Trees, someone in the class said, but these paintings were not made to be analyzed, they were made as objects of devotion.  That is true, but as artists we have to analyze how these objects of devotion were constructed.

You can see how strongly this drawing emphasizes the horizontal and vertical axes.  The drawing has conviction because of that.  In a weaker composition the psychological focal points would be the faces.  But here, without that easy emotional appeal, the drawing holds our attention by the force of that vertical and horizontal intersection.

It would be great to see Bellini’s sketches for this painting.  In the Renaissance, preliminary drawings for paintings and frescoes tend to be more energetic than the final product. It’s uncanny. The paintings will  look  16th century and the sketches will look modern.

The last element added in this sketch was the background scribble in the upper left, over the woman’s right shoulder.  I say “background,” but it’s no less important than any other scribble in the drawing.  I think those last lines, without representing anything or being part of the figures, make the drawing complete.

Without them, we would merely have an attempted illustration. With the “background scribble” we have a complete page, where, in the modern sense, positive and negative space are equally worth looking at.

Jeanne Mueller, graphite on paper, ~14” x 12”

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/04/22/bellinis-pleasing-tricks/

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One of the themes in these past few posts has been the challenge to look critically at much admired paintings by much admired artists.

Giovanni Bellini is one of the celebrated Venetian painters of the 16th century. At first glance, his Madonna of the Trees seems harmonious, pleasing and perfect.

But look again.  First, the woman has no right shoulder. Her right arm would have to be attached to that (missing) shoulder.  Therefore, quite a bit of anatomy would have to be visible behind the baby.  Second, the drapery over the right forearm abruptly stops behind the baby’s ankles. You would expect it to circle around, but no, it mysteriously breaks off behind the baby’s crossed ankles. This abruptness would be more obvious if the legs were separated, so he makes this plump newborn stand up straight and cross his ankles. If you consent to the missing shoulder, why not also accept absurd drapery and a posturing newborn!

As I’m writing this, I keep looking at the reproduction of this painting in a book.  Even after my analysis and my full realization of Bellini’s trickery, I find this painting totally appealing.

Once that happens, I have to figure out why that happens, of course.  The appeal of this painting, I think, comes from the rational organization of the composition. It’s as if your brain said, how can something so carefully laid out not make sense?  As for the interrupted drapery around the arm, notice how the curve of that cloth is echoed in the left elbow’s drapery, forming a perfect ellipse.  There you are, your brain says, I rest my case.

For more on how your brain accepts trickery like this, including optical illusions, see Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.  Readable, relevant, highly recommended.

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

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Every language has a word for three colors: black, white and what would you think?  Yellow, mauve, turquoise, chartreuse, magenta, grey, beige, orange, purple?   Nope,  RED.  Oh, of course, you say.

There are languages that lump all other colors into one word, something like “colorful.”

Why would we single out the color red above all others? Look at strawberries, apples, cherries.  The color red evolved in nature, in fruit specifically, simultaneously with our love of sweetness.  Ripe fruit tends to be red and sweet.  Think strawberry.  Our evolved taste buds longing for sweetness—and, therefore, red—lead us to eat the strawberry.  It’s the strawberry’s way of spreading its seeds and thereby assuring its proliferation.

But we think red is important because it satisfies our craving for sweetness. The red fruit is a source of nourishment and calories to burn and therefore is important for our survival.

It’s not that your mouth is watering when you see red in a painting.  The association is more subtle. Red is deeply connected to survival.  So, red has gravitas.

Test other colors for gravitas:

Not so much, wouldn’t you agree.

 

 

 

 

Again, this exercise in seeing is brought to you courtesy Adobe Photoshop.

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

www.katherinehilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

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https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/03/03/red-and-repetition/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/20/green-anyone/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/those-blues/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/red-and-rational/

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You know by now that I like to ferret out why a painting or drawing holds my attention.  In an abstract painting this is particularly puzzling because no reference, no narrative, no memory is evoked.  Then how is it that these bold non-referential brush marks can be so compelling?

There are two factors. One is composition, the other is color.

The composition here is based on repetition.  There are three “brackets” of different size, orientation and articulation. By articulation I mean how clearly the “bracket motif” is stated. The small one at upper right looks like an emergent, potential bracket.  The largest one of the three is more elaborate than the mid-size one at upper left.  The artist, I’m sure did not analyze her process this way, but rather painted intuitively.  And that’s because the repetition of forms is so compelling in a composition.  We like repetition, rhythm and rhyme in poetry and music. And also in our visual art.

What about that yellow dot? Go back up to the original painting and notice how your eye goes back to this tiny element and how fascinated you are by it. That’s it!  The small yellow dot breaks the repetition, it adds a high note.

The second factor is color, which will come up in the next post.

As I was working on this analysis, I randomly pulled a book off the shelf.  It was a book of poetry by Billy Collins, “Aimless Love.”  I opened it at random and read:

Lucky for some of us,

poetry is a place where both are true at once,

where meaning only one thing at a time spells malfunction.

Cassie Buccellato, painting in oil, 6′ x 4-1/4′

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

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It’s also called “The Man with the Blue Sleeve.” Titian (1488-1576) painted this portrait around 1510. It’s a good example of the High Renaissance’s self-confidence, the assertion of the dignity of humanness.  The power of his ego is not coming at us in a front view, which would look aggressive or defensive. No need for that.  This man is so self-assured and self-contained that he can engage your full attention with only a sideways glance. The bone of his elbow is pointing at us, but we don’t see any bones or muscles that might intimidate us.  No need for a display of brute force.   This man’s power is deeper, beyond  your peasant understanding.  The sleeve is quilted, it’s soft: poetically anchored power.

If this were a portrait of a member of the high aristocracy or the ruling class we would surely know his real name. The fact that we don’t, suggests he was of the rising middle class, a merchant perhaps. This is the confident face of the future.

That confidence is conveyed in the composition itself:  the triangle, the most stable geometrical shape. We’ve encountered the triangle composition before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rafael squeezes his Madonnas into triangles to satisfy his client, who needs to assure his congregation that this theology is stable, eternal and unbudgeable.

In Titian’s Ariosto notice how pronounced the triangle is.  A black cape is draped over the far shoulder to clarify the two equal sides of the isosceles triangle.  We can’t know what the extra black fabric or fur over the left forearm is.  I marked it in pink.  Whatever that brushstroke represents, it’s important compositionally.  It gets the eye moving upward along that side of the triangle.  In laying out the composition with both clarity and ambiguity, Titian is thinking as a modernist, as one of us.

(This painting by Titian, 32” x 26,” is in the National Gallery, London.)

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

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In the early 2000’s green was a fashionable color, meaning it was associated with romantic love.  In Steve Martin’s 2005 movie Shopgirl (he wrote the screenplay) the walls of the shopgirl’s apartment were green. I remember thinking, how odd, I thought green walls were for hospitals.

So it goes with color associations.  We talked about that earlier, in the post about blue.

There have been paintings of solid black (Barnett Newman), solid blue (Yves Klein), solid white (Bruce Nauman) and solid red (Malevich). But solid green?

In the 1990’s the Tate showed large solid color paintings by Maria Lalic, including a green that is, however, not applied evenly and flat but thinly striped. So we can’t count it.  https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/maria-lalic-2639

What is it about green? Why has nobody made a solid green painting? Kazimir Malevich would not have shown a Green Square next to his Red Square in 1915.

On the internet you can look up “color therapy,” and read that green is the most therapeutic color: “This is the most basic color of all in healing. It is the color which you always use first and last.” https://www.aetherius.org/healing-yourself-and-others/color-therapy/    Is that why walking in parks and woods is restful? But then, consider that there’s more hitting the senses in the woods than green-green-green.

A given color will affect us differently in different contexts.

Try this.

It’s 3 feet square.  In what room of your house would you like to see this?  Really?  For how long?

Next, imagine walking unassumingly into a museum or gallery and there it is, it 8’ x 8.’  Your whole visual field is filled, it envelops you, nothing else exists. Here you have green and its complementary color, red, for maximum contrast.  The Malevich juxtaposition in 1915 would have been comical, but here the contrast may give you a profound jolt.

Now let’s take another break from color.  What happens when you switch abruptly between the Renaissance sensibility and the modern sensibility in which we’ve been immersing ourselves here? We will now toggle back again from 2000 to 1500.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/black/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/red-and-rational/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/those-blues/

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

http://www.katherinehilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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When you’re being paid to get a message across, composition is your friend.

Florence, ~1500.  Sandro Botticelli has been commissioned to make a painting in which a baby—quite literally–is the message. The culture Botticelli lives in is built around this theological message. He’s well acquainted with the usual cast of characters, will assemble them again for this painting and he knows he has to work out a composition that makes this baby the focus of attention, again.

Botticcelli yawns, takes out his sketch pad and draws straight lines and arches.  Those are the most important tools for his composition and really all he needs: straight lines and arches.  The arches will enclose the space around the baby.  The straight lines will converge on the baby.  Botticelli concentrates on his scribbling for two minutes.  Gotcha, he says.  He means the viewer.  The viewer’s gaze will not wander, will constantly be led to the point of convergence, the baby. The client, who is powerful and wealthy, better pay him well for this fine work.

It was the custom for a master like Botticelli to have assistants that were trained by the master to specialize in rendering specific parts of a painting. One student might specialize in painting drapery, one in skies, and one in vegetation.   When the master’s name is followed by “and workshop” we can’t be sure that the master actually worked on the painting. It may mean that he only drew the initial sketch (called “cartoon”) with the all-important composition lines and then assigned his assistants (his workshop) to flesh it out on canvas.  It may mean that he painted only the faces and hands and then turned the painting over to his trained assistants.  But it may also mean that the workshop crew had been trained so well by him that they could work in his style without him being present at all.

As for creating the cartoon, that was the main job and usually performed by the master. But, as you can see, once you knew where the focus had to be—and that came with the all-pervasive theology of the time—you reached for your composition tools and, voila, the thing fell together: arches and converging lines.

What about anatomy?  Well, anatomy has to become subservient to composition. Joseph’s left arm is too small and Mary’s right forearm cannot be attached to an upper arm. Both  are squeezed into place somehow. St. John’s right leg is not attached to his pelvis.  The bodies of the two adults are hulking and humongous in relation to their tiny heads.  The new born weighs about forty pounds. But no matter. We accept it all.  Why? Because the composition tells us so.  Enveloping arches and converging lines focus the mind.  The mind loves that.

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

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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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