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Old 03-21-2018, 02:11 PM
BeLing BeLing is offline
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Unity in composition

I'm much attracted to the ideas of early 19th artists, the developing of Modern Art, and in reading Roger Fry came across this:

"One chief aspect of order in a work is unity; unity of some kind is necessary for our restful contemplation of the work of art as a whole, since if it lacks unity we cannot contemplate it in its entirety, but we shall pass outside it to other things necessary to compete its unity."

I think Contemporary Art does just that: it encourages the viewer to think "outside the box", beyond the picture in fact. I recently heard a curator of contemporary, cutting-edge art, say she admits she doesn't care about composition too much, but is interested in a work's narrative. A lot of the audience about fainted (she's going to jury the next local show.)

What's going on these days, to the understanding of What Is Art? Comments?
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Old 03-21-2018, 04:39 PM
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virgil carter virgil carter is offline
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Re: Unity in composition

It's a good point: what's going on?

And I suppose it's worth asking the related question, "what went on?" In other words, present and past...what's painting and art about?

I have long believed that strong and memorable work (past and present) only reach that level if there is a strong and engaging story being told in paint--a narrative. Wonderful technique is wonderful, but after a first glance (maybe a second) there's little to ponder or consider, IMO.

Principles such as design and composition, light and illumination, etc., are important and timeless in their importance, it seems to me. But it's up to the painter to do something meaningful with them--intent, story, narrative is the litmus test I think.

Unity and harmony are nice. Appealing. Thoughtful. Shock art is jarring. Sometimes compelling. Sometimes off-putting. Sometimes pointless and just silly.

At the end of the day (my day at least) art is about the artist's intent: is there an intent? Is the intent obvious? Is the intent engaging? Is the intent memorable? Does it resonate with viewers? Can the viewer establish a linkage with the artist's intent?

For that matter, who determines what art is? Is it the artist? Is it the viewer? Is it the juror or critic?

Sling paint,
Virgil Carter
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Old 03-22-2018, 01:07 AM
theBongolian theBongolian is offline
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Re: Unity in composition

Originally Posted by BeLing
What's going on these days, to the understanding of What Is Art? Comments?
These types of discussion (and I'm guilty) quickly become word salads unless there are specific paintings to reference. I recall a curator twisting and turning on the pike struggling to explain the importance and relevance of a Basquiat that had just sold for, $110,000,000.00. You could never in ---110 million years --- guess that she was speaking about this

So I would be excited to join in this discussion, but I think we have to ground it in a few specific examples - uploaded pics of paintings that (attempt to) demonstrate the point being made.
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Old 03-23-2018, 08:51 PM
BeLing BeLing is offline
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Re: Unity in composition

You're right, there should be references, even if only in jpeg form, but I was unfamiliar with every artist she mentioned and didn't take notes. I believe there were several installation artists.

When asked, without hesitation she said her favorite artist was Hieronymous Bosch. (Not exactly contemporary!)
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Old 07-13-2018, 04:49 PM
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Sparro Sparro is offline
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Re: Unity in composition

That's the thing about art. It's very subjective. What may be a masterpiece to one person may look downright ugly to another. Personally, I like beautiful things. Not something that is there to make a statement; just something that is pleasing to the eye. As far as telling a story, my grandmother had done a sketch of a dog sitting at it's master's gravestone. That's the sort of painting that tells a story. It was very nice, but to me, it's not a requirement. I can drown in awe at certain paintings that are just clouds and landscape without any narrative at all.
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Old 08-05-2018, 10:01 AM
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stlukesguild stlukesguild is offline
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Re: Unity in composition

Unity is but one element of a painting. Even that Basquiat employs a form of unity. There is a commonality to his brushwork across the entire painting. He has bounced the blue of the background into the skull and the black of the skull into the background. I use a reddish underpainting that shows through across the entire surface lending a color unity.

But unity isn’t the only element of art/principle of design or composition. Contrast can be equally important. Movement. Repetition. Pattern.

The narrative is a secondary element to a work of art. HOW is more important than WHAT. A great many masterful paintings are not narrative at all. Is it even necessary to understand the narrative in paintings such as these:

Knowing the narratives may lend an added level of appreciation but it is no more central to art than it is to a work of music (a song or opera).

Manet painted some absolutely exquisite paintings that are but tiny simple still life... a few flowers, a bunch of asparagus, etc...

I’m not surprised that a curator of contemporary art might suggest she doesn’t think much about composition. A number of critics have spoken of our era as the era of post-aesthetic art. The concept is everything. This is the result, in a good part, to art schools and university art departments stressing theory and concept over aesthetics and studio experience. It’s much easier and cheaper to teach someone to simply think the right idea... preferably something concerning gender roles or race... than it is to provide studio space and spend endless hours learning how to realize a visually engaging work of art.

It is funny that your curator would cite Bosch as her favorite painter. Yes, his works are laden with mysterious narratives... but they are also immaculately well composed. The strength of his structures hold a teeming details together.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know." - John Keats
"Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves that they have a better idea."- John Ciardi
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Old 08-05-2018, 10:38 AM
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Justadude Justadude is offline
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Re: Unity in composition

Very informative post, stlukesguild. I feel like it's difficult to find any narrative at all if given a piece with no compositional foundation. Something has to line up, otherwise the story won't come across or make any sense- Even if it's as basic as a few lines on a blank canvas, there's still a whole lot of very simple compositional elements lining up, because one's mind can't help but to fill in details around that simple structure until it works. Humans tend to do that, and we do it very well.

I would say a piece that brings you "outside" of the composition is really just doing a good job of using environment to immerse the viewer, though.. Not all that different than using lights at a rock concert to complete the mood of a song. Humantity has pretty much mastered the traditional painting at this point, can't blame some artists for trying to further innovate their work outwordly in some way.
Paul Moreau

Last edited by Justadude : 08-05-2018 at 11:08 AM.
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