Friday, April 10, 2015


In Post #82, I asked my readers to let me know what topics were of interest to them. Most responded that I should keep doing what I was doing; they just seemed to enjoy my jaundiced view of The Artist’s Life in Fairfield County.

But my sculptor son, Ned, had a specific request. He wanted me to elaborate on something I had taught him when he was still in high school. He remembered my saying that a work of art should flow, move the eye around the canvas. The artist needed to create a visual path for the viewer, whether through line, shape or color. He said this was a valuable piece of information I had given him that he had never heard from any of his other teachers. He was thinking about it a lot lately, relating it to the way the body functioned. A living entity needs to “flow,” just like a successful painting. You could call it “chi,” “meridians” “circulation” or “chakras”; the Principles of Design I taught him all those years ago were, as Ned observed, intimately connected to his life.

I don’t know if they still teach these concepts in art school, but they were right up there with drawing, painting and art history when I studied art. I remember spending countless days moving pieces of colored paper around a page, trying to illustrate principles such Balance, Center of Interest, Rhythm, Unity and of course, Eye Movement, There were no “right answers,” no “correct” arrangements, just an intuitive sense that the universe was in order and everything was placed exactly where it belonged. The course I took: Introduction to Two Dimensional Design, probably came from the ideas of the early 20th century Russian Constructivists, Kasimir Malevich and El Lissitsky 

But back to Ned’s observation that the Principles of Design manifest themselves in the way our body functions. For example, the need for a “Center of Interest,” a starting point that dominates everything might represent the heart. “Balance” is not just a physical phenomenon that keeps us upright, but is important in our emotional life as well. “Flow” or “Movement.” “Repetition”, “Variety”, “Unity” are human truisms that exist both in life and art.

In order to demonstrate to my classes how the Principles of Design worked, I would project a slide onto the blackboard, usually an accepted masterpiece like the Mona Lisa or Brueghel’s “Wedding Dance”. Then, with chalk, I would outline the shapes, show how they interact and also how the smallest change was all it took to spoil the perfection of the art. I would often use the analogy of a seesaw and the delicate balance that enables it to function – and how easy it is to lose this balance . 

Meanwhile, all you artists, follow the Principles of Design! If you’re interested, there’s lots of literature on the subject. The Principles apply to everything that ails you: your body, your life and your art!

P.S. The images in this post were all created by the overhead projector.

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