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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Play It Again, Sam

What do these four designs all have in common?

We all know how unnerving it is to hear the same old tune over and over again.  But when a musician adds variations to that tune, something that had become irritating can be transformed into something delightful.  And the more clever the variations, the more likely we are to want to hear it again.  

The advantage music has over painting is that we are more likely to continue to listen than we are to continue to look.  If a painting doesn't capture our attention at first glace, chances are we'll look away from it, going onto something else.  Often the reason for its failure to engage us longer is its lack of variation. 

Have you found what the above designs all have in common?  Did you guess repetition?  If you did, you got it half right:  repetition with variation is the answer.

There are abundant repetitions in nature, but nature's repeated elements contain variations and the artist's ability to capture and express, even exploit, those variations is one way to hold a viewer's attention.  

Carolyn Anderson          Oil
Color samples from the light values of Anderson's painting

In the above painting, Carolyn Anderson repeats the same color family throughout a large part of the painting, but within that color, the way she finds to vary their hue, intensity and value keeps us interested.  In addition, she varies the direction of her brushstrokes, the degree of blending, and the edges of the shapes. 

Look at the variations in color Kevin MacPherson has put into the sky and water of "Shem Creek Afternoon."

   MacPherson   "Shem Creek Afternoon"    12" x 16"   Oil

Color samples from MacPherson's sky

Color samples from MacPherson's water

In both sky and water, there are repetitions that could be translated into ho-hum interpretations, but MacPherson has looked more closely and found differences that keep these areas compelling.  And on closer observation we can see that he's repeated the kind of stroke he uses for the water while varying it's width, length and occasionally its direction.

But possibilities extend further than nature.  Even though the color of human flesh is repeated throughout one's face, Carol Marine has discovered at least six variations in color just on the light side of this humorous portrait.

"One-eyed Don"    Oil   Carol Marine
with samples from the right side of the face.
By varying the size and direction of her strokes as well as the colors, Carol has made an otherwise common subject exciting and fun to look at.  

Repetition is the composition principle that produces rhythm and can give unity to a work, whether music or any of the other arts.  But too much repetition without some variation can render boredom.  Nobody wants their work to be boring.  Do they? 

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