images from artrenewal.com
I referred to the "big look of nature" the other night, and I want to add a little to that . It is a crucial concept and is so important that I want to be certain that I have explained it completely. If you already have it, forgive me, this will be a review.
There are two ways of seeing any scene before you. One is the "big look" and the other is piecemeal. The big look, is when the eye apprehends all of the scene before you in it's unity and entirety and it is thus expressed. "Piecemeal" (now there is an old fashioned expression, I wonder if it is still in use?) is when the artists represents each section of the scene as it looks when it is studied on its own with no reference to the larger view. A piecemeal painting is actually a number of small paintings on the same canvas.
The most important quality that a painting can have, (or any other kind of art for that matter, including a song, a design for a chair, or a Greek vase) is
UNITY OF EFFECT
Unity of effect is when the painting is perceived as a whole, one unit. Failure to get the "big look" is such a problem because it destroys unity of effect. Sometimes a painting is said to "hang together" when it has unity of effect. This can be observed at a considerable distance. I can often tell whether a painting is professional or not from across the street, sometimes even before I can make out its subject.
One of the reasons fine painters often downplay detail is to keep the unity of effect, detail scattered all over painting can do that. A painting can be filled with detail and still have unity of effect, but that detail has to be part of the larger unified system and keep it's proper place in the tableau.
Art students like to make sketches and rough unfinished work because the unity of effect is intact, no area has been worked up very much, so no two areas fight with one another for our attention. Unity of effect is easier to get in a quick study and hard to keep in a protracted one.
We have all seen a teacher look at a painting and then put up their hand to cover some offending element in a painting. usually that is something that "jumps out", that is, it is destroying the unity of effect. It is too assertive. Too assertive means that it fails to keep its proper place in the painting and that is the result of it's being "hyperobserved".
In the comments I was asked to do a demo painting showing how to make a soft edge. Buried at the beginning of this blog is a series of posts on just that. They are here, here and here and here and here too! This blog has grown so huge that there is no way for recent emigres to find all of the information on it. It is of course searchable, the little white box at the upper left is for that. However it returns too many results and is clumsy. Someday this will be a book and you will be able to find what you want within it.
I think I will begin doing some critiques. I have a few in the hopper that have been e-mailed to me. If you would like me to crit one of your paintings e-mail me a decent picture of it. I remove the signatures and never reveal whose work it is. I can't do everything that is sent to me, so I choose those which seem to offer teaching opportunities.