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    Advanced Composition Discussion

    I’ve started this thread in order to continue a discussion that myself and Kev Ferrara were having over on the ALCHEMY still life thread in the ‘It’s finally finished’ section.
    It concerns the idea of what takes place in our imagination when we describe space into the flat surface of the picture plane. The activity can be thought of as a ‘modelling’ of forms whereby things are built up out of a formless matter that is ‘put there’ into the empty space of the picture plane, gradually filling it up. This I refer to as ‘Modelling conception’.
    However there is another imaginative fantasy involving the way the business of making an image is practiced in the mind of the artist. This is where the forms are felt to be ‘uncovered’ or ‘carved’ as if they were forms waiting to be released from the cube of white in a way analogous to the carver wresting the forms hidden in the block of stone. This I refer to as a ‘Carving conception’.

    Below is the discussion so far between myself and Kev. I hope others will join in as it is a little understood principle since most analysis of pictures is thought of from a ‘modelling’ viewpoint which is inadequate to explain what is happening in works that have been produced with a ‘carving’ proclivity.

    Chris Bennett:

    I think what everyone has been saying here is essentially right. But something else occurred to me:
    When looking at composition we can think of it as falling into what can be imagined as 'modelling conception' on one hand and 'carving conception' in the other. Modelling conception is an additive, building up of forms. Carving conception is an 'uncovering', a taking away to reveal the forms.
    Problems arrive when a modelling conception is used to try and produce a composition that would be the natural outcome of carving.
    Below are some extremely 'static' compositions but are alive and 'hum' with presence because they are conceived by a carving state of mind.
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    Kev Farrara replies:


    Chris... I'm not quite sure what you mean be carving versus adding...

    but rather than looking at anything too specifically, I think the graphics and vectors in two of these compositions do all the required explaining about what is causing their compositional dynamism.
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    Chris Bennett replies:

    Kev, there are carving and modeling elements in all paintings but it is a question of degree. For instance Piero Della Francesca, Bruegel, Morandi, Cezanne and Picasso were mainly 'carvers'. Van Eyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Constable, Matisse were more 'modelers'. Of the 'illustrators' Frazetta and Rockwell are modelers, John Jude Palencar and Mark English are carvers with Jeff Jones being somewhere in the middle of the two.
    The vector analysis you made of the Morandi and the Cardin explains what is happening with the modeling component in these works, but in my view this is not their main method of realisation. They are essentially 'carving' paintings. To take a musical analogy; what you are pointing out is the melody (which is there, but not the thing that is taking the real strain of what these paintings are about) whereas these are 'harmonic' paintings - they are read 'all at once' more than experienced as a series of movements around the surface. The forms are rather to be explained as a series of pressures both of colour, tone and volume that steady each other, scratch each other's back if you will. The eye is invited to take in everything together and enjoy a stable solution of balance, involving a measured scanning movement, whereas in the modeling conception the eye is encouraged to move about and derive satisfaction from an eventful journey.
    Colour can be though of in the same way: Modeling colour is a tug of war whereas carving colour stresses their ultimate union in white.


    Kev Ferrara replies:

    Chris... we may be hijacking the thread but this is a very interesting topic to me so...

    I guess I have trouble grasping what you mean by "carving". I think I would say the distinction you are drawing is between "shapes and area" (eastern) versus "form and vector" (western).

    But, from my perspective shapes often have a vector components, and have edges that are vectors, or arms that are vectors... and shapes also comprise forms, so to me, an artist such as Jones or N.C. Wyeth is simply falling in the very middle of the circle with its compass points at vector, area, shape, and form.

    There are many Frazetta and Rockwell pieces that also fall in the middle (usually the best ones), though almost no Ruebens, who was a true "modeller". Meanwhile Diebekorn is all shape and area.

    The still life with water glass and kettle can also be analyzed in terms of shape and area.... as all good compositions should be able to. That is, a good composition should work as shapes and areas, but also as vectors and forms, simultaneously. In this case, though, the simplicity of the shape/area analysis seemed so calm, whereas the vector analysis was so obviously dynamic, that I thought I could better judge the cause of its dynamism by way of vectors.

    Does my understanding dovetail with what you mean?
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    Last edited by Chris Bennett; February 1st, 2008 at 10:43 AM.
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    So, from what I gather from this conversation, the carving technique has more to do with negative space drawing (something I could never do correctly unless I'm having an "artistic" day).
    And the modeling technique is the opposite...that is building forms by "feeling them out"

    Is that right?

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    Quote Originally Posted by jt4470 View Post
    So, from what I gather from this conversation, the carving technique has more to do with negative space drawing (something I could never do correctly unless I'm having an "artistic" day).
    And the modeling technique is the opposite...that is building forms by "feeling them out"

    Is that right?
    Yes, you are certainly on the right track except that negative space drawing is a by-product of the approach rather than its cause. What I talked about in the post above replying to Kev regarding the respect for the surface as the main principle behind the carving conception related to painting, applies to this.
    If you are thinking of maintaining the sense of the surface when painting or drawing, then any 'holes' appearing will be anathema to you. The holes in the space created by a modelling conception are to do with an almost exclusive regard for the form one is making and leaving the other areas as a 'non event'. If you are trying to maintain the integrity of the surface then you will have automatic regard for all the surface and the 'negative shapes' will not be experienced as such at all. Everything will have equal favour even though there will be a hierarchy of forms.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
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    This thread interests me, though I haven't been able o read through it properly yet (lot's of pages, lot's of knowledge, lot's of text...)

    I have to interrupt for a second and ask who the author of this painting is. Any idea? Posted on the first page, and just beatiful


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    Quote Originally Posted by MorteM View Post
    This thread interests me, though I haven't been able o read through it properly yet (lot's of pages, lot's of knowledge, lot's of text...)

    I have to interrupt for a second and ask who the author of this painting is. Any idea? Posted on the first page, and just beatiful
    It is by a wonderful artist called Alex Kanevsky. His website is here
    http://www.somepaintings.net/Alex.html
    Prepare to be amazed and bent in half by what you will see here - it may fuck you up for a couple of months before you finish assimilating what he has done......

    Last edited by Chris Bennett; March 5th, 2008 at 08:15 PM.
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    love your analitical eyes man,thank you...how about these....

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    kev in regards to your analysis of the Uglow image you questioned the purpose of the component field's design, and stated that there was no real directionality to it. however seeing your vector shape breakdown (post 10) of the figure it seems hard for me personally to remove the vectors from the planning of the component field (post 11).

    such breakdowns shouldnt be analyzed independant of each other. to paraphrase gestalt's theory of unified design which i'm sure is old news to all of us "the sum of a composition is greater than any individual part"

    it almost seems to me that there is a directionality to the rhythmic structure of the component field. if the viewers eyes gets thrown off the windmill, so to speak it will likely be into the more vast area of the painting which the viewer has not yet 'explored'. the vertical tree serves to prevent the eye from roaming off of the picture plane. it is when the viewer reaches this point that i feel the underlying shapes of the background help to drive the viewer back to the complexity of the figure.

    so basically i'm proposing that the component field is a horizontal segway to transit the attention where the artist intends. it has a directionality in a pervese sublte way of trying to be unnoticed.

    anyway i hope that wasn't read with eyes rolling and saying "yes grief thanks for pointing out the bluntly obvious, go shut up". chris and kev good conversation, its given me a few new methods to approach the interest of pictoral 'flatness' that i've been seeking.

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    Chris-I still don't understand what you mean by the "carving conception" in the context of composition. Can you try another way of explaining it? I'm getting stuck on the words so far.

    I can understand what carving would mean in the context of building up form (clay vs. marble), but not in the context of composition.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dose View Post
    Chris-I still don't understand what you mean by the "carving conception" in the context of composition. Can you try another way of explaining it? I'm getting stuck on the words so far.

    I can understand what carving would mean in the context of building up form (clay vs. marble), but not in the context of composition.
    Sorry dose, you were obviously posting while I was replying to Kev. The amazing thing is that I have answered your question in that post! In a profound sense there is no separation between composing and what you are doing at any time on the canvas in the 'carving' mode. Everything is in relation to the rectangle, or respect to the surface in its entirety. When working in the carving mode the work is at all times in balance, in harmony with itself and the material that is its mother. The Michelangelo I posted above demonstrates this pretty well, as does the following image:
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    OK, I get what you are talking about.

    My old teacher used to say quite frequently "Drawing is division."

    Nice discussion- it's made some fuzzy understanding from before much more clear. Thanks.

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    It's maybe based upon a fibronacci sequence?

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    To my untrained eye, those last few look a lot like the examples in Loomis of what he calls "informal subdivision"

    Or do I just need sleep/education?

    btw I see the fib spiral Craig D alludes to.

    Good reading either way, do carry on and I'll read it in the morning with some strong coffee.

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    I'm guessing you two aren't big proponents of Occam's razor?

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    very interresting discussion guys!

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    I think that song analogy of yours Kev is very good. I've been wondering about it all day, trying to find a loophole but it stands up extremely well. Even the fact that a song you like on first hearing gets better the fifth or sixth time around. You end up hearing it all at once - the first couple of bars you connect and relate to all the parts to come, all the way through to the last couple of bars. An icecube floating on it's own melting, as I am fond of saying. It allows also for songs that are evocations rather than little stories or accounts of a yearning or its process.
    I like your breakdown of the Frazetta too.

    Thinking of the song as evocation: Maybe that's not a 'vector' as it would be with a narrative subject. A cloud perhaps, an 'area' or 'field'. (We are back to carving and modelling as applied to subject, in this case 'evocation' and 'narrative'. I'm sure you are pleased about that!)
    Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott is good example to use since everyone knows this painting:
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    When I first saw this as a very young lad I knew nothing of painting and not even of the existence of Tennyson or his poems. I did not know what the picture was 'about'. But it touched something in me straight away - it probably even made me into a painter for all I know. Yet I seemed to 'understand' what it was about - as if the painting was made just for me alone and had been waiting for me. Of course it was not, but such was my complete feeling of empathy that I can describe it in no other way. It had made concrete a state of mind. It had, by the miracle of marks on a canvas, somehow pinned down an etherial notion of something I could not put a name to but now had seen a picture of.
    Of course, knowing the story we can explain why all the various elements are there - the willows, the river the tapestry etc. But these things don't really enhance the thing at all for me. The picture always returns to the experience of this slightly strange young woman in a boat where something is amiss because the tapestry is drooping in the water.
    Yet it must be working so strongly because the plastic elements are working so beautifully together. Is it possible to take this apart and see how this is being achieved in terms of delivering this 'evocation'?
    I'm going to have a think about it and have a go at doing this.
    What do think Kev?
    Or anybody else - don't be shy!

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    Smile

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
    When I first saw this as a very young lad I knew nothing of painting and not even of the existence of Tennyson or his poems. I did not know what the picture was 'about'. But it touched something in me straight away - it probably even made me into a painter for all I know. Yet I seemed to 'understand' what it was about - as if the painting was made just for me alone and had been waiting for me. Of course it was not, but such was my complete feeling of empathy that I can describe it in no other way. It had made concrete a state of mind. It had, by the miracle of marks on a canvas, somehow pinned down an etherial notion of something I could not put a name to but now had seen a picture of.
    [trivia] If I'd never seen Waterhouse or Sargent I'd probably be a really apathetic but reasonably well off programmer by now.

    I'm still not sure if that would have been a good or bad thing, I'll know more in 5 years I suppose.[/trivia]

    Last edited by Flake; February 2nd, 2008 at 08:08 PM.
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    really good discussion so far kev and chris.
    im enjoying your takes on every composition.

    chris, when you say evoction, you mean the conjunction of elements in relation with the whole but in the plastic and space composition, not in the meaning?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DIMAGYAN View Post
    really good discussion so far kev and chris.
    im enjoying your takes on every composition.

    chris, when you say evoction, you mean the conjunction of elements in relation with the whole but in the plastic and space composition, not in the meaning?
    That's a good distinction to make and I'm glad you picked me up on it. I guess I mean that the deep motivation behind every decision on the canvas is governed by wanting the image to 'evoke' something. Now, this is different to 'saying' something in my view, because 'evocation' means to give form to something that refers to something formless.
    So I am refering to the plastic means that come together to act as a sort of signpost to this intangable yet 'real to the psychological touch' meaning that the painting has.
    The Frazetta 'says' 'guardian that blocks your way' and Kev has pointed up all the plastic elements that do this to us on a purely visual level.
    The Waterhouse 'evokes' a state of mind. The Frazetta does too, but it is not its primary objective I think. The Waterhouse, although showing a moment from a narrative poem is really using it as stepping stone to conveying a state of mind, which I feel is its primary concern.
    Thus the plastic elements of the Waterhouse end up evoking something as opposed to saying something.
    So, to use Kev's analogy.
    The Frazetta uses the surface to harmonise with the 'vector' of the story - the song is 'said'.
    The Waterhouse uses the surface to harmonise with the 'field' of the story - the song is 'evoked'.
    Kev may disagree with this but I reasonably sure I've got it right.

    Last edited by Chris Bennett; February 3rd, 2008 at 04:01 AM.
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    this thread has helped me immensely in unraveling the da vinci code thank you gentlemen

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    I've been following this thread since it grew out of the Alchemy one, but haven't contributed anything, mainly because I don't know how to parse compositions as well as you two. But I do love words, and Chris picked a good one, so here's a brief etymological aside while we wait for Waterhouse to show up and explain himself.

    Evocation
    1574, from L. evocationem (nom. evocatio), from evocare "call out, rouse, summon," from ex- "out" + vocare "to call" (see voice). Evoke is from 1623, often more or less with a sense of "calling spirits," or being called by them. Evocation was used of the Roman custom of petitioning the gods of an enemy city to abandon it and come to Rome; it was also used to translate the Platonic Gk. anamnesis "a calling up of knowledge acquired in a previous state of existence."
    Good stuff here guys, thanks for posting.

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    Great discussion.

    I can't get over how much you analysis studies look like what I push my design and compositions students toward in their design journals.

    ~Richard

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    Great great thread here.

    I was noticing the downward trends in the figure, but never noticed those patterns in the background and foreground. Amazing breakdown!

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    Regarding the colour in this piece, it is the tapestry that gives us the clue. We are so used to seeing the faded remains in stately homes and museums. Here it is disturbingly reversed: It is the landscape that has faded and the tapestry that is new. This is so strong a conceit that I cannot overemphasise it enough. Our sense of unease about this is amplified by the fact that it dangles into the water and its colour will soon to be leeched by the black water. To confound this one is struck by the eroticism of what is happening - the white sanity of her dress will finally succumb.
    But not yet. Not ever, for such is the sublime beauty of this business of static images, of paintings in whatever form, that we shall forever remain in this melting moment.

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    A couple of other things that have occured to me:
    The cavity of her mouth is an inversion of her belt and the boat both in shape and colour, and her hair (with full acceptance of Kev's tears metaphor) sits beside her face as do the trees sit beside her body. It is as if her physical parts are being transmogrified into the environment or that the lonely, forlorn, still day has taken human/spirit form in this heartbreaking young woman.
    For a demonstration of how much this is working on behalf of the picture's meaning, and that it should in no way to be regarded as subjective 'wool gathering' I refer you to this horrible image:
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    Just wanted to pipe in to say that this is an epic discussion; and that I laughed very hard at the stop-sign interpretation of Frazetta's work.

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    I just want to thank you guys for sharing your thoughts whit us, this thread is loaded with ideas.....respect.....and if I understood this discussion so far, I think cezanne was carver and modeller.....he was modelling with color

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    Good thoughts good thoughts agree!

    From a scientific standpoint everything that has a temperature above abosolute zero glows, even if our eye sight is unable to recognize it. Infrared is used because of this glow effect that heat generates. Our eyes can only begin to see a glow with a temperature close to flame such as a lit cigar or a hot peice of metal. Infrared enhances the spectrum to pick up glowing object at body temperature wavelengths....however reflected glow cuts off at about 186 degrees from what the human eye can preceive....

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    I've been skimming through this and will definitely have to do some heavier reading when I have time.

    Going back to Waterhouse's "Lady of Shallot" the thing that caught my eye right away but I didn't see mentioned, is how the tapestry acts as more than just a key, it's almost a full duplication of the entire composition with colors and shapes
    Advanced Composition Discussion

    sorry if someone made this obvious before (I do mostly look at pictures )

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    Quote Originally Posted by sicko View Post
    I've been skimming through this and will definitely have to do some heavier reading when I have time.

    Going back to Waterhouse's "Lady of Shallot" the thing that caught my eye right away but I didn't see mentioned, is how the tapestry acts as more than just a key, it's almost a full duplication of the entire composition with colors and shapes
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    That's a nice observation - it adds drama to my idea about the tapestry being the reverse situation in the picture to the way we normally expeience them: faded, in a world of colour. Here it is a coloured version of the faded landscape. The indoors in the outdoors.

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    Kev, regarding the silhouettes do you think that some context is actually required to read the ground in this instance? What if hypothetically, the person viewing had never seen are horse, a rider, or a rider on a horse? Or a tree for that matter? It seems to me the ground plane is being established because we know that horses need to stand on something, trees grow out of something...then depth is established.

    EDIT: Oop, I think that's just what Chris said above.

    This reminds me of a story I read, where a man who had lived his whole life in the jungle was shown the plains. It confused him. He saw people on the horizon but interpeted them as just "shrunken". Distance/perspective was lost on him, and as things came nearer they just appeared to be growing in size the relationship wasn't understood yet.

    There's a book that I'm going to try and find again, because I think it could provide insight on how we see/construct our vision.

    Last edited by Earendil; February 7th, 2008 at 12:58 PM.
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