Two-Dimensional Art

Two-dimensional art consists of paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs, which differ from each other primarily in the technique of their execution. Probably, our initial response to all four is a response to subject matter--that is, we first notice what the painting, drawing, print, or photograph is about. Such recognition leads us into the work's meaning and begins to shape our response to it. Beyond the recognition of subject, however, lie the technical elements chosen by artists to make their vision appear the way they wish it to appear, and these include MEDIA and COMPOSITION.


The media of the two-dimensional arts are paintings, drawings, prints, and photography. Paintings and drawings can be executed with oils, watercolors, tempera, acrylics, ink, and pencils, to name a few of the more obvious. Each physical medium has its own characteristics. As an example, let us look at oils.

Oils are one of the most popular of the painting media and have been since their development around the beginning of the fifteenth century. They offer artists a broad range of color possibilities; they do not dry quickly and can, therefore, be reworked; they present many options for textural manipulation; and they are durable. Look at the texture in the brushwork of Van Gogh's (van-GOH or van GAHK) The Starry Night (see Fig. 16.21). This kind of manipulation is a characteristic of oil. Whatever the physical medium--that is, painting, drawing, print, or photograph--we can find identifiable characteristics that shape the final work of art. Had the artist chosen a different physical medium, the work--all other things being equal--would not look the same.


The second area we can isolate and respond to involves artists' use of the elements and principles of composition. These are the building blocks of two-dimensional works of art. Among others, these elements and principles include LINE, FORM, COLOR, REPETITION, and BALANCE.


The primary element of composition is line. In Joan Miró's (hoh-AHN mee-ROH) Composition (Fig. 0.5) we see amorphous shapes. Some of these are like cartoon figures--identifiable because of their outline--but the other shapes also exemplify line, and they do so because they create boundaries between areas of color and between other shapes or forms. Essentially, line is either curved or straight, and it is used by artists to control our vision and to create unity, emotional value, and, ultimately, meaning.

Figure 0.6

0.6 Color wheel.

Form and line are closely related. Form as a compositional element is the SHAPE of an object. It is the space described by line. A building is a form. So is a tree. We perceive them as buildings or trees, and we perceive their individual details, because of the line by which they are composed. Color is a somewhat complex compositional element. The word HUES is used to describe the basic colors of the spectrum (Fig. 0.6). The apparent whiteness or grayness of a color is its VALUE (Fig. 0.7). When we observe a work of art, we can, among other aspects of color, identify, respond to, and describe the breadth of the palette--how many different hues and values the artist has used--and the way the artist has used those hues and values.

Figure 0.7

0.7 Value scale.


The principles of composition include repetition (how the elements of the picture are repeated or alternated) and balance (how the picture stands on its axes). In Picasso's (pee-KAH-soh) Girl Before a Mirror (Fig. 0.8), the artist has ordered the recurrence of elements in a regular manner. He has placed hard angles and soft curves side by side, and, in addition, has used two geometric forms, the oval and the diamond, over and over again to build up the forms of the work. He also has balanced the picture with nearly identical shapes on each side of the central axis. When identical shapes and colors appear on either side of the axis, it creates a condition called SYMMETRY. Balance achieved by using unequal shapes, as in Figures 0.5 and 0.8, indicates asymmetry, the balancing of unlike objects--also called psychological balance.

Linear Perspective

Throughout the text, we will witness how two-dimensional artists utilize "deep space"--that is, the illusion of depth in their works. One of the methods for creating deep space that appears rational or NATURALISTIC is the use of LINEAR PERSPECTIVE (Fig. 0.9). Very simply, linear perspective is the creation of the illusion of distance in a two-dimensional artwork through the convention of line and foreshortening-- that is, the illusion that parallel lines come together in the distance. Linear perspective is also called scientific,mathematical one-point, or Renaissance perspective and was developed in fifteenth-century Italy (see Chapter 10). It uses mathematical formulas to construct illusionistic images in which all elements are shaped by imaginary lines called orthogonals that converge in one or more vanishing points on a horizon line. Linear perspective is the system most people in the Euro-American cultures think of as perspective, because it is the visual code they are accustomed to seeing.

Figure 0.9

0.9 Linear perspective.

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