By Paul Fremes
To get more out of looking at and creating art there are two easy-to-learn concepts combined by the masters of painting that have rarely been published together – until now. Discover simple ideas that are changing how the world sees art, and revealing a visual language that has been hiding in plain sight.
Sometimes we look at abstract paintings such as the example below left and wonder what the artist was trying to say?
Sometimes we look at representational paintings such as the example below right and think, ‘it’s interesting to see haystacks in a field’, but we don’t get much more from it than that. Completely understandable if you’ve had those thoughts!
Here’s a key: The masters of painting discovered that when we look at an image we subconsciously give psychological ‘weight’ or importance to objects based on how much they grab our attention. Artists use this idea to calculate (or eyeball) a ratio between light and dark, a balanced image, where all the parts work together – just as musicians in an orchestra work together creating a symphonic sound.
Relationships: The objects (or areas) outlined below in yellow serve as ‘weight’. The objects (or areas) outlined in red serve as ‘counterweight’. The two parts together create a beautiful asymmetrically (equal although different) balanced ratio of dark to light– a structured ‘concert’ or relationship of objects.
How can two parts of an image equal each other if the dark part is smaller than the bright part? Due to the brightness/weight illusion dark objects sometimes look ‘heavier’ than bright objects owing to our basic instincts. A warning can trigger in our brain when we see a distant small, dark object as it could be a predator (see below).
Therefore, sometimes we give more ‘weight’ or importance to small, dark objects. Small, dark = large, bright™. Generally, in the paintings above the small, dark areas equal or balance the large, bright areas because although the dark areas are smaller, they appear heavier.
Putting these two concepts together one can see that an image can be like a puzzle where all the parts fit together. Now, when looking at art you can experience the immense pleasure of seeing it as both an emotional, and mathematical/intellectual experience. What a pleasure it is to understand this visual language that’s been hiding in plain sight!
Creating imagery this way is so immersive it’s like meditation – for a moment you forget about everything else to consider how all the parts of a scene will work together.
The combination of asymmetrical balance and the brightness/weight illusion is a reintroduction, from the Modernist period, of a way of seeing the world and art like an artist. Like learning to play a musical instrument (or balance a bicycle), it takes practice to coordinate all the parts.
Paul has facilitated photography workshops for 26 years at institutions including Simon Fraser University. He has also provided photographic services for organizations including, Bard on the Beach, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Opera, Arts Club Theater, and Ballet BC. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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