Thursday, April 05, 2007

Intro to Art Part 1b

Last time we looked at art that has us look at looking. This led us to consider the role of the senses in our experience of art, and how artists may exploit senses other than vision to engage their audience.

This time, a brief look at some of the formal considerations we employ to start analyzing a work, taking account of such things as points, which get extended to form lines, which are extended to form surfaces and shapes, and which extend into the third dimension (via some trickery known as single point perspective) as volumes. When I first started to teach an art unit in my humanities classes, I found I had over-emphasized formal elements; students would readily respond to a painting such as Edward Hopper's 1949 High Noon by ignoring the facts of the house or the woman standing in the shadowy open door, the high clouds, even the bright sunlit white itself, to describe what would appear from their writing alone to be a painting of organized, patterned sequences of lines and shapes. We weren't necessarily getting it wrong, but we were leaving out both the realism and the interpretation. Writing about art is a way of exploring it, and though formal elements are often engaging, the subjects are even more so. Analysis consists of describing how formal elements and elements of the subject work together in a piece of art. While analysis is pretty much what we can all agree on, interpretation, which we base on analysis, is where we don't have to agree. Interpretation is where we find meaning. So, let's ask some questions:

How does the painting make you feel? What about the painting does that?
Describe the colors, what they are doing, how do they express things, how do they inter-relate with other colors?
Describe the gables-there are two dormer gables and one cross gable. Learn more about New England architecture by looking at some pictures here and by finding illustrations showing and naming particular architectural design features here. What separate parts of the house can you identify?
What are the horizontal lines doing? How do they interact with other horizontal lines? With other lines and shapes? What about the verticals? The diagonals?
Start counting things. How do things pair up--in twos--and form patterns of three or more? What does that sort of thing do for your understanding of the painting?
What questions does the painting ask you?