I learn a lot from the research and reflections of those who have had a great deal of formal training in the fine arts and art history. Reading and discussing enable me to better understand my own experiences in art. I respond intuitively to what I view and create, relying on my visual and kinesthetic senses. Something will feel "right" or jarring or unmoving. I'm not always able to articulate why, but at times I find that someone else's words will help me clarify those feelings.
Lately, I've been delving into Constructivism, which is increasing my awareness of particular aspects of non-objective art in the 20th century. While this philosophy of art and architecture originated in Russia around 1913, during subsequent decades, it had a pervasive impact on modern art movements as well as on graphic and industrial design, architecture, theatre, film, dance, and fashion.
In a book about Constructivism that's now 50 years old, I came across George Rickey's thoughts about tangents and pressures. Just as a deeply intense color can be stimulating, certain artistic devices can also create excitement. Sometimes it's an explicit instability of composition achieved through exquisite balancing with top-heaviness. As Rickey points out, the result appears to contradict the logic of "gravity, vertical-horizontal references, the horizon line, space and perspective."
The tension also comes from having tangential shapes barely touch or press against the frame or each other.
A sense of compression or swelling can lead to a squeezing out of the space.
Rickey points out other devices, such as lines or contours that approach each other or the frame but never make actual contact; masses that just miss the frame or one another, leaving narrow gaps between them; an emphasis on acute angles; forms that appear to have been pulled and stretched; and the interruption of linear elements as lines cross them.
These artistic techniques are possible in any medium. The works above encompass cloth, metal, paper, paint, and wood. If you're not drawn to non-objective art, the devices of pressure and tension are visible in representational art as well. I find them more obvious in geometric and geometric-like shapes.
Before I read Rickey, I wouldn't have used the word "exciting," but now I consider the off-kilter compositions provocative in an inviting way. The pressures and tensions make me want to look longer and more closely. They make me want to not only enjoy them, but also figure them out.
Question and Comments:
What elements do you find exciting in artwork?
Do you notice them more in non-objective or representational art? Examples?
How do you apply these ideas in your own work?