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September 24, 2010

Edward de Bono on Creative Thinking

Edward de Bono


There are more videos about Creativity in the Thinking About Art Library.

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September 21, 2010

Verticality in Artworks - 2nd Post

I'm going to write about this subject in several posts, to keep them small and easy to absorb.

When I say "verticality" I'm referring not just to the outside shape of the canvas of paper or whatever the picture is on, but also to dominant lines and directions within the picture.
Recently I've written some posts about horizontality in art in which you can read about (and see demonstrated) many different effects you can achieve through the use of horizontality. As you can imagine, to achieve opposite effects you might be able to use verticality instead (though it's not always quite that simple).

For example, if your goal is to emphasize a relationship between equals you might want to use a horizontal format, with whatever you want to portray as "equal" on the same horizontal level, but if you want to show who's (or what's) in charge, you might want to use a vertical format, with the one who clearly has the advantage in the situation above the one who is at a disadvantage, for example in the following picture.

Single Combat of Prince Mstislav and Rededia by Andre Ivanov

Single Combat of Prince Mstislav Udadloi with Rededia - 1812
Andrei Ivanov, Russian painter - 1775-1848
Source: CGFA

In the above picture it's easy to see who is in control. (The angel above is "floating" and obviously not affected by gravity which is what (perceptually) determines who has the advantage; what is important is the relationship to the ground of whatever appears that it would be affected by gravity.) Of the two men in the fight (it was actually considered a "duel") we can probably safely assume that the eventual "winner" (Prince Mstislav) is the man in a vertical position (slightly inclined toward the other man in the competition in a threatening way) and who also is "above" the obvious loser who is apparently about to become permanently horizontal. The verticality of the outer shape of the picture helps to emphasize the dominating-dominated relationship shown by the vertical hierarchy within it.

The Card Players by Paul Cezanne

The Card Players - 1890-92
Paul Cezanne, French painter
Source: The Athenaeum

In the above picture none of the card players is seen as having an advantage. They are all at the same level horizontally. Although the man in the blue smock against the wall is "above" the card players he is smaller and obviously at a distance behind them, has his arms folded as if holding himself back, and seems busy smoking his pipe, so he obviously is neither in charge of nor threatening to the card players. Often a servant or a bystander is shown standing behind a main character in a picture but they are not seen as in the space "above" that main character ... they are obviously at a distance and are played down in other ways also ... such as with subdued colors, lack of contrast with the background, etc.

There are other posts on this blog that have to do with horizontality and verticality. Look at the right side of the page for keywords to get to a page with all the posts that have been tagged by me with one or both of these keywords. There are also other posts that you might be interested in that may not be on that page -- Most anything to do with the Cartesian grid, for instance. There is a search box for this blog on the right side of the page, also, though I admit it's hard to find because the list of keywords is so long.

"When adversaries meet on a horizontal base they are equally matched by their spatial position; in a vertical composition, however, having the upper hand spatially constitutes an advantage, whereas being in the lower position means having to overcome the pull of gravity as well as the opponent's onslaught." (Rudolf Arnheim in The Power of the Center, page 96)
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September 11, 2010

Verticality in Artworks

We read in books on composition that tall, narrow things, such as a lone standing person or a waterfall are best in a tall, narrow format, and wide, spread-out things, like a basically flat landscape or a person lying on a bed are best in a horizontal format. The reason, I remember reading, is simply that it makes for a good fit - for instance a flat landscape or reclining person fits naturally into a horizontal shape, and a standing person fits naturally into a vertical shape.

But I would guess that you'd want your picture to say something more than "The shape of the subject goes well with the shape of the perimeter of the picture." It might be extremely well done and a pleasure to look at but what does it mean? How long can you stay entranced by a picture that hasn't much more to say than that?

The Eiffel Tower - c. 1898
Henri Rousseau
Source: The Athenaeum
(Note that the tall narrow tower, which is the subject of the picture, is not depicted in a vertical format.)

Many people claim to have no meaning in mind when they paint or draw a picture, and this is probably true...but only when it comes to their conscious minds. If we're not doing it purely for profit and we are making the decisions about shapes and subject and so forth on our own, we make artwork because it gives us pleasure to make it, or else we feel compelled to make it whether it's enjoyable or not. We simply must make it.  We do it to express ourselves. We can't put it in words, at least in the same way; we can only express it in paint, or with a pencil, or whatever else we might use.

And if we are expressing ourselves, obviously there must be something to express. That "something" gives the picture its basic meaning (I say "basic" because of course the viewer will bring his or her own ideas to it). It may be something very simple that you're trying to express, or it may be more complex, but you're always saying something, even if it's just by your choice of subject, or even if it's only "Isn't this a cute puppy?" or "Don't you love these shades of red?" Even little children who draw what look like almost scribbles to us are trying to say something about the subject (whether or not we can understand it).

So back to what I was saying before: I'd guess that you'd want your picture to say something more than "The shape of the subject goes well with the shape of the perimeter of the picture."  (Even if it says it ever so beautifully.)

One of the ways that you can say what you have to say is by your choice of the outer shape of the picture, as well as by your choice of the basic shapes and directions within the picture (there are many other elements in the composition that are utilized in expression, but here we are only discussing these basic shapes and directions).

Sleeping Beauty - 1912
Maxfield Parrish
Source: Wikimedia
(Note that the sleeping woman, who is the subject of the picture, is not depicted in a horizontal format.)

I've written some posts recently about horizontality in artworks...about why artists choose horizontal shapes and directions, and now for a while I'll be writing about verticality. I will make these posts short but there will probably be several of them. The next one should be coming up soon as I've already begun it.

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