In the blogs and other art circles, we see the words harmony and unity talked about like a chef discusses salt and spices, but often I see the two words used interchangeably and they shouldn't be. Each is a distinctive result of something which has been accomplished by the artist during the process of composing and painting.
Harmony happens when all the elements in the painting's are in tune with one another. In an orchestra, if one of the violins is out of tune it throws an unpleasant dissonance into the piece being played. One of the worst ear-assaults is a piano out of tune. No matter how masterful the pianist, if the instrument is not tuned, the music can be nerve-wrecking.
The major element in a painting that creates harmony is color. And the major tuning has to do with the temperature of light. In representational painting, if we perceive all the colors to be illuminated by the same light, we instinctively feel the painting to be in tune.
Look at this watercolor painting by Charles Reid. He has used all the primary colors--yellows, blues and reds-- but all are tuned to the overall cool light coming from the overcast sky. He's managed this by sharp observation, by simply painting what he sees and by doing that he has given us a painting very much in tune with itself. We see yellows and reds cooled by having been neutralized thus harmonizing with the blues.
A similar type of harmony is found with Lilli Pell's painting below.
Pell has actually used complementary colors--orange/blue--as her major color scheme, yet even these complements feel in tune with one another because the oranges have been slightly cooled and neutralized toward blue. We feel the same light illuminating all the colors. Once again, Pell achieved this by looking, perceiving and responding to the colors in front of her eyes.
One emerging painter who continues to amaze me with her ability to harmonize is Karen Jurick. Look at this recent painting by Karen.
If you scan the piece, you'll find yellow, purple, orange and blue or two sets of complementary colors, yet we are not aware of the contrasts, only the freshness and vibrancy of color. Karen was painting what she saw. She got the color in tune because she responded to each of the colors she saw and how they related to one another.
As you move from blog to blog, website to website, and gallery to gallery, if something about a painting bothers you, look first to see if it feels out of tune. Keep in mind, though, that a painting can have many color contrasts and still be in tune. It is when those colors get out of harmony with one another that we feel a sense of visual irritation.
So what does the artist do to achieve harmony? Observe! And respond to what's being seen rather than to guess what one is looking out.
Unity means belonging together or a oneness. A family might be made up of diverse personalities, various sizes of people, different eye colors and skin shades, but if the family agrees upon one strong attitude, that manner of thinking can give it unity. In an art work, when many diverse parts are made to fit together, then piece has unity.
Unity, I believe, is an overall motive for composing a painting. In next week's tutorial, I will begin to discuss different methods artists use to achieve this motive.
See you then.