Monday, March 26, 2018

Technique--Art Has Always Lived on the Edge

There is something, in my opinion, about the power of a strong edge in a painting. When I see a lyrical, powerful line in an artwork, I am reminded of an ice-skater effortlessly, yet powerfully gliding, making curling and curving impressions into ice. Sometimes, a line can make me think of a jazz solo, where a saxophone's melody line is swooping and swinging in the air. Lines can create contained passages in a work, but they also can speak and express in a non-verbal way. A distinct thick line can emphasize, or make something look strong or severe---but a thin, faint line can bring out the delicacy of a whisper, a web, or the most unspoken of thoughts. Line is poetry.

Sandro Botticelli, 'Primavera' c. 1482

At right is the classic example, shown in art classes around the world, of what I am talking about. In this Renaissance wonder by Botticelli, line moves like rippling water, swirling in and out in fragile white lines from the bodies of these lovely nymphs. But look, too, at the how the lines never break, how they contour around each lady's arms, how lines demarcate the curls in their hair. We can feel the veiling surrounding their forms; it is so soft we can almost crush it in our hands, and yet the softness is emphasized even more by the hard, hard edge of white against the dark background. Although we can no longer see an actual line here, this is perhaps the most dramatic line of all...where light meets dark. Can you see the music, the rhythm in those lines? I hear a violin when I see this painting.

Vincent Van Gogh, 'Self-Portrait' c. 1889


We couldn't talk about line without including Vincent Van Gogh. I look at this man's works over and over, marveling how masterfully he came to understand, through years and years of trial and error, how line is not only the building blocks of what we see, but it is also the emotion. Of course, the background, the folds in his coat, even his hair are all those thicker, passionate lines we have come to associate with Van Gogh's work. But look at the sweetly curving single line, in a subtle green tone, that outlines his brow and cheekbone. Also, those little bits inside his ear, that are all different colors. Amazing, and it is these elements, so easily overlooked, that hit our subconscious and blow our minds about his work.

Eduoard Manet, Railway, c. 1873
Manet is truly one of my favorites among the Impressionists. He is like a magician, master of the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't disappearing line. Look at the thick line that delineates the woman's arm from the back of her dress, and contrast that with the line, dainty as a fairy-tale that so subtly wraps around the little girl's arm, cheek, and the back of her neck. This line disappears at the lightest part of her arm, and it almost gives a visceral sense of the afternoon sunshine. Line meanders in and out of the lace at her sleeve, counterbalanced by the line on the woman's face. There is a coolness, a calmness to Manet's work, I believe brought about by his tremendous dexterity with line.

Although I am certainly not in the class of these artists, I have been told over the years that line is one of my strengths as a painter. In the next blog post, I will show how I do it in some of my own work.

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