Monday, December 1, 2014

Would this be a better painting if I put a burning phone booth in it?

    How many times have we all asked ourselves, would this be a better painting if I put a burning phone booth in it? Well in this case, yeah!
    The painting above is an example of the work of the forgotten Dutch painter of the 17th century, Dirk Van Assaerts. I have written a number of times about this tyros depressing oeuvre and if you would like to see those posts, click on "The encyclopedia of dumb design ideas" over there in my sidebar. Dirk Van Assaerts is sometimes referred to as the Nevelson master because his work was discovered behind a Louise Nevelson sculpture which was moved for cleaning. Scholars and curators agree there may be many more scattered about behind the other Nevelsons around our nation, but generally feel that the artistic merit of the paintings pales beside the inconvenience of moving one of her assemblages. They do agree the that the artist's oaken panels make excellent shims.
    Dirk received a subpoena to submit a painting to the prestigious annual exhibition at the local Organs of Compulsion treadmill. The competition was spirited for a place on their mildewed walls.  He had a painting in his studio that had lain long unsold, called "The old mill on a dreary afternoon". Below is a photoshopped recreation of what this daub must have looked like. 
     The painting had a number of problems. Mostly it was static. The two interesting areas, the tree and the windmill balanced one another too much.
    The two elements here are both about of equal strength in pulling the attention of the viewer. 
     Incidentally, objects in a painting can be balanced not only across the picture plane. but into it as well, a foreground object can be balanced by another object far into the painting.  To illustrate this I would have you recall all those diagrams and the filmstrips of Dirks's era that show the two little boys on a seesaw, they show a side view of the foppish boys, but imagine if the shot was made looking over one of the boys shoulder at the now distant other boy.That is balance into space.
     The addition of a third object turns the painting into what is sometimes called a three spot composition. Below is a remarkably lucid illustration showing just that. 
    The burning phone booth at 2 is dominant over the other two "spots". Generally it works better to design with an uneven but artistic balance of elements. The eternally burning phone booth dominates the picture for a number of reasons. It is close to the center of the design, it is brightly colored in a painting that is otherwise grave, and  is relieved by the gloomy sky behind it. The booth also breaks the  too dominant horizontal line across the painting.
    There are times such as in religious art where a static or very formal design is wanted and putting something deliberately in the middle of a painting works. But generally in landscape painting it doesn't. However there is a little trick that Dirk knew that would allow almost that. Dirk set the phone booth up against that middle line. That often works pretty well. The booth kisses that center line, but all of it is to one side of the line. Below is an extraordinary diagram of that.  
Dirk had the good sense in this failed painting to at least keep the sky simple. If a painting has a lot going on in it, it is often a good idea to keep the sky simple. You gotta cut em a break somewhere.

Dirk's painting was well received by the conniving judges at the treadmill facility. But the guards in their rusting chain mail Nehru jackets complained that the wretched women and children "treaders" marched more slowly in front of the picture. The filthy treaders in their bronzen chains moaned "Wat betenkent het? Wat betekent het? What does it mean? What does it mean? Dirk, when pressed for an answer replied.


screw em!