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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 kev ferrara View Post
    It seems enormously difficult to get away from edges as outlines of objects and how that naturally separates space and violates the sanctity of the flat picture plane. The question is the degree of violation. And then there is the question of how a work can have, simultaneously, a very obvious surface design, yet have enormous depth.
    I know what you mean, but the examples below show how it can be done.
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    As I mentioned earlier, the negative shape idea is really just an outcome of the carving approach, not the cause.
    To realise a landscape, for example, by seeing the white canvas or paper as snow that slowly melts to reveal the land, to see colour as that that resides in white's stable womb, the way one sees a dark blackcurrent against white skin - a series of affinities. It is a fundamentally different approach to the flourish of modelling.
    This is why I find Palencar interesting - it is not really his subject matter that gives his images their power but rather the subject matter realised through a conception that is essentially a carving one and gives them their particular mystery.

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    Kev, the artist is Euan Uglow, British 1932-2000.

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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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    Quote Originally Posted by kev ferrara View Post
    Here's the thing I am having problems with... and maybe I have this wrong...

    When one divides up pictorial space, there is no abrading of space... there is simply a division. The component units still add back up to the original unit.
    Yes, that is absolutely true and I like the examples you gave together with your analysis. This is tricky, but the answer lies in the metaphor rather than the letter. Obviously the picture plane is not really being carved. It is undegoing a deliberate process of being respected for what it is. The first basic divisions upon it are quite literally a 'mark' of this respect. If each and every subsequent compositional subdivision is in respect of the one that preceeded it then even the tiniest bit of last minute blending will have a fundamental and profound literal relationship with its great, great, great grandparents - the beautiful, unsullied rectangle.
    A carving always retains the inference of the block from which it came and in this sense it is always there and has never gone away- the abraiding has taken material away certainly, but the carving's great ancestor, the block from which it came, is still 'present'. Modelling in clay does not infer such a state. It is a primal mud from which all things are possible. It can be whipped by the will. The marble block demands communion with it. It must be taken into account for what it is in order not to diminish its poetry, its very meaning.
    It is this point that is the touchstone to thinking of carving as applied to two dimensional image making. Maintaining the wholeness of the rectangle, the very image upon its surface must do this in order to draw its inherent vitality from it.
    In fact if the composing process were to diminish the rectangle in any way it would not be carving as I understand it. The making of doors or holes, as you have so neatly pointed out diminish the rectangle, 'invite you in' away from the perimeter. It is in the sense of maintaining the integrity of the rectangle that 'dividing' it, in all the stages it undergoes, is the parallel or metaphor for the abraiding of the marble block.

    Lucien Freud's painting is the opposite. It is modelling at its finest and Kev goes to the principles of what makes it work straight away. The paint is the flesh and our interest is kept up as our eye chases around the forms like a dog following a scent. It is heady, delerious and intoxicating. It is romantic. The Uglow invites acceptence, all forms stand steady and in mutual respect of each other, defining their neighbour and they doing the same by return. It is calm, reasonable and trascendental. Perhaps we could call it classic?

    I'm a big fan of Dean Cornwell by the way - I'll have to have a think about how much of a 'carver' he is. The same goes for Leyendecker.

    Last edited by Chris Bennett; January 30th, 2008 at 05:28 PM.
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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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    Quote Originally Posted by kev ferrara View Post
    It seems to me, the only "marble lost" from a painting as it is composed is possibility. But it is replaced with purpose.... the trade off known as "art".
    That is beautifully put. It works with the metaphor - the modelling clay never looses its 'possibility', it remains infinely mallable at all stages. The marble block is 'cornered' into being 'what is left' when the image is done.

    Those images you posted Kev, demonstrate your point very well. The modelling pictures use imagined volume to articulate their meaning almost exclusively and to maximise this effect the plane of the rectangle must be denied:
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    This has a profound effect on the way colour behaves in the two approaches. Notice how even the restricted colour of the Dean Cornwell and Leyendecker is given an active value made manifest by its affiliation with the other colours it shares the surface with. The modelling pictures use colour as a tinting or tonal mud to describe the local colour in space. The carving pictures present the 'face' of the colours because they are experienced 'for themselves' on the surface of the picture.

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    You are probably right about the word carving....I'm going to have to think about it. I rather like this thing of 'composing by dividing', perhaps its modelling equivalent could be composing by adding.
    More thought needed - I've gotten rather used to that particular toy in my basket!

    Brangwyn's market stall sure is a marvelous painting - I have not seen it before. Anyway, here is my breakdown as to how I read it.
    First the volume, which seems to be this sort of serpent shape on the left, balanced by this sort of bowed post on the right:
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    I certainly seems a composing by fields sort of conception, which is given away by the colour as much as anything. There are vectors but they don't seem to be controling the 'feel' of this piece as much as the 'lying togetherness' of it.
    Everything seems to revolve around those bright apples, watched over by the man's face. The colours (I've laid out the main red, yellow, blue and white) seem to orbit them like planets around a sun but kept in place by a gravity of field pressure rather than vector forces of their own.
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    I'll get back on the Walter Everett.
    Meanwhile, it would be good to hear your thoughts regarding how this particular form of composing/building images relates to sequence artwork and more broadly, 'applied art' in general.

    Last edited by Chris Bennett; January 31st, 2008 at 04:02 PM.
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    It's maybe based upon a fibronacci sequence?

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    Interesting takes on the Brangwyn Kev - the opposing spirals is very interesting. Here is one more on the Brangwyn and a couple of thoughts I had about the Everett:
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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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    Quote Originally Posted by kev ferrara View Post
    I sorta wish we could move off the word "carving" because it seems more likely to confuse than clarify the issue. With "carving", dimensionality is the first thing that comes to mind... the blade tool removing a chunk of depth from a block of wood. And since we seem to agree that subdivisions don't actual abrade canvas, there is no lost material (except for the loss of "possibility" by manifest choices, which is a common trade-off in all composing activity). Carving, colloquially, implies lost material, no? So I just do not see how the word works. You seem to have a pit bullish fondness for it though! So can I wrest that pull toy from your jaws?

    Alternates: Composing as; Tapestry, Quilt, Pattern, Visual Fields, Mural, Surface Divisions, Shapes and Areas, Stained Glass, Graphic Units, etc...

    Any of these phrases might be more efficacious. All of them fulfill the requirement that the "original marble block" of the empty canvas is respected and acknowledged in process and in final.
    OK, I've had a wonderful sleepless night thinking this over:

    The building of things in the world can be done in two ways it seems to me,
    Modelling - building up, an essentially additive process. Manufacture.
    Carving - stripping away, a discovery of a possibility within something. Recycling.
    They are the two philisophical sides to the 'shaping' coin in whatever field, be it music, literature, even the way one leads one's life.

    If one looks at the term 'modelling' applied to picture making then we have to also acknowledge that no real modelling takes place either. Just as the metaphorical term 'carving' does not (as you rightly say) involve the actual abraiding of the canvas, even compositionally, so also does the metaphorical term 'modelling does not mean that the canvas is being 'built up' in any way. In both cases marks are being added. But the concerns in the mark maker's mind can take on the metaphorical implications of either of the two approaches to 'shaping' as this is being carried out.

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    Right, my turn.
    Guthrie's 'A Hind's Daughter'. It has always been a big, big favourite of mine. I'll let other's go first then I'll pitch in.
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    Nice take on that inverted shape in the Guthrie Kev and the naturalness echos are there too.
    The cabbage she holds which as been harvested is an upside down volume of the tree. It is green and nourishing whilst the tree is grey and dormant. Her good husbandary has saved the goodness from the earth: Her knife literally cuts the Golden section - as her human reason cuts the earth to yeald its sustenence.
    The roof of her cottage is the warmest note in the entire painting and its parent colours 'crop up' on the rest of its surface - taking the life and warmth of its interior contemplation and spreading it, best it can, amongst the grey land. The cabbage, symbol of her industry, is the colour complement of the cottage roof -the sky grey knife cleaving the earth grey, Solomon like, into its well ordered opposites.
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    Yes, up to a point. (Lovely interpretation of the Everett by the way - I could feel that parrot was important!)
    If a narrative painting implies direction or vector then what is the mechanism that holds you when you have arrived at the end of where the vector is pointing? I agree with your distinction between narrative and decorative and the way in which the design serves these ends - harmonising the surface to the vector of the story is an inspired way of putting it.
    I guess a vector, by its very nature, is a direction rather than a journey so that there isn't really any 'arrival' as such. Therefore, in a sense, the 'narrative' in a narrative painting may not really be a story in the usual sense at all. It is a species of story but not what we normally think of as story - not even a very short one. It is certainly not a symbol though. Something related to the eastern poetry form; the 'koan' pehaps?
    Mmmm, I'm going to have to sleep on this one.
    Would you agree with what I'm driving at?

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
    Subdividing for the sake of subdividing as opposed to subdividing for the sake of the integrity of the rectangle and its surface is another way of distinguishing modelling from carving.
    Can you talk a bit more about what you mean by "the integrity of the rectangle?". I think this goes along with something my teacher used to say a lot. I had brief glimpses of what he was talking about, but it would come and go. It seems you are talking about something along similar lines of what he was talking about, but his English was not good enough to explain it very directly...

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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!

    From Gegarin's point of view
    http://www.chrisbennettartist.co.uk/
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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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  32. #26
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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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    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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    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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