Sunday, February 15, 2009

dow's COMPOSITION part 1

i will jump right in, giving you a taste of the book that changed art education in america for at least half a century. dow's teaching philosophy involved using examples from other artists, not his own. when i can find it i will show the original on which his example is based.

The designer and picture-painter start in the same way. Each has before him a blank space on which he sketches out the main lines of his composition. This may be called his Line-idea, and on it hinges the excellence of the whole, for no delicacy of tone, or harmony of color can remedy a bad proportion.

A picture, then, may be said to be in its beginning actually a pattern of lines. Could the art student have this fact in view at the outset, it would save him much time and anxiety. Nature will not teach him composition. The sphinx is not more silent than she on this point.

He must learn the secret as Giotto and della Francesca and Kanawoka and Turner learned it, by the study of art itself in the works of the masters, and by continual creative effort.

If students could have a thorough training in the elements of their profession they would not fall into the error of supposing that such a universal idea as Beauty of Line could be compressed into a few cases like the "triangle," "bird's-wing," "line of beauty," or "scroll ornament," nor would they take these notions as a kind of receipt for composing the lines of pictures.

Insistence upon the placing of Composition above Representation must not be considered as any undervaluation of the latter. The art student must learn to represent nature's forms, colors and effects ; must know the properties of pigments and how to handle brushes and materials. He may have to study the sciences of perspective and anatomy.

More or less of this knowledge and skill will be required in his career, but they are only helps to art, not substitutes for it, and I believe that if he begins with Composition, that is, with a study of art itself, he will acquire these naturally, as he feels the need of them. Returning now to the thought that the picture and the abstract design are much alike in structure, let us see how some of the simple spacings may be illustrated by landscape.

No. 34 is a landscape reduced to its main lines, all detail being omitted. Make an enlarged copy of this, or design a similar one. Then, in the attempt to find the best proportion and the best way of setting the subject upon canvas or paper, arrange this in rectangles of varying shape, some nearly square, others tall, others long and narrow horizontally as in No. 35. To bring the whole landscape into all these will not, of course, be possible, but in each the essential lines must be retained.

The art of landscape painting is a special subject, not to be treated at length here, but I believe that the true way to approach it is through these or similar exer- cises. First study the art, then apply it, whether to landscape or any other kind of expression.

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