I have been putting this off all week. I have tried before to evaluate art using the elements and principles of design. But I never really do it. Why is that? Is it because I don’t feel confident? Who do I think am I evaluating another artist’s work? Do you feel that way too?
But that is why I’m putting the Design Focus Friday idea out there. To force myself to follow through even when the little voice in the back of my head is shrieking at me to quit. Is there another way to think about this that makes it slightly easier than the word “critique”? I decided I would think about it as trying to understand what the artist was thinking about when they created their work. How did the artist use line, shape or color to get his/her point across? Did the artist use symmetrical or asymmetrical balance? Why? With questions like that, I am focusing on what I can learn from that artist.
So I am going to take a look at a painting by Vincent Van Gogh. I have always liked his work but wasn’t really sure why I liked it. I’m going to think about it as Van Gogh teaching me about how he paints not as if I am trying to evaluate or critique Van Gogh’s work. I also wanted to point out that Van Gogh produced around 900 paintings and 1100 drawings during a period of ten years but only sold one painting during his lifetime. Isn’t that amazing? It’s so important to keep producing work; the more you create, the better it will become.
So here it is.
This is called Green Ears of Wheat. How did he use line? The most evident lines to me are the stalks of wheat although there is also the implied line of the grasses, trees and horizon. Because there isn’t that much line, mainly dabs of color, these stalks are emphasized.
What about shape? Due to the subject, they are very organic. But the shapes aren’t really drawn with hard edges. The shapes are determined by the changes in color. I love the larger poppies in the foreground, don’t you?
Form? To me, Van Gogh achieves this by proportion and size as well as with color. The stalks in the foreground are bigger and overlap the smaller shapes in the background. His colors are brighter in the foreground and it looks hazy in the background due to his use of blues and grays.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Van Gogh’s work is the texture. By using daubs of color on the canvas, he gets such wonderful textures that could be felt. But he also has implied textures in the background with his use of color and value changes.
So for me, it all comes back to color. The colors are vibrant, the values change from the dark ground, to the leaves and ears and then those bright pops of red of the poppies against the greens provide emphasis. He uses value changes to differentiate the foreground from the background and the sky is a wonderful mixture of colors.
The ears of wheat are definitely the first thing that draws my eye and then down to the larger poppies. What draws your eye? I find it interesting that the central stalks are almost in the center of the painting. How does he make that work? The greatest contrast in values is the light green against the dark foreground with the two larger poppies on the right hand side. Perhaps that is the focal point? What do you think?
Harmony and unity look to me like they are achieved again by the use of color. The colors of the wheat, fields and poppies also show up in the sky with lighter values. The heavier weight of the foreground is balanced by a bigger overall background.
How is balance achieved? It’s asymmetrical, isn’t it? There is more weight to the right but that one stalk off to the left really draws the eye as well.
Proportion and size really give the painting depth. As I talked about in form, Van Gogh draws us into the painting with the large wheat stalks and then keeps us looking at details and wonderful colors throughout.
Last but not least is rhythm. The repetitiveness of the distant field’s vertical greens and even the continuous dots of red depict nature’s rhythms.
I’m not sure that everyone would agree with my assessment but each of us has our own view and opinion of artwork. This is the first time I’ve really sat down and looked closely and thought about what the artist was trying to portray through the use of design. I think what I like most about Van Gogh’s work is the use of color, value and the textures of the paint. Have you looked at your favorite artwork and seen how the artist applied the elements of design to develop the composition of the artwork? Take the time and don’t be intimidated. There is so much wonderful artwork out there that can teach you so much about design. Give it a try! And let me know if you put anything up on your blog so I can post a link.
Photo from Vincent Van Gogh - The Complete Works