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Thread: Advanced Composition Discussion

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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.
    .
    Attachment 290140

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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.
    Attached Images

    Attachment 290147
    Attachment 290148




    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.
    Attachment 290735

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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.
    .
    Attachment 291452

    Attachment 291453

    Attachment 291454

    Attachment 291456

    Attachment 291457

    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:
    Attachment 291685
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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:
    Attachment 292151


    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:
    Attachment 292366
    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.
    Attachment 292367
    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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