Saturday, October 31, 2015

Writing About Art (Part II)
Opinion Piece on Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience I have listed other posts on this blogspot that focuses on writing about your own or others artworks:
Information Overload
Writing About Art (Part I)

Not all of us find it easy to put pen to paper and coherently write an interesting discourse on our own artwork or on someone else’s. Some of us struggle to flesh out the “causes” (i.e. the choices made) that created the “effect” (i.e. artwork). Some of those choices, in retrospect, appear serendipitous yet in reality it is more likely that the choices were made by a subconscious interaction of subtle shifts in purpose as the work slowly unfolded (e.g. “…a bit more green there will balance the image better”). On the other hand, some artists like myself have a title and an idea before we begin, which leads to a number of roughs (water color sketches of the work) prior to selecting one that will serve as a template of the work.

Above is a water color rough of Winter Bolt - one component of a disperse dye quartet.

Completed artwork - Winter Bolt - (Four Australian Seasons – Bolt Series).
Technique: Hand painted and heat transferred using disperse dyes on satin.
Size: ca. 1.50 (width) x 2.00 (length) meters.

In the previous post on the writing of art we dealt with the following categories: subject matter of artwork; difference between subject matter and meaning; compare and contrast subject matter of artworks; line; shape and space; light and dark; color; other elements. Today we shall concentrate on recognizing the principles of design.

Remember, these organizing principles that are espoused below may be added to and/or subtracted from and so they do not represent a catch all criterion. They simply throw up questions that may or may not be relevant for a particular artwork that is being considered. Interesting articles about art are not composed of factual data alone. Generally, interesting articles give valuable insights into the artwork that is being engaged and of the artist that has created the work. It helps if the underlying tenet of the article is optimistic and constructive rather than being pessimistic and destructive. Most artists welcome positive criticism - so long as it is in small doses! After all, why would you want to review an artwork that you detest. If that is the case it is best to remain silent, unless of course you are an art critic that earns a living for your opinion on art.

Recognizing the Principles of Design[1]
Design elements of an ArtCloth work are very important in unpacking the complex nature of the composition before you. Often artists may use these elements to willfully unbalance or disturb you whilst you are in the act of engagement. You will sometimes hear in an exhibition a person proclaim: “There is something not right or missing in this work. I can’t put my finger on it!” We shall cover some of the principles of design that you may want to address in an article of your own or article on someone else’s work.

Rhythm and Repetition
Visual rhythm and repetition is often experienced in works of art. Certain formal elements - lines, shapes, colors - recur in exact or analogous terms, and this repetition creates a sense of visual rhythm that is analogous to musical or poetic rhythm. In all arts, rhythm and repetition serves to organize or order the work into distinct and recognizable patterns.

For example, view Teresa Paschke, CEAH2. In this ArtCloth work there are three dominant vertical lines, three horizontal lines – each one of which is contained within a circle. These repeated shapes and lines serve to unify the composition and so provide a dominant arrangement in the composition. Notice how the “iron” fretwork assists in tying these elements together. The embroidery breaks up this symmetry, although the red embroidery within the bottom circle, anchors the image. The background is meant to be indistinct in order to intensify the act of engagement (i.e. What is it?)

Teresa Paschke, CEAH 2.
Technique: Digital photography, wide-format ink-jet printing on cotton canvas with hand painting and embroidery.

A geometric division, which echoes and reinforces the shape of frame of an ArtCloth work, creates a sense of symmetry and equilibrium; that is, a sense of balance. There are many other ways to achieve a sense of balance in a composition. Radial balance is created when all the elements of the composition seem to emerge from a real or actual focal point. Below is an Art Quilt by an unknown Hawaiian artist. All the elements of this composition appear to be generated from the central eight tear-shaped strokes. Even those concentric circles are emphasizing this point – that it is an ever expanding radial composition.

Artist unknown, Quilt for Queen Lili’uokalani (ca. 1893).
Technique: Hawaiian island cottons, hand appliqúed and quilted.
Size: 98 x 96 inches.

Many works of art utilize an asymmetrical balance in which a perceived center of gravity seems to balance elements around it. It is like balancing a seesaw with a heavy child on one end and a light child on the other: the heavy child moves towards the pivot of the seesaw, while the lighter child sits at the very edge of the plank. Furthermore, relatively dark shapes seem “heavier” to the eye than lighter ones. For example, in my "Namibian Expressions" asymmetrical balance is achieved by placing a large black figure to the right of the centre and pushing the solitary black figure on the right off toward the edge of the composition.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Namibian Expressions.
Technique: Wax resist, hand-painted, sponged, sprayed, stencilled, and screen printed on calico.
Size: 1.5 m (width) x 3.5 m (length).

Proportion is the relationship of each part of the composition to the whole and to each other part. An excellent example of this is Jane Dunnewold’s ArtCloth piece “Untitled”. Here the smallest section is to the middle section what the larger section is to the whole painting. For example, if you consider the bottom panel, it is approximately half the width of the middle panel which in turn is approximately half the width of the top panel, which is approximately half the width of the complete ArtCloth piece itself.

Jane Dunnewold, Untitled.
Technique: Wax resist, screen printed and foiled on silk.

Scale is the size of the work (as in a two dimensional artwork) or its volume (as in three dimensional artwork). It is sometimes difficult to get an accurate feeling of the size of a work of art from a photograph alone. For example, if you looked at two of Susan Fell-MacLean’s installations and only viewed each from photographs, which work would be larger?

Susan Fell-MacLean, Visibility.
Installation Description: Five vertical panels, suspended from the ceiling, above a plinth on which rest 25 cylinder forms. The viewer is able to walk around all sides of the sculpture.
Dimensions: Plinth size - 2m x 2m x 25cm height - with a drop of 3.5m.

Susan Fell-MacLean, Multiplicity.
Installation Description: Fourteen red gum blocks make up a heliocentric spiral and support bamboo uprights onto which eight panels of wool are stretched. The viewer is able to walk into the spiral and around all sides of the sculpture.
Dimensions: 2.5m height, with a spiral area of approximately five square meters.

Clearly, it is difficult to get a sense of the size and volume of these installations from the photographs, even though if photographs suggest that they are both large-scale artworks. It is preferable to experience these installations in person, since there is a different sense of scale as one traverses in and around these installations. Moreover, in doing so different features of the installations become more or less in focus.

Unity and Variety
One of the primary sources of interest and power in many works of art is the way their various elements are combined to create a sense of oneness or unity. For example, in my ArtCloth work, Flames Unfurling, each element - from colors to the contrast between light and shade to objects (blackened and whitened flora) to the central and peripheral composition - all give a sense of the voluminous and explosive rush of fire as it devours and consumes all before it. These elements heighten its verocity and speed.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Flames Unfurling (Detailed View).
Medium and Technique: MultiSperse Dye Sublimation (MSDS) which employs disperse dyes, multiple resists and native flora on satin.
Size: 120cm h x 60cm w.

Sometimes it is the variety of elements of an ArtCloth work that just grabs your interest. The sheer diversity and complexity of Jeannie Henrys’ hand printed textile work is outstanding. The colors, lines, shapes and sizes create a vivid liveliness that just arrests your attention. Notice the clever use of yellow that makes it appear as if it was the ground of the fabric. There is little design repetition in this work.

Section View of Jeannie Henrys’ hand printed ArtCloth.
Technique: Multiple screen prints, stenciled and hand painted techniques on broadcloth.

Considering Questions of Medium and Technique
This is not the place to discuss the various capabilities and advantages of specific media (ArtCloth, printmaking, painting, drawing, sculpture etc.) or techniques that works exhibit. Needless to say, each has its distinctive features and within each there are various sub-divisions such as on process, on subject and on art movements. Nevertheless if you feel you are engaging with an artwork that seems to be informed particularly by the choice of material or technique then it is important to learn what that choice of material/technique entails and what it implies. Doing so may involve additional research, but such research will add to the interest of the article. For example, the medium of cloth engages more of our physical and unconscious senses than most media used in art. In theory you can touch it, smell it, see it and in fact allow it to move (if it is not fixed to a wall). The hue it offers is impossible to recreate on canvas. Similar statements can be made about fabric techniques. For example, Leslie Morgan uses a technique called “breakdown screen printing” in order to achieve magical effects on cloth.

Leslie Morgan,"Unknown" (Detailed View).
Technique: Breakdown screen printing.

While predetermined questions cannot guarantee an interesting article, they nevertheless frame some of the research that needs to be undertaken. Here are some questions we might pose, which are relevant to the topic of this post.

1. How are these elements organized:
Is there significant use of visual rhythm and repetition of elements?
Is the composition balanced? Symmetrically? Asymmetrically?
Do various elements seem proportional, and how does the question of scale affect our perception?
Does the composition seem unified or not?

2. Next consider how the artist's choice of medium and technique have affected the piece:
Are effects achieved that are realizable only in this particular medium and/or using this particular technique? If more than one medium or technique is involved, what is their relationship in creating the work?

3. Finally consider the holistic nature of the work:
What is the artist trying to say about the subject matter of the work?
What feelings or attitudes does the composition seem to evoke, and what specific elements or design choices account for these feelings?

Whilst some of the elements of the organizing principles espoused in this or the previous post may not be applicable to wearable art, nonetheless more relevant questions capturing choices may be proposed. For example, in the case of wearables the focus is on the uniqueness of the work and so we may ask - "Is it unique because of the design (including prints), the colors, the cut, the materials used, the texture, the tactile appearance, the drape, the handle, the techniques used or because it delivers a unique admixture of each or some of these components?" Asking questions that unravel the choices made is the key ingredient in producing an interesting article on ArtCloth, Art Quilts and Wearable Art.

[1] H.M. Sayre, Writing About Art, 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey (1995).

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