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Friday, October 21, 2011

Open and Closed

Composing is not just about the design of the painting, nor is it just about the subject.  Rather it is about choices:  it is about how we select the subject, how much of it we select, then how we express our choice on the two-dimensional space we've chosen.

Sometimes painters choose to engage the viewer by giving a limited number of clues about their work's content, giving the piece a sense of mystery. One classic method for doing this is something called an open composition.

Whereas in a closed composition the entire subject appears within the edges of a painting, the open composition shows only part of the subject .  In photographers language, the image is cropped.

Look at the photos below:

We know this is a person, but where is she? Outdoors or looking out an open window?  What is she doing?  Is she gazing out over a landscape?  Is the wind blowing her hair?  An open composition might crop out any degree of information allowing us, the viewers, to complete the story or simply ask questions.  

Still an open composition, this selection and placement gives us more clues.  Now we know she's on a bicycle, but is she riding or resting?  Is she wearing shorts or slacks or a skirt?  Is she making a turn or about to crash into a fence?

Here we have a little more information--we know she's wearing shorts, but we still don't see all the image.  We still don't know whether she is riding or resting or about to crash.  Her hair tells us motion is coming from somewhere, but is it from how she's moving or is it wind?  The composition is still open.

But in this photo, the story is complete giving us a closed composition where the entire image is shown to us.   The girl is riding her bike and about to make a turn from one trail onto another alongside a fence. About the only question left is whether the wind is blowing or whether she's making a speedy turn.

One thing we might note is that the closed composition doesn't engage us so much as the open compositions did.  Making this selection for a painting will require making additional choices to keep our audience engaged.

Twentieth century artist Georgia O'Keeffe often used open composition, zooming into the center of things to find her subject.  At first glance we see an abstract design, but looking closer we realize we are gazing into the center of a flower.

"Red Canna"    Oil on Canvas     Georgia O'Keefe  1887-1986

But twentieth-century artist Edward Hopper uses the device in another way.  Is it to kinder our imaginations or for it's spatial design?  Or perhaps he was teasing us.

"Light at Two Lights"   Watercolor   Edward Hopper  1882-1967
The visual language speaks to our senses, our intellects, our intuitions and our emotions.  The use of open composition stands a good chance of strongly tapping into all four.

See my most recent painting at One Artist's Journey.  A new painting is posted each Sunday.

1 comment:

RH Carpenter said...

I'm really enjoying reading your posts and learning quite a bit, too. Thanks for sharing!