The integrity of the picture surface

Google says that the “integrity of the picture plane” is a phrase coined by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg in his essay “Modernist Painting”. It concerns the issue as to whether the fact of creating an “illusory pictorial space” interferes with perceptions of the “objectness” of the actual picture surface.  This was a question of primary importance to the “Early Modernists” from the late 1860s onwards. For them, as explained in  Chapter 6 of my book “Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”, the fact of the possibility of being aware of the actual surface of paintings was one of the reasons for what they believed to be their inherent superiority relative to photographs. Their belief was that, since “deception is immoral”, painters must avoid it at all costs. Despite the difficult-to-comprehend nature of this evidently questionable argument, it stuck for about a century. Thus, in the 1960s, it was still a potent aspect of the teaching of my two mentorsProfessor Bohusz Szyszko and Michael Kidner.  The difference between the “Early Modernists” and Clement Greenberg was that the former (and  Professor Bohusz-Szyszko) thought it possible to depict illusory pictorial space without destroying the integrity of the picture surface. In contrast, Clement Greenberg asserted the impossibility of any such thing, as did Piet Mondrian and a number of earlier painters, plus a whole list of later artists, including Michael Kidner and Ellsworth Kelly.

As those who have read “Painting with Light”, the first Book in this Two Book Volume (see contents list), will realise, the early Modernists and Professor Bohusz-Szyszko got it wrong. The use of unmixed repeated colours did not disrupt the picture-surface, but rather the illusory pictorial space. They do so because our eye/brains read them as being on the picture surface and, consequently, as jumping out in front of any illusory pictorial space. It is thus, the integrity of illusory pictorial space that is disrupted.

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Two paintings that illustrate different meanings of the phrase “integrity of the picture suface”

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picture surface
Cézanne: one of the Fôret du chateau noir paintings

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picture surface
Ellsworth Kelly : Shaped painting on gallery wall – an experience of pure red

 

 

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Thin lines

A confluence of issues

This Post introduces Chapter 22 from my book “Painting with Light and colour”. It uses one of my paintings to discuss many issues that relate to viewing conditions.  These all apply to all paintings, but it is difficult to find information about them in other books. Indeed, it was not until I began work on paintings including numbers of thin lines that I became fully aware of many of them. My awakening was a result of the coming together of many strands of the story I have been telling in my series of four books.

  • The dogmas of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko (see Chapter 1),
  • The “systems” ideas of Michael Kidner (see Chapter 8 of my book on “Creativity“),
  • My interest in the debates relating to “illusory pictorial space” (see Chapters 7-10 in “Painting with Light”, the first part of this volume),
  • My interest in the Modernist Painters obsession with what they described the “integrity of the picture surface”* and its dynamic implications in the history of “Modernism in Painting**
  • The use of thin lines as a means of exaggerating and, thereby, exploring “simultaneous colour contrast effects” (see previous chapter).

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Important warning

In general, whenever images of paintings are transferred to the computer screen, many of their qualities are lost. Sometimes this can be an advantage, but never for paintings that follow the dogmas of Professor Bohusz-Szyszko. This is particularly true for the images using thin lines discussed in this chapter and the next. Often, you will just have to take it on trust that the effects discussed are as described.

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An image of a painting with twelve of orange thin lines

Pictorial space

CHAPTER 22 – MORE ON THIN LINES

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Footnotes

* If you ask Google “What is a Modernist painter”, you get the following excellet summary:  Modern art includes artistic work produced during the period extending roughly from the 1860s to the 1970s, and denotes the styles and philosophies of the art produced during that era. The term is usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.” However, if you had asked Manet, Cézanne, Van Gogh,  Matisse, etc., etc., whether traditions of the past had been thrown aside, you would find that it was by no means all of them.

** Google says that the “integrity of the picture plane” is a phrase coined by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg in his essay “Modernist Painting”. It concerns the issue as to whether the fact of creating an “illusory pictorial space” interferes with perceptions of the “objectness” of the actual picture surface.  This was a question of primary importance to the “Early Modernists” from the late 1860s onwards. For them, as explained in  Chapter 6 of my book “Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”, the fact of the possibility of being aware of the actual surface of paintings was one of the reasons for what they believed to be their inherent superiority relative to photographs. Their belief was that, since “deception is immoral”, painters must avoid it at all costs. Despite the difficult-to-comprehend this questionable argument, it stuck for about a century. Thus, in the 1960s, it was still a potent aspect of the teaching of my two mentorsProfessor Bohusz Szyszko and Michael Kidner.  The difference between the “Early Modernists” and Clement Greenberg was that the former (and  Professor Bohusz-Szyszko) thought it possible to depict illusory pictorial space without destroying the integrity of the picture surface. In contrast, Clement Greenberg asserted the impossiblilit of any such thing, as did Piet Mondrian and a number of earlier painters, plus a whole list of later artists, including Michael Kidner and Ellsworth Kelly.

As those who have read “Painting with Light”, the first Book in this Two Book Volume will realise, the early Modernists and Professor Bohusz-Szyszko got it wrong. The use of unmixed repeated colours do not disrupt the picture-surface, but rather the illusory pictorial space. They do so because our eye/brains read them as being on the picture surface and, consequently, as jumping out of any illusory pictorial space, which is allways behind it. It is thus, the integrity of illusory pictorial space that is disrupted.

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Earlier chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”:

Painting with Colour: Introduction

The  first three sections:

As anyone who has clicked on my “Post Page” will know, I have written four books: one on “drawing”, one on “painting”, one on “creativity” and one on “the science of how artists use their eyes”, which underpins much of the originality of the other parts. The volumes on drawing and painting are both divided into two books. The one on painting is divided into  “Painting with Light” and  “Painting with “Colour”. I have already Posted all the chapters of “Painting with Light”. I am now progressing to “Painting with Colour”. This Post provides an “Introduction” to this second book within a book. It starts with a list of the three subdivisions:

  • Colour and feeling (Chapter 19).
  • Local colour interactions (Chapters 20-24)
  • Shadows, shading and highlights (Chapters 25 -28)

The final section of the book provides:

  • Concluding syntheses based on both “Painting with Colour” and “Painting with Light”( Chapters 29-31)

INTRODUCTION TO BOOK 2 “PAINTING WITH COLOUR”

Light, colour and Chiaroscuro
Figure 1 : Colour, Light and shade : The Esplanade, Castelnau de Montmiral – Chalk pastel

Light, colour and Chiaroscuro
Figure 2 : Colour and Light : Breath Pastel No 18

Light, colour and Chiaroscuro
Figure 3 – Colour only – mixed media – Michael Kidner

List of already Posted chapters from “Painting with Light”:

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

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Colour contrast effects

Simultaneous Colour Contrast

This Post introduces Chapter 21 of my book “Painting with Lightand Colour”. It focuses on a subject that is dealt within every book, every article and in every classroom in which the subject of colour dynamics is treated. It was first described by Michel Eugène Chevreul in 1839. The name he gave to it was “simultaneous colour contrast“.

Its potential for use in paintings was popularised by Eugene Delacroix. It was picked from him by the Impressionists and many of their Modernist Painter successors. In the twentieth century when so many artists turned to non-figurative productions, it came to be treated as a subject in itself. A particularly influential part in this process was played by teachers at the Bauhaus. Of special importance were Johannes Itten and Joseph Albers, both of whom produced  books exploring the possibilities of colour contrast effects . Both had a widespread and lasting influence on artists and art education. The purpose of this chapter is to introduce their ideas as a preparation for going beyond them. Doing so will provide the subject matter for this chapter as well as chapters 22, 23 and 24.

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CHAPTER 21 – LOCAL INTERACTIONS

Three paintings exploring colour-contrast effects

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Joseph Albers : from homage to the square series

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Robin Denny: Baby is three

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Mark Rothko: Violet Green and red

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A lot more about colour-contrast coming shortly

Chapte 22 : Thin Lines

Chapter 23 : Viewing conditions

Chapter 24 : Colour and surface.

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Earlier chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”:

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