3 Visual Axioms: You’ve Got It If You Get It
by Michael Newberry
Titian, La Schiavona, 1510
As a teenager, I traveled a bit and got great pleasure going to art museums. I would quickly move from one room to another, skimming all the paintings at a glance, until one caught my attention. Then, I would stop to satisfy my curiosity or pleasure in that painting.
Only after I had my fill would I look at the signature or the identification card. The painters were names like: Manet, Rembrandt, Rubens, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Picasso, Titian, Van Gogh, Monet.
I had a particular way of cataloging my experiences with those artists–I sought out the common “things” that drew me to them. There were stunning and mysterious visual components that I wanted to understand.
In art school, I had a wonderful mentor, Edgar Ewing, who understood some of my quests. He showed me how spatial depth worked. A turn in the lock “clicked” and I fully grasped one of those components.
Continuing on my exploration of the major painters, I saw that they had idiosyncrasies in their color choices, proportions, details, compositions, and subjects. But, I discovered that there were a few components common to them.
They all had form, light, and space in common.
Newberry, Still Life with White Cup, 2000, oil on linen, 20 x 28 inches
Collection Bonnie and Robin Priest
Imagine how those visual elements help us in real life. Our eyes, given the minimum amount of light, can see forms, such as steps, and they can detect spatial distances. Because of the universal nature of form, light, and space we can safely negotiate movement through an environment. They make our visual perceptions real and meaningful to our well-being.
Form, light, and space are axiomatic and symbiotic. In other words, you cannot create one without the others.
Here, let me show you what I mean. Eliminating one of these axioms of visual perception would effectively block us from seeing 3 dimensionality in the real or painted world.
If there is no light, we cannot see forms or space. We would see nothing except a black or gray emptiness.
If there are no forms, we cannot see the effects of the light or judge distance. We would see something like a sky without clouds or shifting tones.
If there is no space, forms and light morph into flat patterns.
Creating a 3-dimensional world in a painting, like a window on the world, is not simple. There are thousands of options and problems that an artist has to chose and solve. It is extremely easy for the artist to go astray by focusing too much on non-essentials. So, check off your form, light, and space on your “to do” list, and you will be in good company.
I hope you enjoyed seeing the essence of axioms in a fresh way.
New York, May 8, 2007