Temporal and Physical Extension
Integration of the Parts & Notes on Finishing

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ot every suggestion listed is applicable to every work of art. Certainly, a static work need give no attention to where the objects depicted came from or where they're going. A bowl of fruit has no artistic history.

But an action scene does. And any nature setting might have a sensible history leading up to its present condition.

A History of the Parts ...

Lets throw a rock into a hypothetical outdoor scene. Where did the rock come from? The responsible artist should have some consideration for that rock other than as a decoration. For instance, the rock is a broken fragment of another larger background rock outcropping ... in which case, the rock might be given a surface matching the surface of the outcropping from whence it came ... thereby "tying" it to the scene much more thoroughly than a "mindlessly" placed rock ... there just to occupy real estate on the canvas.

Now you know what I mean by "history of the parts".

This is not an easy task and would be utilyzed only in the most extravagant artwork. You won't commonly observe such intellectual detail in any work but it certainly lends a "readability" to the work. One can look at such a work and see new relationships (consciously placed there by the artist) at every viewing. An "extravagant" work is one which can be read like a book.

There is a similar method of obtaining readability. It is by the method of scale. For instance, one might view the work as a whole and see the entire scene ... say, "Adam and Eve in the Garden" ... and looking at the background in the space between an arm and a stomach there might be and entirely "new" painting of some related event ... say, a couple of animals fighting to eat one another. Now the viewer can read multiple integrated works on a single canvas.

Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights shows many integrated scenes (by general subject) although there is no dominant figure to which one might point and say "This is what he wants me to see".
Again, this is extravagant ... and not commonly seen.

Temporal Extension

Scenes with some measure of action require that the artist think about where the actors came from and where they are going to. For instance, you couldn't show a man riding a horse at full throttle and paint a tree right in front of his course. even though the action is cought as in a photograph, the viewer will consciously or subconsciously extend the action to reasonable conclusion. Similarly, one must consider where the horse and rider came from. If they are riding trough a field of wheat, there out to be a path where the wheat is trampled. These are gross examples and doubtless the serious artist would not make such mistakes ... but ... in the drawing and execution of details clear rules can be forgotten (swept under the "canvas") in the interest of finishing. Artistic integrity demands that if we put it on the canvas we must integrate it fully with the rest of the painting.

Logical Integration of the Parts

In keeping with the forgoing statement, all non-essential elements must be excluded from the serious artwork. Nothing is added which does not support the "main configuration" ... the work is maximally integrated.

I once saw at a local art show a depiction of the modern "drug scene" (somebody shooting up some H). What was odd about the work was the inclusion of drug paraphernalia which the artist "floated" in the scene over the head of the drug user. They had no active connection with the rest of the painting. True, they were related objects but they were floating there like "putti". This is exactly what I mean by taking the easy way out (forget integration "Let's just fill the canvas"). If I couldn't find a way to put an object into the work as an active part of the composition ... I wouldn't put it in ........ period.

Here are two great paintings.

Raphael - School af AthensGericault - Raft of the Medusa

On the left Raphael has many groups of integrated individuals but the groups themselves are not actively integrated into a larger unified group. They are integrated as a geometrical structure but there is no active psychological interplay between them. The painting has great appeal and lively coloration but the other is the better of the two (a fact which Raphael would readily acknowledge).

In Gericalult's Medusa, all subgroups are psychologically integrated into the larger scene. Some figures are actually looking over to the other groupings. It appears that he has decided to take on every major problem an artist faces and solve them as an artistic "lesson". If you are unfamiliar with general art problems ... putting three nude figures touching in a meaningful configuration is the single most difficult task faced by an artist. Here it is realized repeatedly with resounding success. This is, foremost, a painting made to be appreciated by other artists.

By all the art criteria I am aware of ... this particular painting is one of the greatest ever made. It will not achieve immense popularity because its theme is psychologically repulsive (though not as repulsive as much of Carravagio's greatest work).

Gericault once got a severed head from the "The Terror" and placed it on his kitchen table to watch it's modus decomposition ... Now that's deadication!

Notes on Finishing

The degree of finish put on a painting reflects the artists abilities and the time he is willing to spend (and hence his interest in the work).

It should also depend on the subject of the painting (assuming it's not a "for pay" work in which case the artist does more or less what he's told). Thus, spending a great deal of time on a philosophically trivial subject insults the viewer's sensibilities because a high degree of finish is one major indicator of importance, i.e. it's important enough to work on for a long time.

One thing which offends in the work of Bouguereau is the tremedous finish put on trivial or obviously inane subjects (No, I don't mean the girls sitting on the ground with walnuts - and that sort of painting - I mean the silly, scantily clad nymphs).
Similarly, a hastily finished work, supposedly of great import, would offend the viewer for the opposite reason ("What? ... oh... Edvard Munch).
Note: A sketch is not offensive for the reason that it is acknowledged to be what it is ... an unfinished work and therefore important only as a stepping stone to the finished product.

A last detail not to be forgotten by the diligent artist is the control of temperature, humidity and general weather effects. This can be very subtle.

I believe it is possible to control the apparent temperature in a painting to within 2 or 3 degrees Fahrenheit. See if you can guess the ambient temperatures of the paintings shown above.
Obviously, one would not put a nude on an iceberg unless one wishes to evoke a shiver in the viewer. And one should not put a figure in a gale with hair hanging straight down as though in a calm interior. But such obvious errors are seldom made ... it's the subtle ones that get away from the unwary artist.



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