Mid Semester Project A partial Example

Figure and Ground

For the most part, figure and ground are easily distinguishable and it may seem like a “Duh!” concept. But sometimes, when a work is interesting, the artist is playing with our understanding of the separation between figure and ground. When an artist wants to create a sense of cohesion in a work and the opportunity for the viewer’s eye to travel around the work he or she will often allow figure and ground to merge in some places but not in others.

One way to think about the relationship between figure and ground is the use of “positive” and “negative” space. Positive space is that space where you find yourself focusing on and object (a figure) and negative space is often an open empty space (ground) where the eye can breathe a bit and your attention relaxes until it meets the positive space again. Some artists, like Gustav Klimt, played with the idea of figure and ground by forcing the viewer to flip back and forth between perceiving a subject as both figure and ground.

Gustav Klimt's painting "Mother With Children," oil on canvas

Klimt's painting above is a good example of how figure and ground can compete for attention. One merging into the other.

Frame and Surface

Two versions of a photograph by Arnold Newman, titled "Stravinsky." The image on top is original and the bottom is the final work.

The final image on the bottom (a photo of Igor Stravinsky) by the photographer Arnold Newman evokes a very different feeling than that of the uncropped image on the top. There is a dramatic shift in focus due to cropping and framing. The spiral image you see overlaying the set of images on the right is a often called the “Golden Mean” or the “Fibonacci Spiral.” It’s a mathematical pattern found in nature and many art critics have observed that the shape can be found in most successful artworks. In the uncropped image on top the viewers eye travels to the face of Stravinsky, whereas in the cropped image the eye travels from his face to the enormous black void of the piano lid and back again. Our emotional response is thus very different in the second image than it is in the first. Understanding this concept is fundamental to asserting your unique vision in an artwork.

Surface, like frame, is often a factor in art that is chosen before the artist gets started, and the surface you choose will exert pressure on any art you create. Painting on heavy canvas creates a much different work than creating one on polished aluminum or plexiglass. The concept of surface still exists in the digital world, either through mimicry or through the choice of vector versus raster graphics or choosing textured brushes versus smooth brushes.

Mark and Line

A painting by Madara Mason, Mixed media on wood panel
Created By
Madara Mason


Created with images by Unsplash - "drawing canvas artist" • bm.iphone - "Klimt"

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