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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Deciphering Artspeak, I

What does this mean? "...rhythm and repetition act as agents for creating order out of forces that are otherwise in oppositions."

This quote is lifted directly out of the text I used when teaching design to my college students: the fourth edition of Art Fundamentals: Theory and practice by Ocvirk, Bone, Stinsor, et al. Of course it's been revised and expanded repeatedly and I confess I've not see today's version. But back then, it was as solid as any existing book on design and composition, but today I realize how inaccessible it is to the practicing artist, at least without a whole lot of deciphering.

Okay, let's give it a shot. Rhythm: we know it in music; but what IS it in visual art? We know rhythm as a concept to be associated with movement where there is a repeated action or event. We know our hearts beat in rhythm, and there are plenty of rhythms in cycles of nature. We really do know what rhythm is.

One thing all rhythms make is a pattern in which something is repeated; in visual art, the pattern can be made by brushstrokes, by how elements are arranged, by where the images are placed or a combination of these. In this portrait by Carolyn Anderson we see all three.

Carolyn's brushstrokes are music within themselves, each one moving in a direction as if to actually stroke the image. To the left, I've indicated a few. But look also at the way the white is placed so that our eyes move from the top right of the paint down the shoulder, out the arm,alongside the book, back up the open page, through the background on the left and back. By the repetition of the value, color and temperature and by their placement a pattern of movement is created.

Look now at the braid on the right side pointing to the dark shape in the right bottom corner which leads to the narrow horizontal dark in the lower left and up the braid on the left and through the middle value reddish brown of the background. Another pattern of movement created with the repetition of a color family (reds and oranges) and the arrangement of shapes they occupy so the pattern of movement of the darks flows within that of the lights, all reinforced by the motion of the brushstrokes.

Now, what is the results? Order! Delight! A desire to stay involved in the painting. Rhythm does create order, but it does more--it makes us feel what the artist felt about the subject.

Let's look at that sentence again: rhythm and repetition act as agents for creating order out of forces that are otherwise in oppositions. What if we said simply: We respond to what the subject gives us. We find within it opportunities to repeat and that creates rhythm. We make it interesting by varying. With a simple action of repeating and varying, a pattern of rhythm can emerge.

Just that.


Diana Moses Botkin said...

This is so interesting, Dianne. Do you think this is something most artists do consciously or unconsciously?

Dianne Mize said...

Diana, I think it's unconscious, it must be for the spontaneity to be there. In fact, I think it's like driving a car: we have to be conscious of every move in the beginning, but once we learn the skills and principles, we drive unconsciously while we think about other things. I really believe the best painting happens this way.