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I don't pretend to be any kind of expert about art theory, but I did some self study to understand why some of my own paintings felt more compelling than others. If you are looking for a comprehensive treatise on the subject...this isn't it. However, I certainly found information which can help an artist compose paintings for a stronger impact. I found myself most interested in "balance," the "rule of thirds," and the "s" curve. (I also ran into a lot of talk about the "Golden Ratio". Forget about it. I don't plan on doing calculus to determine where to place a figure's head on a canvas, although it was an interesting read. Look it up, if you want to.)
Going back over images of paintings I have done over the last several years, I looked for those that were, in my eyes, stronger and more interesting, and I tried to determine the reason why. I found that some of my favorites did follow the "rules" to some degree.
Balance: "Morning Coffee" is symmetrically balanced. The lady is centrally placed, a backlit figure against a bright window. The mass of darks (figure and floor) equal the mass of lights (bright window and curtains.) It is meant to be a quiet moment, so this simple central balance of weight works is pleasing and restful to the eye, while the contrasts of light and dark add drama.
By contrast, "Daisy in Purple" depicts a little girl at play. Placing her dead center would have been too static, so she is off to the right a little bit (but looking left, so she doesn't see to be falling off the side of the canvas) and she is in a balanced triangle formation - her bright red hair, the ribbons of her toy, and the fluffy edge of the tutu making the three points of the triangle.
"Abrazo" shows active figures, but still in balance. Even though they are obviously in motion, they form a nice triangle, with the wide part at the bottom for solidity. Additionally, the very brightly-lit female dancer and the spotlit dance floor is balanced by the darker-clad male dancer and the darker background. You can also see a sort of "s" curve, zig-zagging left up the lady's leg, right along her thigh, left up the gentleman's arm, etc. The "s" curve leads you from the edge of the painting and guides the viewer around the painting.
The final rule I am considering is the "rule of thirds", which considers the more dynamic placement of centers of interest in the intersections of the canvas being divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. So, if "Silk Kimono" were divided into those thirds, the Japanese lady's head would be at the upper right intersection of lines. Also, the lady is lying on the line which is the horizontally placed bottom line, and most of the figure is in the middle third section of the painting.
Artists make a lot of decisions when planning a painting - what size and shape of canvas, where to place the center of interest, holding the viewer's attention, choosing the best colors, and so forth. Considering the rules of design and composition is your tool for putting all of these decisions together in the strongest way possible.
"A Flame of Silk"
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What kind of art do I paint? This is a good question, and I am not sure of the answer.
Seems as if I am always needing to define myself as an artist. When people learn I am an oil painter, they ask "What kind of art do you paint?" I know all the definitions, but I don't seem to fit into any of them - which actually pleases me, I suppose. Defining phrases quoted below are mostly from Wikipedia. Parts of each of them seem to fit me, parts don't.
Realism: easy to define, and I am not one of those. Don't want my painting to look like a photo (although I can appreciate others that do.)
Impressionism: "short, broken brush strokes " (not all of mine are, many of my strokes 'swoop'), "of unmixed color, not blended" (yes, or maybe just a bit of blending in the face), "to achieve color vibration" (yes!), "strong use of natural light" (sometimes, although I also love the effect of strong artificial light), soft, broken edges (not always in my paintings).
Expressionism: "bold colors" (definitely, not always realistic)," distorted forms" (yes, for a purpose, like the length of the oriental lady's right leg in the picture above, stretching back to elongate the twist of her body), "two dimensional and without perspective" (don't think so) "often hard edges" (sometimes, in that I am definitely not a soft-edge blending fanatic - actually, I dislike images whose edges have been softened to oblivion).
Abstract: Using form, color, and line to create a composition "which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world", showing "alternative ways of describing visual experience" (if an artist can't find a different way of describing what he sees, why bother? However, my paintings are still based upon reality.)
So what style is the "Rialto Blue" painting? A viewer knows what the painting is about, even though it is not "realistic" - but it is not "abstract"; colors are laid down, unblended, certainly showing color vibration, but a viewer certainly doesn't think "impressionism" here; bold colors, not too much perspective, some exaggeration, but not totally "expressionistic".
Does it matter how I define myself? Probably not, except that art competitions have expectations of what they want to receive, and people also seem to expect an answer from me. I usually say something like: "I paint colorful figurative oil paintings that are mostly impressionistic, with touches of expressionism and abstraction." However, I welcome your suggestions.
"Red Hot Flamenco"
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...that laid the golden egg, that is. Do you think it is fair that artists are so often asked to send a painting (preferably framed) or another piece of art to some development director or fundraiser to support some worthy cause or another? Of course we want to "support the arts"...we ARE "the arts", or certainly part of the whole scene. However, if art isn't being purchased, who is supporting me and the "art" that I work in? Who is supporting the galleries that promote our work? Who is maintaining the value that we have all worked so hard to earn?
We try to be generous people, but I am asking all of you in the art world to consider the serious ramifications. Like me, you are probably finding that many, many times a year you am getting requests to donate an art piece to be auctioned off to make money for a charity. The person making the request is naively sure that it is a win-win situation, because "people will see your work" and surely "you would want to support the arts" or some other "very good cause." I did, in fact, donate the painting shown above to a charity I am deeply involved with, and the money raised is usually very close to the value of the work donated.
It is not impossible to raise money for charities without skewering the artists, who are generally pretty soft touches, myself included. Here are a couple of ways I can think of:
A few years ago my husband and I established an Art Show for Children's Charities. Many artists from across the United States were personally and carefully invited to participate in this two-day event, talented newcomers all the way up to nationally-known art celebrities. Each painting was priced at that artist's "going rate," and 25% of any sale went to the charity, the balance well-earned by the artist. We sold a lot of paintings and were able to write large checks to the charities being supported. It was a beautiful show, good for the artists and great for the children. We did this two years in a row, until the economy began to flounder and art sales dropped altogether.
So, granted, art shows are more difficult to produce right now, since many art patrons are holding back on making purchases. However, bidders on art pieces are paying mere pennies on the dollar for the paintings in the auctions! They are getting a bargain, but the galleries are getting undercut and it is an unfair situation for the artists who have worked hard to earn their prices and the collectors that have paid full price in the past.
I think there is still a way to raise money while protecting and supporting the artists whose work is being sold. It does, however, take more work on the part of the fundraisers. Easier to just ask everyone to cough up a work of art gratis so the charity can just get what they can for it, even if it sells for much less than the established value of that work of art. It is certainly not fair to the artists or the galleries that beautifully hang their work on their walls, pay for lighting, rent, heating and cooling, advertising. The fundraising entity just has to gather the art, display the pieces for a limited amount of time, and sell to the highest bidder - and the bid is almost always well below the market value - a lot more. Bidders know they are getting a bargain, and I have personally heard one of them say she waits for these auctions so she can get art "dirt cheap."
This just seems wrong to me. I was asked by a very nice person wanting to hold an art auction for charity what the artists would agree to as a fair method to do this. I polled a lot of my artist friends, and we came up with the following suggestions: set a base price amount of, say, 40% of the established value of the painting donated, and this would reimburse the artist (supporting the "arts", remember?); anything raised above that amount would go to the charity. This would help to support the artist, keep the paintings from being undervalued, thus protecting the collectors and the galleries, and still raise money for the charity. More work would be involved on the part of the fundraising entity, but remember how much work the artists have already put in as well as the galleries that represent them and the collectors who don't want to see the work they have previously purchased become undervalued!
Of course, it would also help if the artists could write off on their taxes more than just the cost of the materials used to produce the work of art, but that's an argument for another day. And, preferably by someone else who knows more about tax writeoffs and so forth. I would be very interested to hear from others regarding art auctions for charity. Bottom line, I don't think it is necessary to hurt the artists to help the charity. Let's find a way to support the artists and the galleries at the same time as we support the charities. There has got to be a better way to be a caring part of the community we live in without. And the goose can survive!