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Saturday, October 4, 2008

In Defense of Structure

This is in defense of the tools I keep talking about, those freeing principles that give our paintings an underlying structure just as the skeleton gives a structure to the human body. Frankly, and I mean no offense here, the more I encounter attitudes of some internet artists, the more convinced I become of how much the compositional principles matter.

Two arguments I keep encountering are (1) compositional principles stifle creativity, (2) the professional artist must challenge compositional principles, must break past them. I find each of these arguments disturbing because neither is true and both are misleading.

Leonardo da Vinci circa 1490 "The Proportions of the Human Figure"

Leonardo da Vinci sought after those principles daily. He knew instinctively that there was a strong relationship between the principles by which the human body is constructed and those which undergird a good painting and so rather than defy the principles, he sought to exploit them.

Think about it like this.

We artists are translators, transposers, interpreters, and responders.
An image cannot hit the canvas without first taking a detour through our brains. And somewhere within that most mysterious of all human possessions exists
  • a collection of every experience we've ever had,
  • every genetic tendancy,
  • all the knowledge we've gathered
  • and all the skills we've learned.

What comes through the brush gets influenced by all that whether we intend it or not. That's what makes every painting we create unique, even if the subject has been painted a zillion times by other artists.

And that uniqueness has it's best chance of translating, transposing, interpreting and responding if expressed through a structure that holds it together and allows it to be communicated just like you, the artist, want it to be communicated. It is the principles that guide how the viewer sees and it is they that give our work it's best chance of being understood.

We all know Handel's Messiah. It is designed on the form of the oratorio. Now imagine this piece without the words. It would be only half there. Or imagine just the words without the music. Again only half there. But that's only a starter. The structure of the music transports the words. The words reinforce the music. And the music has a structure of it's own just as the words do. That's no small potatoes.

Handel didn't just decide to express himself. He put a structure to his self-expression that made us understand it and want to hear it again and again.

I rest my case.

1 comment:

vickiandrandyrossart said...

Whoo-hoo! Thank you, thank you. As a slightly obsessive/compulsive person, my method of teaching myself to paint was to study all the theories of the masters and try to figure out what the x;lkjd! the golden mean is and how it is used. I knew I was with the wrong teacher when she told me to just paint, those rules are of no benefit. I felt much more comfortable as I was then learning technique and brush/pigment handling at least having a clue what the target was! I even made my own 'calipers', acetate grids, etc.