3.1 Distinguish among outline, contour, and implied line.
3.2 Describe the different qualities that lines might possess.
One of the most fundamental elements of nature is line. Indeed, lines permeate the universe, a fact that informs almost all the work of London-born painter Matthew Ritchie. Describing his painting No Sign of the World (Fig. 3-1), he explains: “I use the symbol of the straight line a lot in my drawings and paintings. It usually rep- resents a kind of wound, or a direction. The curved line is like a linking gesture that joins things. But the straight line is usually more like an arrow, or rein, or a kind of rupture.” From the bottom of No Sign of the World, vi- olet straight lines shoot up into a field of what appear to be broken sticks and branches. Above the horizon line, across the sky, looping lines of this same violet color appear to gather these fragments into circular fields of energy. His work begins with drawings that he then scans into a computer. In that environment, he can resize and reshape them, make them three- dimensional, take them apart, combine them with other drawings, and otherwise transform them. “From the very start, I’ve been working with digital tech- nology,” Ritchie says. “When you make something digital you make it out of little dots. And you can make lines out of particles, but they’re really just bits. . . . These are the classic forms of dimensionality—the point, the line, the solid—and then you add time and you’ve got the universe.” Ritchie’s project is just that ambitious and vast. He seeks to represent the entire universe and
the structures of knowledge and belief through which we seek to understand it. In No Sign of the World, it is as if we are at the dawn of creation, at the scene of some original “Big Bang”—as if the world is about to be born but there is no sign of it yet.
Varieties of Line What are the differences between outline, contour, and implied line?
To draw a line, you move the point of your pencil across paper. To follow a line, your eye moves as well. Lines seem to possess direction—they can rise or fall, head off to the left or to the right, disappear in the distance. Lines can divide one thing from an- other, or they can connect things. They can be thick or thin, long or short, smooth or agitated. Lines also re- flect movement in nature. The patterns of animal and human movement across the landscape are traced in paths and roadways. The flow of water from moun- taintop to sea follows the lines etched in the land- scape by streams and rivers. Lines, in fact, sometimes play a major role in human history, delineating city limits, county lines, and state and national borders— sometimes contested.
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Outline and Contour Line An important feature of line is that it indicates the edge of a two-dimensional (flat) shape or a three-dimensional form. A shape can be indicated by means of an outline, as in Yoshitomo Nara’s Dead Flower (Fig. 3-2). In Nara’s painting, heavy black outlines delineate both the little girl and the light bulb. This outline style is purpose- fully juvenile, evoking the Japanese love for kawaii, or “cuteness.” But, of course, Nara lends his “cute” little girl a kind of menacing punk-rock persona, even if the extent of her violent behavior is limited to cutting off a flower at its stem. The Japanese artist and art histo- rian Takashi Murakami has labeled the style of work reflected in Nara’s demonic little girls as “Superflat,” an insistence on two-dimensional forms that he sees as a defining characteristic of Japanese culture from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Japanese prints to present-day animation (anime) and comic books (manga).
Where outlines tend to emphasize the flatness of a shape, contour lines form the outer edge of a three- dimensional shape and suggest its volume, its
Fig. 3-1 Matthew Ritchie, No Sign of the World, 2004. Oil and marker on canvas, 8 ft. 3 in. × 12 ft. 10 in. © Matthew Ritchie, Image Courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.
Fig. 3-2 Yoshitomo Nara, Dead Flower, 1994. Acrylic on canvas, 391⁄4 × 391⁄4 in. © Yoshitomo Nara, courtesy of Pace Gallery. Photograph courtesy of the artist.
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50 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
recession or projection in space. The contour lines in Ellsworth Kelly’s Brier (Fig. 3-3) create the illusion of leaves occupying real space. Lines around the outside of the leaves define the limits of our vision—what we can see of the form from our point of view. As these lines cross each other, or seem to fold and turn, it is as if each line surrounds and establishes each leaf’s posi- tion in space.
Implied Line If we point our finger at something, we visually “follow” the line between our fingertip and the object in question. This is an implied line, a line where no continuous mark connects one point to another, but where the connec- tion is nonetheless visually suggested. One of the most important kinds of implied line is a function of line of sight, the direction the figures in a given composition are looking. In his Assumption and Consecration of the Virgin (Fig. 3-4), Titian ties together the three separate horizon- tal areas of the piece—God the Father above, the Virgin
Mary in the middle, and the Apostles below—by implied lines that create simple, interlocking, symmetrical trian- gles (Fig. 3-5) that serve to unify the worlds of the divine and the mortal.
Implied line can also serve to create a sense of di- rectional movement and force, as in Calvary, a painting by African artist Chéri Samba (Fig. 3-6). Samba began his career before he was 20, working as a signboard painter and newspaper cartoonist in Kinshasa, the cap- ital of Zaire. With their bold shapes and captions (in French and Langala, Zaire’s official language), they are, in essence, large-scale political cartoons. Calvary places the artist in the position of Christ, not on the cross but splayed out on the ground, a martyr. He is identified as “le peintre,” the painter, on the back of his shirt. He lies prostrate before “the house of painting,” so identified over the doorway. He is being beaten by three soldiers, identified on the back of one as agents of the Popular Church of Zaire. The caption at the top left reads: “The Calvary of a painter in a country where the rights of man are practically nonexistent.” Here, implied lines arc
Fig. 3-3 Ellsworth Kelly, Brier, 1961. Black ink on wove paper, 221⁄2 × 281⁄2 in. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, CT. Gift of Mr. Samuel Wagstaff in memory of Elva McCormick, 1980.7. © Ellsworth Kelly, all rights reserved.
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Fig. 3-4 Titian, Assumption and Consecration of the Virgin, ca. 1516–18. Oil on wood, 22 ft. 6 in. × 11 ft. 10 in. Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice. © 2015. Photo Scala, Florence.
Fig. 3-5 Line analysis of Titian, Assumption and Consecration of the Virgin, ca. 1516–18. © 2015. Photo Scala, Florence.
Fig. 3-6 Chéri Samba, Calvary, 1992. Acrylic on canvas, 35 × 455⁄8 in. Photo courtesy of Annina Nosei Gallery, New York. © Chéri Samba.
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52 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
over the artist—the imminence of the downward thrust of the soldiers’ whips—and the political power of the image rests in the visual anticipation of terror that these implied lines convey.
Qualities of Line What are the different qualities that lines might possess?
Line delineates shape and form by means of outline and contour line. Implied lines create a sense of enclosure and connection as well as movement and direction. But line also possesses certain intellectual, emotional, and expressive qualities.
No one has ever employed line with more con- sistent expressive force than the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn. Consider, for instance,
the kinds of effects he achieved in The Three Crosses (Fig. 3-7). As one’s eye moves from the center ground beneath Christ on the cross, his line becomes denser and denser, except directly above the cross where line almost disappears altogether, the source, one can only presume, of divine light. Otherwise, Rembrandt’s lines seem to envelop the scene, shrouding it in a darkness that moves in upon the crucified Christ like a curtain closing upon a play or a storm descending upon a land- scape, and his line becomes more charged emotionally as it becomes denser and darker.
Expressive Qualities of Line Line, in other words, can express emotion, the feelings of the artist. Such lines are said to be expressive. Of the swirling turmoil of line that makes up The Starry Night (Fig. 3-8), the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh would
Fig. 3-7 Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Crosses, 1653. Etching, 151⁄4 × 173⁄4 in. 1842,0806.139. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
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write to his brother, Theo, “Is it not emotion, the sincerity of one’s feeling for nature, that draws us?” Van Gogh’s paintings are, for many, some of the most personally ex- pressive in the history of art. His use of line is loose and free, so much so that it seems almost out of control. He builds his paint up in thick, bold strokes, so that they come to possess a certain “body” of their own—an al- most sculptural materiality known as impasto. So con- sistent is he in his application of paint that his style has become essentially autographic: Like a signature, it iden- tifies the artist himself, his deeply anguished and cre- ative genius (see The Creative Process, pp. 54–55).
During the 15 months just before The Starry Night was painted, while he was living in the southern French town of Arles, van Gogh produced a truly amazing quantity of work: 200 paintings, more than 100 drawings and watercolors, and roughly 200 letters, mostly writ- ten to his brother, Theo. Many of these letters help us understand the expressive energies released in this cre- ative outburst. In December 1888, van Gogh’s personal
turmoil reached a fever pitch when he sliced off a section of his earlobe and presented it to an Arlesian prostitute as a present. After a brief stay at an Arles hospital, he was released, but by the end of January, the city received a petition signed by 30 townspeople demanding his committal. In early May, he entered a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy, and there he painted The Starry Night. In this work, life and death—the town and the heavens— swirl as if in a fury of emotion, and they are connected by both the church spire and the swaying cypress, a tree traditionally used to mark graves in southern France and Italy. “My paintings are almost a cry of anguish,” van Gogh wrote. On July 27, 1890, a little over a year after The Starry Night was painted, the artist shot himself in the chest. He died two days later, at the age of 37.
Sol LeWitt employs a line that is equally auto- graphic, recognizably his own, but one that reveals to us a personality very different from van Gogh’s. LeWitt’s line is precise, controlled, mathematically rigorous, log- ical, and rationally organized, where van Gogh’s line is
Fig. 3-8 Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 × 361⁄4 in. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest, 472.1941. © 2015 Digital image, Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.
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54 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
The Creative Process
From Painting to Drawing: Vincent van Gogh’s The Sower
We know more about the genesis and development of The
Sower than of almost all of Vincent van Gogh’s other paint-
ings, and we can follow the work’s progress in some detail.
There are four different descriptions of it in his letters, the first on
June 17, 1888, in a letter to the Australian painter John Russell
(Fig. 3-9) that includes a preliminary sketch of his idea. “Am
working at a Sower,” van Gogh writes in the letter, “the great
field all violet the sky & sun very yellow. It is a hard subject
The diff iculties he was facing in the painting were
numerous, having particularly to do with a color prob-
lem. As he wrote in a letter to the French painter Émile
Bernard on the very next day, June 18,
at sunset van Gogh was faced with a
moment when the “excessive” contrast
between the yel low sun and the v io let
shadows on the f ie ld would necessar-
i ly “ irr i tate” the beholder ’s eye. He had
to be true to that contrast and yet find a
way to soften it. For approximately eight
days he worked on the painting. First, he
tried making the sower’s trousers white
in an effort to create a place in the paint-
ing that would “allow the eye to rest and
distract it.” That strategy apparently fail-
ing, he tried modifying the yellow and vi-
olet areas of the painting. On June 26,
he wrote to his brother, Theo: “Yesterday
and today I worked on the sower, which is
completely recast. The sky is yellow and
green, the ground violet and orange.” This
plan succeeded (Fig. 3-10). Each area of
the painting now contained color that con-
nected it to the opposite area, green to vi-
olet and orange to yellow.
The figure of the sower was, for van
Gogh, the symbol of his own “longing for
the infinite,” as he wrote to Bernard, and
having finished the painting, he remained,
in August, still obsessed with the image.
“The idea of the Sower continues to haunt
me all the time,” he wrote to Theo. In fact,
he had begun to think of the finished paint-
ing as a study that was itself a prelimi-
nary work leading to a drawing (Fig. 3-11).
“Now the harvest, the Garden, the Sower . . .
are sketches after painted studies. I think all
these ideas are good,” he wrote to Theo on
August 8, “but the painted studies lack clear-
ness of touch. That is [the] reason why I felt it
necessary to draw them.”
Fig. 3-9 Vincent van Gogh, Letter to John Peter Russell, June 17, 1888. Ink on laid paper, 8 × 101⁄4 in. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser, 1978.2514.18. © Solomon R. Guggen- heim Foundation, New York. Photo by Robert E. Mates.
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In the drawing, sun, wheat, and the sower
himself are enlarged, made more monumen-
tal. The house and tree on the left have been
eliminated, causing us to focus more on the
sower himself, whose stride is now wider and
who seems more intent on his task. But it is the
clarity of van Gogh’s line that is especially aston-
ishing. Here we have a sort of anthology of line
types: short and long, curved and straight, wide
and narrow. Lines of each type seem to group
themselves into bundles of five or ten, and each
bundle seems to possess its own direction and
flow, creating a sense of the tilled field’s uneven
but regular furrows. It is as if, wanting to repre-
sent his longing for the infinite as it is contained
in the moment of the genesis of life, sowing the
field, van Gogh himself returns to the most fun-
damental element in art—line itself.
Fig. 3-10 Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, 1888. Oil on canvas, 251⁄4 × 313⁄4 in. Signed, lower left: Vincent.
Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands.
Fig. 3-11 Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, 1888. Drawing. Pencil, reed pen, and brown and black ink on wove paper, 95⁄8 × 121⁄2 in. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Courtesy of Vincent van Gogh Foundation, Amsterdam.
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56 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
imprecise, emotionally charged, and almost chaotic. One seems a product of the mind, the other of the heart. And while van Gogh’s line is produced by his own hand, LeWitt’s often is not.
LeWitt’s works are often generated by museum staff according to LeWitt’s instructions. Illustrated here is Wall Drawing No. 681 C (Fig. 3-12), along with two photo- graphs of the work’s installation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1993, in this instance by his own studio assistants (Fig. 3-13). If a museum “owns” a LeWitt, it does not own the actual wall drawing but only the instructions on how to make it. Since LeWitt often writes his instructions so that the staff executing the drawing must make their own decisions about the placement and arrangement of the lines, the work has a unique appearance each time that a museum or gallery produces it.
LeWitt’s drawings usually echo the geometry of the room’s architecture, lending the work a sense of math- ematical precision and regularity. But it is probably the grid, the pattern of vertical and horizontal lines crossing one another to make squares, that most characteristically dominates compositions of this variety. The grid’s geo- metric regularity lends a sense of order and unity to any composition. Pat Steir’s The Brueghel Series: A Vanitas of Style (Fig. 3-14) is a case in point. The painting is based on a seventeenth-century still-life painting by Jan Brueghel
Fig. 3-12 Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing No. 681 C, A wall divided vertically into four equal squares separated and bordered by black bands. Within each square, bands in one of four directions, each with color ink washes superimposed, 1993. Colored ink washes, image: 10 × 37 ft. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, Gift of Dorothy Vogel and Herbert Vogel, Trustees, 1993.41.1. Photo © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. © 2015 LeWitt Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Fig. 3-13 Installation of Wall Drawing No. 681 C, August 25, 1993. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Photo © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
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Fig. 3-14 Pat Steir, The Brueghel Series: A Vanitas of Style, 1983–84. Oil on canvas, 64 panels, each 261⁄2 × 21 in. Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read.
Fig. 3-15 Jan Brueghel the Elder, Flowers in a Blue Vase, 1599. Oil on oakwood, 26 × 197⁄8 in. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. akg-image/Erich Lessing.
the Elder called Flowers in a Blue Vase (Fig. 3-15). Brueghel’s is an example of a vanitas painting—that is, a reminder that the pleasurable things in life inevitably fade, that the material world is not as long-lived as the spiritual, and, therefore, that the spiritual should com- mand our attention. But the material world is represented in Steir’s painting not so much by the standard elements of vanitas painting—the fading flowers, for instance—but by painting itself. Steir’s Brueghel Series is a history of the styles of art. The artist worked for two years to orga- nize her study of style into a series of 64 separate panels, each 26½ × 21 inches. The final composition is approxi- mately 20 feet high. At the top center, one finds an almost perfect reproduction of the original painting by Brueghel. Two panels to the right is a painting in the style of American Abstract Expressionist painter Franz
Kline. Jackson Pollock’s famous “drip” style is rep- resented in the first panel on the left of the third row. What holds together this variety of styles is the grid, which seems to contain and control them all, as if ex- ercising some sort of rational authority over them. The grid organizes random elements into a coherent system, imposing a sense of logic where none necessarily exists. Steir’s history lesson demonstrates that styles come and go, soon fading away only to be replaced by the next. Her painting thus suggests that the pleasures of style are short-lived, even if the pleasures of art might continue on, even without us.
In Steir ’s Brueghel Series some styles are carefully rendered and controlled, others are more loose and free-form—what we call gestural. Often artists use both gestural and controlled lines in the same work.
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58 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
In Relic 12 (Fig. 3-16), by the Chinese-born artist Hung Liu, who works today in the United States, the soft, carefully drawn curves of the central figure, and of the butterfly, circles, flowers, and leaves, seem to conspire with the vertical drips of paint that fall softly to the bottom of the canvas like life-giving rain. Hung Liu’s work consistently addresses women’s place in both pre- and post-revolutionary China (see The Creative Process, pp. 60–61). Here, she represents a Chinese courtesan surrounded by symbols from classical Chinese painting, including the circle, or pi, the ancient Chinese symbol
for the universe, and the butterfly, symbol of change, joy, and love. In front of her, in the red square in the middle of the painting, are Chinese characters meaning “female” and “Nu-Wa.” Nu-Wa is the Chinese creation goddess. It was she who created the first humans from the yellow earth, after Heaven and Earth had separated. Since molding each figure individually was too tedious a process, she dipped a rope into mud and then swung it about her, covering the earth around her with lumps of mud. The early handmade figurines became the wealthy and the noble; those that arose from the splashes of mud
Fig. 3-16 Hung Liu, Relic 12, 2005. Oil on canvas and lacquered wood, 5 ft. 6 in. × 5 ft. 6 in. Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York.
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were the poor and the common. Nu-Wa is worshiped as the intermediary between men and women, as the god- dess who grants children, and as the inventor of mar- riage. Here, Hung Liu’s different lines seem to work together to create an image of the wholeness and unity of creation.
With its predominantly vertical and horizontal struc- tures, architecture can lend a sense of order and control to an otherwise chaotic scene. Wenda Gu is known for imaginary calligraphies in which he subverts and ab- stracts traditional letterforms into scripts that look as if they should be legible but in fact frustrate the viewer’s ability to read them. His medium is human hair, which he has collected from around the world and woven into light, semi-transparent calligraphic banners. Beginning in 1993, Gu inaugurated what he has called his united nations project, a series of installations at sites around the world designed to challenge notions of distinct na- tional identities and symbolize, through interwoven hair, the compatibility of all people. In 1997 in Hong Kong, a site that for most of the twentieth century the British and Chinese contested to control, he created an installa- tion consisting of a Chinese flag made of Chinese hair,
a Union Jack made of British hair, and hair cuttings of Hong Kong citizens scattered across the floor. A year later, at the then PS1 Contemporary Art Center in Brooklyn, New York, he installed united nations—china monument: temple of heaven (Fig. 3-17). Here, pseudo-script from four different languages—Chinese, English, Hindi, and Arabic—lines the walls and ceiling. The expressive power and gestural freedom of the four calligraphic styles— after all, even English cursive can be expressive, as individual signatures testify—stand in counterpoint to the meaninglessness of the texts themselves. But what organizes this cacophony of languages is the architec- ture itself. The dimensions of the room, which are readily apparent through the canopy and hanging drapes, are echoed in the vertical and horizontal structure of the tables and chairs, which, in turn, suggest a confer- ence or meeting space in which diverse cultures might communicate—a utopian “united nations” which, as Gu says, “probably can never exist in our reality” but which can “be fully realized in the art world.” In fact, this uto- pian vision is mirrored in the TV monitors embedded in each chair, where a video of the sky—called “heaven” by Gu— constantly plays.
Fig. 3-17 Wenda Gu, united nations—china monument: temple of heaven, 1998. Site-specific installation commissioned by the Asia Society, New York for inside out, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York. Temple of pseudo-English, Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic made of human hair curtains collected from all over the world, 12 Ming-style chairs with television monitors installed in their seats, 2 Ming-style tables, and video film, 13 × 20 × 52 ft. Permanent collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, China. Courtesy of the artist.
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60 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
The Creative Process
The Drip as Line: Hung Liu’s Three Fujins
The rainlike drips that fall to the bottom of Hung Liu’s Relic 12
(see Fig. 3-16) are, in fact, a symbol for Liu of her artistic and
political liberation. Born in Changchun, China, in 1948, the
year that Chairman Mao forced the Nationalist Chinese off the
mainland to Taiwan, she lived in China until 1984. Beginning in
1966, during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, she worked for four
years as a peasant in the fields. Successfully “reeducated”
by the working class, she returned to Beijing where she stud-
ied, and later taught, painting of a strict Russian Social Realist
style— propaganda portraits of Mao’s new society that em-
ployed a precise and hard-edged line. But this way of drawing
and painting constricted Hung Liu’s artistic sensibility. In 1980,
she applied for a passport to study painting in the United
States, and in 1984 her request was granted. An extraordinarily
independent spirit, raised and educated
in a society that values social conformity
above individual identity, Liu depends as
a painter on the interplay between the line
she was trained to paint and a new, freer
line more closely aligned to Western ab-
straction but tied to ancient Chinese tra-
ditions as well.
During the Cultural Revolution, Liu
had begun photographing peasant fam-
ilies, not for herself, but as gifts for the
villagers. She has painted from photo-
graphs ever since, particularly archival
photographs that she has discovered
on research trips back to China in both
1991 and 1993. “I am not copying pho-
tographs,” she explains. “I release infor-
mation from them. There’s a tiny bit of
information there—the photograph was
taken in a very short moment, maybe
1/100 or 1/150 of a second—and I look
for clues. The clues give me an excuse
to do things.” In other words, for Liu, to
paint from a photograph is to liberate
something locked inside it. For exam-
ple, the disfigured feet of the woman in
Virgin/Vessel (Fig. 3-18) are the result
of traditional Chinese foot-binding. Un-
able to walk, even upper-class women
were forced into prostitution after Mao’s
Revolution resulted in the confiscation
Fig. 3-18 Hung Liu, Virgin/Vessel, 1990. Oil on canvas, broom, 6 × 4 ft. Collection of Bernice and Harold Steinbaum. Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York.
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of their material possessions and left them without servants
to transport them. In the painting, the woman’s body has be-
come a sexual vessel, like the one in front of her. She is com-
pletely isolated and vulnerable.
Three Fujins (Fig. 3-19) is also a depiction of women
bound by the system in which they live. The Fujins were con-
cubines in the royal court at the end of the nineteenth cen-
tury. Hanging in front of each of them is an actual birdcage,
purchased by Liu in San Francisco’s Chinatown, symbolizing
the women’s spiritual captivity. But even the excessively uni-
fied formality of their pose—its perfect balance, its repetitious
rhythms—belies their submission to the rule of tyrannical
social forces. These women have given themselves up—and
made themselves up—in order to fit into their proscribed
roles. Liu sees the composition of the image as symbolizing
“relationships of power, and I want to dissolve them in my
Speaking of Three Fuj ins, Liu explains how that
dissolution takes place, specifically in terms of her use of line:
“Contrast is very important. If you don’t have contrast, every-
thing just cancels each other thing out. So I draw, very care-
fully, and then I let the paint drip—two kinds of contrasting
line.” One is controlled, the line representing power, and the
other is free, liberated. “Linseed oil is very thick,” Liu goes on,
“it drips very slowly, sometimes overnight. You don’t know
when you leave what’s going to be there in the morning. You
hope for the best. You plant your seed. You work hard. But for
the harvest, you have to wait.” The drip, she says, gives her
“a sense of liberation, of freedom from what I’ve been paint-
ing. I could never have done this work in China. But the real
Chinese traditions—landscape painters, calligraphers—are
pretty crazy. My drip is closer to the real Chinese tradition
than my training. It’s part of me, the deeply rooted traditional
Fig. 3-19 Hung Liu, Three Fujins, 1995. Oil on canvas, bird cages, 8 ft. × 10 ft. 6 in. × 12 in. Private collection, Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York.
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62 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
Line Orientation Most viewers react instinctively to the expressive qual- ities of line, and these expressive qualities are closely associated with their orientation in the composition. Lin- ear arrangements that emphasize the horizontal and vertical possess a certain architectural stability, that of mathematical, rational control. The deliberate, precise arrangement of Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Socra- tes (Fig. 3-20) is especially apparent in his charcoal study for the painting (Fig. 3-21). David portrays Socrates, the father of philosophy, about to drink deadly hemlock after the Greek state convicted him of corrupting his students, the youth of Athens, by his teaching. In the preliminary drawing, David has submitted the figure of Socrates to a mathematical grid of parallels and perpendiculars that survives into the fi- nal painting. The body of the philosopher is turned toward the viewer. This frontal pose is at an angle of 90 degrees to the profile poses of most of the other figures in the compo- sition—at a right angle, that is, that corresponds in three dimensions to the two- dimensional grid structure of the com- position. Right angles in fact dominate the painting. Socrates, for instance, points upward with his left hand in a ges- ture that is at a right angle to his shoulders. Notice espe- cially the gridwork of stone blocks that form the wall behind the figures in the final painting. The human body
Fig. 3-20 Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787. Oil on canvas, 4 ft. 3 in. × 6 ft. 51⁄4 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1931.45. © 2015. Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
Fig. 3-21 Jacques-Louis David, Study for the Death of Socrates, 1787. Charcoal heightened in white on gray-brown paper, 201⁄2 × 17 in. Musée Bonnat, Bayonne, France. Inv. NI513; AI1890. Photo © RMN.
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Fig. 3-23 Eugène Delacroix, Study for The Death of Sardanapalus, 1827. Pen, watercolor, and pencil, 101⁄4 × 121⁄2 in. Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Inv. RF5274-recto. Photo © RMN- Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)/ Thierry Le Mage.
Fig. 3-22 Eugène Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus, 1827. Oil on canvas, 12 ft. 11⁄2 in. × 16 ft. 27⁄8 in. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Inv. RF2346. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)/Hervé Lewandowski.
and the drama of Socrates’ suicide are submitted by David to a highly rational order, as if to insist on the rationality of Socrates’ actions.
The structure and control evident in David’s line are underscored by comparing his work to the diagonal re- cession and lack of a grid in Eugène Delacroix’s much more emotional and Romantic Study for The Death of Sardanapalus (Fig. 3-23). (The term Romantic, often used to describe nineteenth-century art such as Delacroix’s,
does not refer just to the expression of love, but also to the expression of all feelings and passions.) The finished painting (Fig. 3-22) shows Sardanapalus, the last king of the second Assyrian dynasty at the end of the ninth cen- tury bce, who was besieged in his city by an enemy army. He ordered all his horses, dogs, servants, and wives to be slain before him, and all his belongings destroyed, so that none of his pleasures would survive him when his kingdom was overthrown. The drawing is a study for the
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64 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
lower corner of the bed, with its elephant-head bedpost, and, below it, on the floor, a pile of jewelry and musical instruments. The figure of the nude leaning back against the bed in the finished work, perhaps already dead, can be seen at the right-hand edge of the study. Delacroix’s line is quick, imprecise, and fluid. A flurry of curves and swirls, organized in a diagonal recession from the lower right to the upper left, dominates the study. And this
same dynamic quality—a sense of movement and agi- tation, not, as in David’s Death of Socrates, stability and calm—is retained in the composition of the final paint- ing. It seems almost chaotic in its accumulation of detail, and its diagonal orientation seems almost dizzyingly un- stable. Delacroix’s line, finally, is as compositionally dis- orienting as his subject is emotionally disturbing.
The CriTiCal ProCess Thinking about Line
Fig. 3-24 Zeus, or Poseidon, ca. 460 bce. Bronze, height 6 ft. 10 in. National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. 15161. © Craig & Marie Mauzy, Athens.
Fig. 3-25 Robert Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyon, 1982. Used by permission of Art + Commerce. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
Line is, in summation, an extremely versatile element. Thick or thin, short or long, straight or curved, line can outline shapes and forms, indicate the contour of a volume, and imply direc- tion and movement. Lines of sight can connect widely sepa- rated parts of a composition and direct the viewer’s eye across it. Depending on how it is oriented, line can seem extremely intellectual and rational or highly emotional. It is, above all, the artist’s most basic tool.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the biases of our culture are, naturally, reflected in the uses artists make of line. Especially in the depiction of human anatomy, certain cultural assumptions have come to be associated with line. Conventionally, vertical and horizontal geometries have been closely identified with the male form—as in David’s Death of Socrates (see Fig. 3-20). More loose and gestural lines seem less clear, less “logical,” more emotional and intuitive, and tra- ditionally have been identified with the female form. In other words, conventional representations of the male and female
nude carry with them recognizably sexist implications—man as strong and rational, woman as weak and given to emotional outbursts.
These conventions have been challenged by many con-
temporary artists. Compare, for instance, a Greek bronze
(Fig. 3-24), identified by some as Zeus, king of the Greek gods,
and by others as Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, and Robert
Mapplethorpe’s photograph of Lisa Lyon (Fig. 3-25), winner of
the first IFBB World Women’s Bodybuilding Championship in
Los Angeles in 1979. The Greek bronze has been submitted
to very nearly the same mathematical grid as David’s Socrates.
The pose that Lyon assumes seems to imitate that of the Greek
bronze. In what ways does the orientation of line, in the Map-
plethorpe photograph, suggest a feminist critique of Western
cultural traditions? How does Lyon subvert our expectations of
these traditions, and how does the use of line contribute to our
understanding of her intentions?
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Chapter 3 Line 65
Thinking Back 3.1 Distinguish among outline, contour, and
Line is used to indicate the edge of a two-dimensional (flat) shape
or a three-dimensional form. A contour line is the perceived line
that marks the border of an object in space. How do contour
lines differ from outlines? What is an implied line? How does it
function in Titian’s Assumption and Consecration of the Virgin?
3.2 Describe the different qualities that lines might possess.
Line can also possess intellectual, emotional, and expressive
qualities. How does Vincent van Gogh use line in The Starry
Night? What does it mean for line to be autographic? What
qualities are implied by a grid? What function does the drip serve
in Hung Liu’s work?
Linear arrangements that emphasize the horizontal and
vertical tend to possess an architectural stability. How does
Wenda Gu take advantage of this? Linear works that emphasize
the horizontal and vertical differ from those works that stress
expressive line, which, by contrast, inspire the viewer’s instinctive
reactions. How does Jacques-Louis David’s use of line differ
from Eugène Delacroix’s? What does the term “Romantic” mean
when discussing nineteenth-century art?
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Shape and Space
4.1 Differentiate between shape and mass.
4.2 Describe how three-dimensional space is represented on a flat surface using perspective.
4.3 Explain why modern artists have challenged the means of representing three dimensions on two-dimensional surfaces.
Berliner Plätze (Fig. 4-1), a painting by Julie Mehretu, be- gan, as most paintings do, as a flat shape. In mathemat- ical terms, a shape is a two-dimensional area—that is, its boundaries can be measured in terms of height and width. The painter’s task is to build up a sense of depth on the flat surface of the canvas shape, and reflected in the depth of Mehretu’s painting is her own transitional life. Ethiopian-born, she moved to the United States when she was six, grew up in Michigan, and has since worked in Senegal, Berlin, and New York. Her work thus investigates what she calls “the multifaceted lay- ers of place, space, and time that impact the formation of personal and communal identity.” These layers of place, space, and time emerge from the flat shape of the canvas.
In Berliner Plätze, she has projected views of the nineteenth-century buildings surrounding various squares (Plätze) in Berlin onto the canvas, often layering one over another and sometimes, as at the bottom right, tracing them upside down. These are overlaid in turn with broad white lines that might be, for instance, an aerial view of an airport’s runways seen from various
heights and points of view. “As the works progress,” Mehretu has explained, “the more the information is layered in a way that’s hard to decipher what is what. And that’s intentional. It’s almost like a screening out, creating a kind of skin or layer.” In her rendering of the Berlin buildings, Mehretu uses one of the most con- vincing means of representing actual depth of space on a flat surface—perspective. Perspective is a system, known to the Greeks and Romans but not mathemat- ically codified until the Renaissance, that, in the sim- plest terms, allows the picture plane—the flat surface of the canvas—to function as a window through which a specific scene is presented to the viewer. Thus, Mehre- tu’s painting is not only composed of different layers of painting, but her renderings of Berlin’s public squares create the illusion of real space on the flat shape of the canvas.
The painting is one of seven commissioned by Deutsche Bank and the Guggenheim Museum which are known as a group as Grey Area, a title that refers to that “in-between” space where things are neither clearly black or white, nor right or wrong, but ambiguous and
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Chapter 4 Shape and Space 67
Fig. 4-1 Julie Mehretu, Berliner Plätze, 2008–09. Ink and acrylic on canvas, 10 × 14 ft. Commissioned by Deutsche Bank AG in consultation with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin. © Julie Mehretu, courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery.
undefined. (Mehretu talks about working on this series in the art21 Exclusive video “Julie Mehretu: Workday.”) As a group, the paintings are meant to suggest the sheer complexity of creating and negotiating communal space in the contemporary world.
If we sometimes feel caught up in Mehretu’s “grey area,” we are at least superficially familiar with the sim- pler physical parameters of our world, which, together with line, shape and space, are among the most famil- iar terms we use to describe the physical nature of the world around us. Space is all around us, all the time. We talk about “outer” space (the space beyond our world) and “inner” space (the space inside our own minds). We cherish our own “space.” We give “space” to people or
things that scare us. But in the twenty-first century, space has become an increasingly contested issue. Since Ein- stein, we have come to recognize that the space in which we live is fluid. Not only does it take place in time, we are able to move in it and across it with far greater ease than ever before. Today, an even newer kind of space— the space of mass media, the Internet, the computer screen, and cyberspace, as well as the migration of the mind across and through these virtual arenas—is as- serting itself. This new kind of space results, as we shall see, in new arenas for artistic exploration. But, first, we need to describe some of the basic tools that artists use in dealing with shape and space in both two- and three- dimensional forms.
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68 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
Fig. 4-2 Ellsworth Kelly, Three Panels: Orange, Dark Gray, Green, 1986. Oil on canvas, overall 9 ft. 8 in. × 34 ft. 4½ in. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Douglas S. Cramer Foundation, 776. 1995.a-c.
© 2015 Ellsworth Kelly.
Shape and Mass How does shape differ from mass?
Shape is a fundamental property of two-di- mensional art. Ellsworth Kelly’s Three Panels: Orange, Dark Gray, Green (Fig. 4-2) consists of one trapezoidal and two triangular shapes set across the length of a 34-foot stretch of wall. Kelly thought of the wall itself as if it were a large canvas, and of his panels as flat shapes applied to that canvas. The three shapes, com- posed of both curved and straight lines and spaced unevenly both horizontally and verti- cally, seem to dance across the wall in a fluid animation.
The instant Kelly placed his shapes on the wall, the wall became what we call the ground, the surface upon which the work is made, and what we call a figure-ground relation was established. Of course, the fig- ures here also establish two shapes between them (with implied lines running from the top and bottom corners of each figure serv- ing to define these two shapes). These shapes are known as negative shapes, while the figures that command our attention are known as positive shapes. Consider, however, this more dynamic figure-ground
relationship (Fig. 4-3). At first glance, the figure appears to be a black vase resting on a white ground. But the image also contains the figure of two heads resting on a black ground. Such figure-ground rever-
Fig. 4-3 Rubin vase.
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Chapter 4 Shape and Space 69
sals help us recognize how important both positive and negative shapes are to our perception of an image.
As distinguished from a shape, a mass—or form—is a solid that occupies a three-dimensional volume. If shapes are measured in terms of height and width, masses must be measured in terms of height, width, and depth. Though mass also implies density and weight, in the simplest terms, the difference be- tween a shape and a mass is the difference between a square and a cube, a triangle and a cone, and a circle and a sphere.
A photograph cannot quite reproduce the experi- ence of being in the same space as Martin Puryear’s Self (Fig. 4-4), a sculptural mass that stands nearly 6 feet high. Made of wood, it looms out of the floor like a giant basalt outcropping, and it seems to satisfy the other implied meanings of mass—that is, it seems to possess weight and density as well as volume. From Puryear’s point of view, the piece looks as if it were a rock worn smooth
by the forces of nature—water, sand, and weather— analogous to the idea of a self that has been shaped by the forces of its own history, a history evidenced in its smooth facade, but which remains unstated. In fact, it does not possess the mass it visually announces. It is ac- tually very lightweight, built of thin layers of wood over a hollow core. This hidden, almost secret fragility is the “self” of Puryear’s title.
Beginning in 2001, Puryear began to work regu- larly at Paulson Bott Press in San Francisco to recreate his three-dimensional sculptures in the two-dimensional medium of printmaking (for an example of the oppo- site process, see The Creative Process, pp. 70–71). In the art21 Exclusive video “Martin Puryear: Printmaking,” he describes how different it has been for him to work in two dimensions after have worked for many years solely in sculptural terms. “I try to make work that’s about the ideas in the sculpture,” he says, “without making pictures of the sculpture.” In many ways the black oval form at the base of Untitled IV (Fig. 4-5), then, is the hid- den, hollow core of Self.
Fig. 4-4 Martin Puryear, Self, 1978. Polychromed red cedar and mahogany, 5 ft. 9 in. × 4 ft. × 25 in. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha. Museum purchase in memory of Elinor Ashton, 1980.63. © Martin Puryear.
Fig. 4-5 Martin Puryear, Untitled IV, 2002. Soft-ground and spitbite etching with drypoint and Chine-collé Gampi, 8⅝ × 6⅞ in. Paulson Bott Press, San Francisco. © Martin Puryear.
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70 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
Fig. 4-6 Umberto Boccioni, Table + Bottle + House, 1912. Pencil on paper, 13⅛ × 9⅜ in. Civico Gabinetto dei Desegni, Castello Sforzesco, Milan. © Comune di Milano. All rights reserved.
The Creative Process
From Two to Three Dimensions: Umberto Boccioni’s Development of a Bottle in Space
In February 1909, an Italian poet named Filippo Marinetti pub-
lished in the French newspaper Le Figaro a manifesto announc-
ing a new movement in modern art, Futurism. Marinetti called
for an art that would champion “aggressive action, a feverish in-
somnia, the racer’s stride . . . the punch and the slap.” He had
discovered, he wrote, “a new beauty; the beauty of speed. A
racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like ser-
pents of explosive breath . . . is more beautiful than the Victory
of Samothrace.” He promised to “destroy the museums, librar-
ies, academies” and “sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides
of revolution in the modern capitals.” These pronouncements
proved particularly appealing to Umberto Boccioni, an Italian
sculptor who was himself frustrated with the state of sculpture in
the first decades of the twentieth century. In all the
sculpture of his day, he wrote in his own “Technical
Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture” in 1912,
we see the perpetuation of the same old
kind of misapprehension: an artist copies a
nude or studies classical statues with the
naive conviction that here he will find a style
that equates to modern sensibility without
stepping outside the traditional concepts of
sculpture. . . . An art that must take all the
clothes off a man or woman in order to pro-
duce any emotive effect is a dead art!
“Destroy the systematic nude!” he pro-
claimed. But he was not quite sure just what
should take its place.
Boccioni was, first of all, convinced that no
object exists in space on its own. Rather, it is co-
existent with its surroundings, and its surround-
ings determine how it is seen and understood.
Two years earlier, in “Futurist Painting: Technical
Manifesto,” which he co-authored with four other
Futurist artists, he had declared:
How often have we not seen upon the cheek
of the person with whom we are talking the
horse which passes at the end of the street.
Our bodies penetrate the sofas upon which
we sit, and the sofas penetrate our bodies.
The motor bus rushes into the houses which
it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves
upon the motor bus and are blended with it.
To demonstrate this principle, Boccioni made a drawing of
a glass bottle resting upon a table, with a drinking glass in front
of it (Fig. 4-6). The choice of the glass and bottle was a crucial
one, for through their semi-transparent surfaces one can see
the table behind and beneath them, a large white plate set just
to their left, a house in the distance above them and to the
left, and most especially the other side of the glass and bottle
themselves, which Boccioni has rendered in a series of spiral-
ing lines, as if both bottle and glass were rotating around upon
themselves. Boccioni has thus rendered the bottle in volumetric
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Chapter 4 Shape and Space 71
Fig. 4-7 Umberto Boccioni, Development of a Bottle in Space, 1913. Bronze, 15½ × 23¾ × 15½ in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Lydia Winston Malbin, 1990.38. © 2015. Image copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
terms in the two-dimensional medium of pencil on paper. The
drawing is a metaphor for “knowing,” exposing the limitations
of a single point of view. We can only know an object fully if we
can see it from all sides, and, as we circle it, we see it against
first one backdrop then another and another.
It seems almost inevitable that Boccioni would feel com-
pelled to actually realize his bottle in three-dimensional form
(Fig. 4-7). In the sculptural version of Development of a Bottle
in Space, the bottle is splayed open to reveal a series of con-
centric shells or half-cylinders. Made of solid bronze, it is no
longer transparent, as in the drawing, but it invites us to move
around it, to see it from all sides. The table on which it rests
seems to tilt and lean, suggesting a certain instability at odds
with the solidity of the bronze itself.
Boccioni created two versions of the work, a white plaster
model titled Development of a Bottle in Space Through Form,
and an identical plaster model but this time in bright red, titled
Development of a Bottle in Space Through Color. He evidently
felt that our visual experience of the sculpture was radically al-
tered by the addition of color, which also masked something
of its form. The original white plaster model belonged to the
Marinetti family until 1952 when it was donated to the mu-
seum of the University of São Paulo, Brazil. The red model
was destroyed in 1917. The numerous extant bronze castings,
by which we know the work today, were all executed after
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72 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
Negative Space Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture Two Figures (Fig. 4-8) invites the viewer to look at it up close. It consists of two standing vertical masses that occupy three- dimensional space in a manner similar to standing human forms. (See, for example, the sculpture’s similarity to the standing forms of Fig. 12-9.) Into each of these figures Hepworth has carved negative spaces, so called because they are empty spaces that acquire a sense of volume and form by means of the outline or frame that surrounds them. Hepworth has painted these negative spaces white. Especially in the left-hand figure, the negative spaces suggest anatomical features: The top round indentation suggests a head, the middle hollow a breast, and the bottom hole a belly, with the elmwood wrapping around the figure like a cloak.
The negative space formed by the bowl of the cere- monial spoon of the Dan people native to Liberia and the Ivory Coast (Fig. 4-9) likewise suggests anatomy. Nearly
Fig. 4-8 Barbara Hepworth, Two Figures, 1947–48. Elmwood and white paint, 38 × 17 in. Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota. Gift of John Rood Sculpture Collection. © Bowness.
Fig. 4-9 Feast-making spoon (wunkirmian), Liberia/Ivory Coast. Wood, height 181⁄8 in. Private collection. Photo © Heini Schneebeli/Bridgeman Images.
a foot in length and called the “belly pregnant with rice,” the bowl represents the generosity of the most hospitable woman of the clan, who is known as the wunkirle. The wunkirle carries this spoon at festivals, where she dances and sings. As wunkirles from other clans arrive, the festi- vals become competitions, each woman striving to give away more than the others. Finally, the most generous wunkirle of all is proclaimed, and the men sing in her honor. The spoon represents the power of the imagina- tion to transform an everyday object into a symbolically charged container of social good.
The world that we live in (our homes, our streets, our cities) has been carved out of three-dimensional
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Chapter 4 Shape and Space 73
space, that is, the space of the natural world, which itself possesses height, width, and depth. A building surrounds empty space in such a way as to frame it or outline it. Walls shape the space they contain, and rooms acquire a sense of volume and form. The great cathedrals of the late medieval era were designed especially to elicit from the viewer a sense of awe at the sheer magnitude of the space they contained. Ex- tremely high naves carried the viewer’s gaze upward in a gravity-defying flight of vision. The nave of Reims Cathedral in France (Fig. 4-10) is 125 feet high. If you were to visit the site, you would not only experience the magnitude of the space, but also see how that mag- nitude is heightened by the quality of golden light that fills the space. In fact, light can contribute significantly to our sense of space. Think of the space in a room as a kind of negative space created by the architecture. Danish artist Olafur Eliasson seems to fill this space with color in his 1995 installation Suney (Fig. 4-11). Ac- tually, he has bisected a gallery with a yellow sheet of Mylar (stretched polyester). The side of the gallery in which the viewer stands seems bathed in natural light, while the opposite side seems filled with yellow light. There are separate entrances at each end of the space and, if viewers change sides, their experience of the two spaces is reversed.
Fig. 4-10 Nave, Reims Cathedral, begun 1211; nave ca. 1220. View to the west. © Art Archive/Alamy.
Fig. 4-11 Olafur Eliasson, Suney, 1995. Installation view, Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, Germany. Courtesy of the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin.
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74 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
Representing Three-Dimensional Space in Two Dimensions How do artists use perspective to represent three- dimensional space?
Many artists work in both two- and three-dimensional forms. But in order to create a sense of depth, of three dimensions, on a flat canvas or paper the artist must rely on some form of visual illusion.
There are many ways to create the illusion of deep space, and most are used simultaneously, as in Steve DiBenedetto’s Deliverance (Fig. 4-12). For example, we recognize that objects close to us appear larger than
objects farther away, so that the juxtaposition of a large and a small helicopter suggests deep space between them. Overlapping images also create the illusion that one object is in front of the other in space: The helicop- ters appear to be closer to us than the elaborately deco- rated red launching or landing pad below. And because we are looking down on the scene, a sense of deep space is further suggested. The use of line also adds to the illusion as the tightly packed, finer lines of the round pad pull the eye inward. The presence of a shadow supplies yet another visual clue that the figures possess dimensionality. (We will look closely at how the effect of light creates believable space in Chapter 5.) Even though the image is highly abstract and decorative, we are still able to read it as representing objects in three-dimensional space.
Fig. 4-12 Steve DiBenedetto, Deliverance, 2003. Colored pencil and acrylic paint on paper, 30⅛ × 22½ in. © Steve DiBenedetto, courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York, Collection of Morris Orden, New York.
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Chapter 4 Shape and Space 75
Linear Perspective The overlapping images in DiBenedetto’s work evoke certain principles of perspective, one of the most con- vincing means of representing three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. In one-point linear perspective (Fig. 4-13), lines are drawn on the picture plane in such a way as to represent parallel lines receding to a single point on the viewer’s horizon, called the van- ishing point. As the two examples in the diagram make clear, when the vanishing point is directly across from the viewer’s vantage point (that is, where the viewer is positioned), the recession is said to be frontal. If the van- ishing point is to one side or the other, the recession is said to be diagonal.
To judge the effectiveness of linear perspective as a system capable of creating the illusion of real space on a two-dimensional surface, we need only look at an exam- ple of a work painted before linear perspective was fully understood and then compare it to works in which the system is successfully employed. Commissioned in 1308, Duccio’s Maestà (“Majesty”) Altarpiece was an enor- mous composition—its central panel alone was 7 feet high and 13½ feet wide. Many smaller scenes depict- ing the Life of the Virgin and the Life and Passion of
Christ appear on both the front and back of the work. In one of these smaller panels, depicting the Annunci- ation of the Death of the Virgin (Fig. 4-14), in which the Angel Gabriel warns the Virgin of her impending death, Duccio is evidently attempting to grasp the principles of perspective intuitively. At the top, the walls and ceiling beams all converge at a single vanishing point above the Virgin’s head. But the moldings at the base of the arches in the doorways recede to a vanishing point at her hands, while the base of the reading stand, the left side of the bench, and the baseboard at the right con- verge on a point beneath her hands. Other lines con- verge on no vanishing point at all. Duccio has attempted to create a realistic space in which to place his figures,
Fig. 4-13 One-point linear perspective. Left: frontal recession, street level. Right: diagonal recession, elevated position.
Fig. 4-14 Perspective analysis of Duccio, Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin, from the Maestà Altarpiece, 1308–11. Tempera on panel, 16⅜ × 21¼ in. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena. Canali Photobank, Milan, Italy.
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76 Part 2 The Formal Elements and Their Design
but he does not quite succeed. This is especially evident in his treatment of the reading stand and bench. In true perspective, the top and bottom of the reading stand would not be parallel, as they are here, but would converge to a single vanishing point. Similarly, the right side of the bench is splayed out awkwardly to the right and seems to crawl up and into the wall.
By way of contrast, the space of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous depiction of the Last Supper (Fig. 4-15) is com- pletely convincing. Leonardo employs a fully frontal one-point perspective system, as the perspective analysis shows (Fig. 4-16). This system focuses our attention on Christ, since the perspective lines appear almost as rays of light radiating from Christ’s head. During its restoration, a small nail hole was discovered in Christ’s temple, just to the left of his right eye. Leonardo evidently drew strings out from this nail to create the perspectival space. The Last Supper itself is a wall painting created in the refectory— dining hall—of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Because the painting’s architecture ap- pears to be continuous with the actual architecture of the refectory, it seems as if the world outside the space of the painting is organized around Christ as well. Everything in the architecture of the painting and the refectory draws our attention to him. His gaze controls the world.
Fig. 4-15 Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, ca. 1495–98. Mural (oil and tempera on plaster), 15 ft. 1⅛ in. × 28 ft. 10½ in. Refectory, Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. © Studio Fotografico Quattrone, Florence.
Fig. 4-16 Perspective analysis of Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, ca. 1495–98. © Studio Fotografico Quattrone, Florence.
Fig. 4-17 Two-point linear perspective.
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Chapter 4 Shape and Space 77
When there are two vanishing points in a composition—that is, when an artist uses two-point linear perspective (Fig. 4-17)—a more dynamic com- position often results. The building in the left half of Gustave Caillebotte’s Place de l’Europe on a Rainy Day (Fig. 4-18) is realized by means of two-point linear
perspective, but Caillebotte uses perspective to create a much more complex composition. A series of multiple vanishing points organize a complex array of parallel lines emanating from the intersection of the five Paris streets depicted (Fig. 4-19). Moving across and through these perspective lines are the implied lines of the pe- destrians’ movements across the street and square and down the sidewalk in both directions, as well as the line of sight created by the glance of the two figures walking toward the viewer. Caillebotte imposes order on this scene by dividing the canvas into four equal rectangles formed by the vertical lamppost and the horizon line.
Distortions of Space and Foreshortening The space created by means of linear perspective is closely related to the space created by photography, the medium we accept as representing “real” space with the highest degree of accuracy. The picture drawn in per- spective and the photograph both employ a monocular, that is, one-eyed, point of view that defines the picture plane as the base of a pyramid, the apex of which is the single lens or eye. Our actual vision, however, is binoc- ular. We see with both eyes. If you hold your finger up
Fig. 4-18 Gustave Caillebotte, Place de l’Europe on a Rainy Day, 1876–77. Oil on canvas, 6 ft. 111⁄2 in. × 9 ft. 3⁄4 in. The Art Institute of Chicago. Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1964.336. Photo © 2015 Art Institute of Chicago. All Rights Reserved.
Fig. 4-19 Line analysis of Gustave Caillebotte, Place de l’Europe on a Rainy Day, 1876–77. Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1964.336. Photo © 2015 Art Institute of Chicago. All Rights Reserved.
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before your eyes and look at it first with one eye closed and then with the other, you will readily see that the point of view of each eye is different. Under most condi- tions, the human organism has the capacity to synthesize these differing points of view into a unitary image.
In the nineteenth century, the stereoscope was in- vented precisely to imitate binocular vision. Two pictures of the same subject, taken from slightly different points of view, were viewed through the stereoscope, one by each eye. The effect of a single picture was produced, with the
appearance of depth, or relief, a result of the divergence of the point of view. Usually, the difference between the two points of view is barely discernible, especially if we are looking at relatively distant objects. But if we look at objects that are nearby, as in the stereoscopic view of the Man with Big Shoes (Fig. 4-20), then the difference is read- ily apparent.
Painters can make up for such distortions in ways that photographers cannot. If the artist portrayed in Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut (Fig. 4-21) were to draw
Fig. 4-20 Photographer unknown, Man with Big Shoes, ca. 1890. Stereograph. Library of Congress. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
Fig. 4-21 Albrecht Dürer, Draftsman Drawing a Female Nude, 1538. Woodcut, second edition, 3 × 81⁄2 in. One of 138 woodcuts and diagrams in Underweysung der Messung, mit dem Zirkel und Richtscheyt (Teaching of Measurement with Compass and Ruler). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Horatio Greenough Curtis Fund, 35.53. Photograph © 2015 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
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Fig. 4-22 Andrea Mantegna, The Dead Christ, ca. 1480. Tempera on canvas, 26 × 30 in. Brera Gallery, Milan. DEA/G. CIGOLINI/De Agostini/Getty Images.
exactly what he sees before his eyes, he would end up drawing a figure with knees and lower legs that are too large in relation to her breasts and head. The effect would not be unlike that achieved by the enor- mous feet that reach toward the viewer in Man with Big Shoes. These are effects that Andrea Mantegna would work steadfastly to avoid in his depiction of The Dead Christ (Fig. 4-22). Such a representation would make comic or ridiculous a scene of high se- riousness and consequence. It would be indecorous. Thus, Mantegna has employed foreshortening in or- der to represent Christ’s body. In foreshortening, the dimensions of the closer extremities are adjusted in or- der to make up for the distortion created by the point of view.
The Near and the Far Foreshortening is a means of countering the laws of perspective, laws which seem perfectly consis- tent and rational when the viewer ’s vantage point is sufficiently removed from the foreground, but which, when the foreground is up close, seem to pro- duce oddly weird and disquieting imagery. When Japanese prints entered European markets after the opening of Japan in 1853–54, new possibilities for rep- resenting perspectival space presented themselves. Many Japanese prints combined close-up views of things near at hand, such as flowers, trees, or ban- ners, with views of distant landscapes. Rather than worrying about presenting space as a continuous
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and consistent recession from the near at hand to the far away, Japanese artists simply elided what might be called the “in between.” Thus, in Utagawa Hiroshige’s Moon Pine, Ueno (Fig. 4-23), from his One Hundred Views of Edo (Edo was renamed Tokyo in 1868), a giant gap lies between the foreground pine and the city in the dis- tance. The habit in Edo was to give names to trees of
great age or particular form, and this pine, renowned for the looping round form of its lower branch, was dubbed “moon pine.” Looking at the tree from different angles, one could supposedly see the different phases of the moon as well. The site is a park in the Ueno district of Tokyo, overlooking Shinobazu pond. In the middle of the lake is an island upon which stands the Benten
Fig. 4-23 Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando), Moon Pine, Ueno, No. 89 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1856. Woodblock print, 143⁄16 × 91⁄4 in. The Brooklyn Museum. Gift of Anna Ferris, 30.1478.89.
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Chapter 4 Shape and Space 81
Shrine, dedicated to the goddess of the fine arts, music, and learning. In the print, the shrine is the red building just above the branch at the lower right. Here, where the branch crosses the island, the gulf between the near and the far seems to collapse, and a certain unity of mean- ing emerges, as the extraordinary beauty of the natural world (the nearby pine) merges with the best aspects of human productivity (embodied in the distant shrine).
This flattening of space proved to be especially at- tractive to European modernist painters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who, as we will see in the following pages, found the rules of per- spective to be limiting and imaginatively cumbersome. But the surprising effects that can be achieved in collaps- ing the apparent distance between the near and the far have continued to fascinate artists down to the present day. In her video Touch (Fig. 4-24), Janine Antoni ap- pears to walk along the horizon, an illusion created by her walking on a tightrope stretched between two back- hoes on the beach directly in front of her childhood
home on Grand Bahama Island. She had learned to tight- rope-walk, practicing about an hour a day, as an exercise in bodily control and meditation. As she practiced, she realized, she says, that “it wasn’t that I was getting more balanced, but that I was getting more comfortable with being out of balance.” This she took as a basic lesson in life. In Touch, this sense of teetering balance is heightened by the fact that she appears to be walking on a horizon line that we know can never be reached as it continually moves away from us as we approach it. We know, in other words, that we are in an impossible place, and yet it is a place that we have long contemplated and desired as a culture, the sense of possibility that always seems to lie “just over the horizon.” When, in the course of the full-length video, both Antoni and the rope disappear, we are left, as viewers, contemplating this illusory line and just what it means. And we come to understand that the horizon represents what is always in front of us. “It’s a very hopeful image,” Antoni says; “it’s about the fu- ture, about the imagination.”
Fig. 4-24 Janine Antoni, Touch, 2002. Color video, sound (projection), 9 min. 36 sec. loop. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.
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Modern Experiments and New Dimensions Why have modern artists challenged the means of representing three dimensions on two-dimensional surfaces?
One of the most important functions of the means of representing three dimensions on a two- dimensional surface is to make the world more intelligible. Linear per- spective provides a way for artists to focus and organize the visual field. Foreshorten- ing makes the potentially grotesque view of objects seen from below or above seem more natural, less disorienting. Modern art- ists have consistently challenged the utility of these means in capturing the complex conditions of contemporary culture. Very often it is precisely the disorienting and the chaotic that define the modern for them, and
perspective, for instance, seems to impose something of a false order on the world.
Experiments in Photographic Space Even photographers, the truth of whose means was largely unquestioned in the early decades of the twen- tieth century, sought to picture the world from points of view that challenged the ease of a viewer’s recognition. Paul Strand’s Abstraction, Porch Shadows (Fig. 4-25) is an unmanipulated photograph (that is, not altered during the development process) of the shadows of a porch railing cast across a porch and onto a white patio table turned on its side. The camera lens is pointed down and across the porch. The close-up of approximately 9 square feet of porch is cropped so that no single object in the pic- ture is wholly visible. Strand draws the viewer’s atten- tion not so much to the scene itself as to the patterns of light and dark that create a visual rhythm across the sur- face. The picture is more abstraction, as its title suggests, than realistic rendering—a picture of shapes, not things.
It was not until after Strand took this photo- graph at his family’s summer cottage in Twin Lakes, Connecticut, that he was able to see a similar ab- straction in the play of shadows in the backyard of his townhouse on West 83rd Street in New York (Fig. 4-26). This was a view he had seen hundreds of times before—he had lived in the townhouse for 24 years—but suddenly the abstraction of walls, pave- ment, and hanging sheets was apparent to him, all animated by the play of light and dark. In fact, such overhead shots were, in 1917, still something of a novelty—few people had even taken photographs from an airplane. The view downward seemed, somewhat startlingly, to flatten the world.
Fig. 4-25 Paul Strand, Abstraction, Porch Shadows, 1916. Silver platinum print, 1215⁄16 × 91⁄8 in. © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive.
Fig. 4-26 Paul Strand, Geometric Backyards, New York, 1917. Platinum print, 10 × 131⁄8 in. © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive.
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Experiments with Space in Painting Similar effects were achieved by photographers by means of other odd points of view, extreme close-ups, and radical cropping. In painting, modern artists intentionally began to violate the rules of perspective to draw the attention of the viewer to elements of the com- position other than its verisimilitude, or the apparent “truth” of its representation of reality. In other words, the artist sought to draw attention to the act of imagina- tion that created the painting, not its overt subject matter. In his large painting Harmony in Red (The Red Room) (Fig. 4-27), Henri Matisse has almost completely elim-
inated any sense of three-dimensionality by uniting the different spaces of the painting in one large field of uniform color and design. The wallpaper and the table- cloth are made of the same fabric. Shapes are repeated throughout: The spindles of the chairs and the tops of the decanters echo one another, as do the maid’s hair and the white foliage of the large tree outside the window. The tree’s trunk repeats the arabesque design on the table- cloth directly below it. Even the window can be read in two ways: It could, in fact, be a window opening to the world outside, or it could be the corner of a painting, a framed canvas lying flat against the wall. In traditional perspective, the picture frame functions as a window. Here, the window has been transformed into a frame.
Fig. 4-27 Henri Matisse, Harmony in Red (The Red Room), 1908–09. Oil on canvas, 5 ft. 107⁄8 in. × 7 ft. 25⁄8 in. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. © 2015 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Archives H. Matisse, © 2015 Succession H. Matisse.
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What one notices most of all in Paul Cézanne’s Mme. Cézanne in a Red Armchair (Fig. 4-28) is its very lack of spatial depth. Although the arm of the chair seems to project forward on the right, on the left the painting is almost totally flat. The blue flower pattern on the wallpa- per seems to float above the spiraled end of the arm, as does the tassel that hangs below it, drawing the wall far forward into the composition. The line that establishes the bottom of the baseboard on the left seems to ripple on through Mme. Cézanne’s dress. Most of all, the assertive vertical stripes of that dress, which appear to rise straight up from her feet parallel to the picture plane, deny Mme. Cézanne her lap. It is almost as if a second, striped verti- cal plane lies between her and the viewer. By such means Cézanne announces that it is not so much the accurate representation of the figure that interests him as the de- sign of the canvas and the activity of painting itself, the play of its pattern and color.
With the advent of the computer age, a new space for art has opened up, one beyond the boundaries of the frame and, moreover, beyond the traditional boundaries
of time and matter. It is the space of infor- mation, which in Terry Winters’s Color and Information (Fig. 4-29) seems to engulf us. The painting is enormous, 9 × 12 feet. It is organized around a central pole that rises just to the left of center. A web of circuitrylike squares circle around this pole, seeming to implode into the center or explode out of it— there is no way to tell. Writing in the magazine Art in America in 2005, critic Carol Diehl describes her reaction to paintings such as this one:
At any given moment, some or all of the following impressions may suggest themselves and then quickly fade, to be replaced by others: maps, blueprints, urban aerial photographs, steel girders, spiderwebs, X-rays, molecular structures, microscopic slides of protozoa, the warp and woof of gauzy fabric, tangles or balls of yarn, fishing nets, the interlace of wintry tree branches, magnified crystals, computer readouts or diagrams of the neurological circuits of the brain, perhaps on information overload. That we can never figure out whether what we’re looking at depicts something organic or man-made only adds to the enigma.
In fact, the title of this painting refers only to Winters’s process, not its enigmatic content. The work began with a series of black-and- white woodcuts generated from small pen-
and-ink drawings scanned into a computer so that the blocks could be cut by a laser. Winters wanted to see what would happen if he transformed this digital information into a painting, confounding or amplifying the stark black- and-white contrast of the source images by adding color and vastly magnifying their size. In front of the resulting work, we are suspended between order and chaos, image and abstraction, information and information overload.
Digital Space Standing in front of Winters’s painting is something akin to being immersed in the technological circuitry of contempo- rary life. But few artists have more thoroughly succeeded in integrating the viewer into digital space than Chinese artist Feng Mengbo. In 1993, having graduated in 1991 from the Printmaking Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, he created a series of 42 paintings enti- tled Game Over: Long March. They amounted to screenshots of an imaginary video game, and, as one walked by them, one could imagine oneself in a side-scrolling game of the
Fig. 4-28 Paul Cézanne, Mme. Cézanne in a Red Armchair, ca. 1877. Oil on canvas, 281⁄2 × 22 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Bequest of Robert Treat Paine II, 44.77.6. Photograph © 2015 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
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Fig. 4-29 Terry Winters, Color and Information, 1998. Oil and alkyd resin on canvas, 9 × 12 ft. © Terry Winters, courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.
Fig. 4-30 Feng Mengbo, Long March: Restart, 2008. Video-game installation, one of two screens, each approx. 20 × 80 ft. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Given anonymously, 1168.2008. © Feng Mengbo. © 2015. Digital image, Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.
classic Super Mario Bros. variety. When Mengbo finally acquired a computer in 2003, he began transforming his project into an actual video game based on the 8,000-mile, 370-day retreat of the Chinese Communist Party’s Red Army, under the command of Mao Zedong in 1934–35. The audience’s avatar in Mengbo’s work is a small Red Army soldier who, seated on a crushed Coca-Cola can, encounters a variety of ghosts, demons, and deities, in an effort to rescue Princess Toadstool. Now titled Long March: Restart (Fig. 4-30), the work has become a giant digital space consisting of two walls, each 80 feet long.
The viewer is invited to take control of the Red Army av- atar who moves through five screens, following the Great Wall into 14 progressively more difficult levels of play. “You go inside this video game,” Mengbo explains. “You don’t passively sit and play it.” The speed at which the avatar moves causes the viewer to move at a frenetic pace down the gallery, then to spin around and move back up the opposite wall. Disembodied, fighting long odds, on the brink of disaster, one realizes that Mengbo’s Long March is a metaphor for the long march that is contempo- rary life itself.
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The CriTiCal ProCess Thinking about Space
Although it is far more expensive, artists working with time- based media have preferred, given the higher quality of the image, to work with film. One of the most remarkable exper- iments with the medium of film is the nine-screen installation Ten Thousand Waves (Fig. 4-31) by British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien. Ten Thousand Waves was inspired by the drown- ing of 23 Chinese cockle pickers from Fujian province in south- east China in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, England, on the evening of February 5, 2004. Their tragedy is juxtaposed with a Chinese fable, “The Tale of Yishan Island,” in which the Chinese goddess and protector of sailors, the Fujian goddess Mazu— played by Chinese actress Maggie Cheung—saves five boats of fishermen from a storm at sea by directing them to an island that, after they have been rescued, they can never find again. Layered on these two stories is a third story of a contemporary goddess, a sort of reenactment of Wu Yonggang’s 1934 silent film The Goddess (about a woman who becomes a prostitute to support herself and her son), which tracks her as she moves from the historic Shanghai Film Studio sets of the 1930s into the present-day Pudong district of Shanghai.
Julien’s multiscreen images at first seem chaotic, but they underscore that the fixed viewpoint of cinematic experience is highly institutionalized—the onslaught of visual stimulus in Ju- lien’s installation is very much like the typical sensory experi- ence of daily life as we are surrounded by sensory input of all kinds. Surrounded by nine screens, viewers find themselves wandering through a disorienting landscape, wanting to see, more or less impossibly, what is on every screen at once. As a result, our sense of space opens to redefinition, and Julien’s work suggests that this new perception of space is perhaps as fundamental as that which occurred in the fifteenth cen- tury when the laws of linear perspective were finally codified. How would you speak of this space? In what ways is it two- dimensional? In what ways is it three-dimensional? How is space “represented”? How is time incorporated into our sense of space? What are the implications of our seeming to move in and through an array of two-dimensional images? What would you call such new spaces? Digital space? Four-dimensional space? What possibilities do you see for such spaces?
Fig. 4-31 Isaac Julien, Ten Thousand Waves, 2010. Installation view, ShanghART Gallery, Shangha. Nine-screen installation, 35 mm film, transferred to High Definition, 9.2 surround sound, 49 min. 41 sec. Edition of 6 plus 1AP. Courtesy of the Artist and Victoria Miro, London, Metro Pictures, New York, and Galería Helga de Alvear, Madrid. © Isaac Julien. Photography © Adrian Zhou.
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