If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Size And Scale in Art

As you can see, artists today have a lot of choices. Another consideration is size, and this depends greatly on where the artwork will be shown. A great deal of art is made with the aim of selling it to home owners, and is meant for a home setting - something to put over your couch in the living room, or maybe a smaller work for a bit of wall space between two doors. For this type of art, gallery dealers will usually tell you that:

            1. Bigger is usually better (and more expensive), but.
            2. A big artwork in a small room can make it feel cramped and uncomfortable.
            3. And then, a tiny artwork on a great big wall will feel lost and out of place.
            4. Hang your artwork with the center or focal point at (average) eye level.
            5. Don't hang too close to doors, windows, or ceilings. Pictures need room to breathe.
But that's not the only scenario for an artist. Sometimes artists plan to display their work in museums,

Embarkment, by Rachel Whiteread
(Imagine this in your living room)

in parks,

outside buildings,

Cloud Gate, by Anish Kapoor

or even on the side of a building:

In situations like these, new questions and opportunities arise, which artists must include in their planning. Namely, how will viewers experience my work at first sight, while walking up to it, and then walking around it? How will my work change as you get up close? And, will there be enough space for the viewer to see it all at once? Or will people have to walk along it?

    There are some great answers, that will make you proud (for once) to be human. First, let's look at Chuck Close, a post-modern portraitist from Yale University. He has a special brain defect, stemming from a stroke, that prevents him from recognizing faces. In order to learn the faces of his friends (and other famous people), he creates large scale, detailed portraits, drawn from photos.

Frank, by Chuck Close

This is not a photo. If you walk up to it, you'll see every hair, wrinkle, and shadow carefully and gracefully drawn:

This pixilated, digital image doesn't do it justice. You have to see it in person to appreciate it. His first works were photorealistic, but he's grown more abstract over time.

Lukas 1

A large part of the joy of his painting comes from walking up to a work and then walking back, and then up close again, and seeing how the work changes from photorealist to abstract and back again. It's great, but he wasn't the first to do this. There are large impressionist paintings that also seem realistic from far away.

The Regatta at Sainte Adresse, by Monet

But lose the effect as you step closer:

It's a great effect, but there's more. What happens when you put a large painting in a narrow hallway, so that you can't step back and see it all together? Like this painting:

The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus, by Carle Vernet

There's so much going on, you probably don't know where to look. But, you're not supposed to stand back and see all the focal points. This is a painting you're meant to walk along, and admire as you pass down a hallway.

As you do, you'll notice countless little scenes as different people go along their lives in ancient Rome. This picture gives you an idea of what it was actually like to live and stroll around in ancient times. It's a bit like 19th century 3D glasses, only the illusion comes from you getting out of your chair and walking along it.

There's a staircase in San Francisco that offers a similar experience. Although it's more decorative, each step shows you some new detail of the piece:

Another painter who works on a grand scale is Jame Rosenquist. This is a painting you need to walk along:

by James Rosenquist
In another, extreme example of this, there's an artist who makes pictures only visible from high above, in a plane or helicopter. Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada uses GPS technology to plot out his drawings, using different coloured sand as his palette.

Another way to incorporate a space into an artwork is to play with perspective, painting the walls so that a perfect image appears when you stand in one spot:

It's popular now, but it's not a new idea. Andrea Pozzo did the same thing in a room of the Jesuit monastery in Rome, in 1680:

The perspective only works when you stand on a little circular tile at one end. When you get up close to the fresco at the other end, then you see how distorted the figures are:

These angels look fat now, but when you stand in the right place, they appear slim and ideal.

Another opportunity that opens up with large scale work is using life-size figures to increase the power of illusion:

You might think the teeth cleaners up above are real, because they're as big as real people - but they're dummies. Here are some other fun illusions:

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