Art In History Art Blog
A couple of weeks ago I was driving up Interstate 89 in Vermont, keeping an eye as usual on the rockfaces which border the highway. Highway cuts expose the inner skeleton of the living rock, almost like cracking open a geode. What struck me is that not all exposed rock is interesting, and of the interesting rock, not all of it "works". Rocks, and any element in nature, may compose, or it may not.
Many things can contribute to this natural composition: color, texture, the conformity of lines, all things which are available to the artist as well. But what I particularly noticed was that a rockface worked when it had large forms, and did not when there were none.
Large forms are the organizing element in a composition, the thing which bridges between the whole and the level of texture and detail. This is such a truism that I am almost embarassed to put it forward as an interesting idea. But as an artist who does not like to invent - I believe that nature in its infinite complexity provides everything I need, if I am able to see it - it is nice when nature is being helpful, offering easily what I need.
The Vermont slate gives wonderful color, fascinating lines, but often no real large forms. The photograph which heads this post is an example where there is just enough definition of the overall mass to give a handle in which to organize the detail.
Maine granite, on the other hand, tends to break into massive blocks with clear changes in plane. My favorite formations of pink granite on Mt Desert Island create endless compositional possibilities, either in panorama or in closeup, which leaves the artist to select, to balance, and above all to see.
Rocks in closeup are also marvellous for compositional possibilities. They give elements with clear boundaries, sizes and shapes, juxtaposed in ways that range from simple to infinitely complex. They create powerful pattern while maintaining their clear three-dimensional solidity. Rocks are structure incarnate.
The same rules of composition apply with any other subject from life. A still life is a clear example, as we have total control over our composition: its elements, their arrangement, the framing. Architecture also is a wonderful source of structure presented on a platter. There is of course the design as envisoned by the architect or builder, but there are also the interesting accidental groupings of forms that collect over time. Structure turns me on.