Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Training Our Eyes to See: The Elements of Beauty and Order
When viewing an object, whether it is made by God or man, look for the following elements:
1) What is the overall form of the object. Forms are three dimensional, such as spheres, cylinders and squares have three dimensions. Forms have length, width, and depth. These forms can be geometrical in nature or free-form, such as a winter tree lying bare against the sky. In a painting, artists use perspective to create the depth that comes with shape. Do you detect the imaginary lines the artist is using to portray perspective?
2) What is the overall shape of the object? Shapes are one-dimensional closed lines. They do not have depth, but they do have width and height. Again, these can be geometrical, such as squares or circles, or they can be more free-form. Does the shape seem taller or wider?
Do you see many smaller shapes within the overall form and shape of the object. For example, if you are looking at a painting of the vase, is the base of the vase round like a circle, while the top flares out like an inverted triangle? What about the face of your cat? Do you see ovals and triangles?
Artists often look for ways to distill an object to its basic shapes and forms, so that they can draw it in sections. Even the human face and form can be broken down this way. For example, if your face is basically oval in shape, an artist might start a portrait of you by gently sketching an oval. Then, he will adjust the oval to fit exactly the contours of your face.
3) What about the lines in the object? Are any individual lines vertical, horizontal, or,perhaps, diagonal? Are the lines zig-zagged, curved, or straight?
If you are looking at a flower arrangement, see if you can discern the imaginary lines or shapes the arranger was following as they placed the flowers. For example, some arrangements are based on an S-shaped line. Others are circular or based on a triangle. Some arrangements appear to be more horizontal; some are more vertical.
4) Look at the space around and between objects. We tend to think of space as being blank, but it adds to the overall effect of the objects it surrounds. The next time you see an attractive tabletop arrangement, don't look just at the objects. Examine how the objects are placed in relation to each other, with regard to the spaces around and between the objects. Or, if you receive an invitation that catches your eye, look at the relation of the engraving or printing to the white or colored space on the page.
5) What is the texture of the object. Is it smooth, hard, soft, fuzzy, etc. Obviously, if you are looking at a painting, the texture of the painting itself might not feel like the object portrayed. But, think about what texture the artist is trying to invoke and now how he or she achieves that effect.
6) What is the color of the object? Is there more than one color? How do the colors relate to each other? Which is the main color? Which color stands out most to your eye? Do you like the color or colors? If you are looking at a painting, what highlighting did the artist use to make the color, line, and shape stand out?
A fun thing to do is to practice looking for these elements in nature, in homes, in paintings, in clothing -- in anything that might have a touch of art to it.
Also, skim through a magazine about decorating houses or about sewing clothing and see if you can identify these elements.
Remember that shape, line, and texture are part of the beauty of a garment or a quilt. If you sew a lot, you may have already developed an eye for these things without even realizing it.
Now, here's the hard part: Can you apply these same principles when you are arranging furniture, clearing away clutter, positioning objects on a mantle, sewing, shopping for clothing, setting a table, selecting bed linens, etc? Pay attention to the lines, shapes, colors, textures, and forms in a room or in a little arrangement you are creating.
You get extra bonus points if you can use these to help pick out treasures in thrift stores!
Some of you have already studied these principles so well that they are second nature to you, or else you understand them and use them intuitively. For the rest of us, we may need to do a little more study. If developing an eye for these elements of art don't come easily to you, don't fret. Just as some people have an ear for music, some have an eye for art. If this isn't our thing, we can still make improvements, little by little. The key is to keep training our eyes.
Also, remember that while God uses these principles perfectly, the rest of us don't. When it comes to man made things, there's room for some subjectivity here. What is pleasing to one person may not be to another. The point is not to achieve an artist's ideal of perfection or even to achieve your neighbor's vision of how things should be done. The key is to learn more about seeing, appreciating, and creating beauty and order. Have fun with it!
Just as you don't have to be a virtuoso to play the piano, you don't have to be a master artist to incorporate the elements of art into your daily life.