We take heart from form in art because in the last analysis it is a convincing metaphor for wholeness in life. Even when life seems broken.
Robert Adams, Art Can Help
The renown photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson, often spoke of the geometry of the picture, which is another way of saying composition or form. For there to be a convincing metaphor of wholeness, the shapes, lines, tones, contrasts, shadows and color must work in concert to evoke truth and reveal the universal in the specific. The best pictures—those worthy of being called art—point beyond themselves.
Photographs, in particular, remind us of what once was and is no more—the loved ones now gone forever, the places we knew now irrevocably changed, and the shared experiences with friends and family we can never repeat. Photographs exist in the now but are always about the past and future. They help us locate who, what and where we are in our journey, and where we may be going.
Art is not utilitarian like a shovel or a frying pan, but it is indispensable to a life of meaning, awakening, joy and beauty, and it helps make us whole.
One revelation I take from the Covid 19 pandemic is that solace, meditation and joy may be found in drawing and painting. But for most artists drawing and painting necessitates studio space, tools, materials and storage which can be impossible to acquire or secure in the challenging circumstances we are now experiencing.
For the past few days I have been using the Procreate application on my iPad to make digital paintings and drawings. Until recently I had dismissed the iPad as a serious art tool and medium. But I came to realize it offers an efficient, forgiving, flexible, mobile, economic, and aesthetically pleasing way to work. The Procreate application, combined with the Apple Pencil and the iPad’s touch screen permits the immediate capture of nuanced and pressure sensitive marks and strokes. And there is no paper, charcoal, graphite or paint being consumed. Nor do the resulting jpegs (or Tiffs, PSDs) require a flat file for storage. Moreover, the final art can be shared online or printed out, singly or in editions. It can also be used to make books, presentations and animations.
I came of age before the personal computer was common. I learned to draw and paint using ink, charcoal, pencils, watercolors, acrylics and pastels. But in the 1980s, as a young graphic designer and photographer, I incorporated a Macintosh computer into my studio practice and was an early adopter of the PhotoShop and Adobe Illustrator software programs. Eventually I transitioned from using film cameras to using digital single lens reflex and mirrorless cameras.
My experience with traditional mediums and the digital environment has made clear to me that art making, designing and photography remain open to the full range of tools, methods and technology, whether old school or new, in any combination, analog or digital.
Recently I have been using my iPad, Apple Pencil and the applications Procreate and Sketchbook by Auto Desk, to develop sketches for paintings I may later do with real paint on canvas and as finished art files to be used online or printed.
Cosmic Eggs, shown above, is one example. This image also incorporates one of my photographs.
Line is fundamental in the visual arts. It is a principle element in design. Yet there is no line in nature. It is an epiphenomenon like the shadow—something perceived as being but which is actually the byproduct of something else.
The simplest definition of a line is a mark that stretches between two points and has the properties of width and height (thickness). But in our daily lives and conversation there are many kinds of line. We hear and speak of: bus lines, party lines, border lines, crossing the line, firing lines, lines of fire, fire lines, starting lines, finish lines, family lines, assembly lines, toeing the line, tow lines, timelines, clothes lines, battle lines, sight lines, blood lines, and shore lines. But never is there a specific, physical thing that is a line and nothing else. A line is always determined and perceived in context.
Without design there is no art. To design is to plan and consciously construct, even if moment-to-moment. Design is the orchestration of the elements in the art work. Design integrates the bits into a whole. A painting can fail because, after hours and hours of work, the artist fails to place a single pencil eraser sized stroke, of just the right color, in just the right spot.