Artists: Notes on Art Making

All round us we see Nature spreading forth in one great rhythmic and rhyming ecstasy. The tall tree in the embraces of the fragile trembling creeper, the great massive mountains rising out of illimitable plains, the ever-changing waters breaking against the hard rock-bound coast-in them all lies a rhythm and a harmony the appreciation of which is the very foundation of human civilization. It was full of this ecstasy that humanity in those dim days of the past first rose above the mere animal and sang out in rhythmic numbers hymns in praise of creation. Again it was this same feeling for rhythm and harmony which made the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians blend line and colour and create the art of painting.

When the caveman first issued from the darkness of his cave home and built his little thatched hut on the mountain-side it rhymed in so beautifully with its natural surroundings that it became one with the mountain-side. It is this sense of harmony which is the very foundation of artist, creation. The sculptor in his sculpture, the painter in his picture through the harmony of line and colour creates beauty. We can all appreciate the harmony of a song or the cadence of a poem, but there is a rhythm in the composition of the artist, that this composition is no blind imitation of nature is a thing more difficult to understand, for to obtain this rhythm the artist has to probe down right into the mystical essence of nature. Yet this rhythm is most unconsciously obtained. Look at that small pathway leading over the fields to a neighbouring village-because it is created from the harmonious beat of a thousand foot-prints of human beings led with the same desire, because there is no consciousness in it, we find it gaily following the natural ups and downs of the field, thus giving us the feeling of rhythmic motion which is in entire harmony with the surrounding country side. How different is this from the paved street of some big city which haughtily ignores the natural unevenness of the ground and moves along leveling down all obstructions that lie in its way.

GRACE OF CURVES

In a picture it is through the outlines of the various objects that this rhythm or harmony is created. But the outline usually consists of curved lines not straight lines, for it is the curved line which gives grace to the picture. Nature loves curves whether it be in the rippling waters, the swaying forests or the bare mountain tops, everywhere we see the emotional ecstasy of the curved line. There is a canon in Japanese art that the world of nature in its barest outline reduces itself to certain curves. Thus most forms of nature, whether it be that of a man or a tree can be represented by slight curves joined end to end in the form of a spiral. It is only in the crude handiwork of man that we see the straight line predominating. The artist always tries to avoid straight lines, and even where he has to use them as in architecture, there is a tendency to hide its bare effect, as for example if in a picture there is a building the artist always composes it along with trees, animals, clouds or other accessories where the curved line is predominant, so that the severe effect of the straight line is softened. The ivy covered walls of an old castle or church, the floral carvings and decoration of an Indian temple is nothing else but an attempt to relieve the monotony of the straight line. The curved line not only gives softness, grace and charm, but creates various emotional effects. The infinite effect of the heavens is produced by means of curves. Again in Indian sculpture or painting certain attitudes are characteristic of certain gods. This gives the artist the opportunity of using certain curves which expresses certain feelings. Thus we have the 'Tribhanga' attitude of 'Krishna' in which the three main curves of the body are emphasized, thus giving us the feeling of infinity which 'Krishna' represents. Again the curves of the hands and figures in the various poses which are so characteristic of the Ajanta style, seem almost to speak to us so expressively are they wrought. We have seen that the curved line is the means by which the artist produces the effect of rhythm, though sometimes as in Cubism and Futurism artistic rhythm is produced even by straight lines, but here too the straight lines must be so arranged as to produce the effect of a curve. But just as in a piece of music the introduction of a false note jars on the ear or in a poem the metrical flow is interrupted by the introduction of a too long word, so pictorial harmony may be spoilt by the introduction of lines which do not harmonise with the composition of the picture. For instance, if instead of giving him the background of a Himalayan Peak we should enclose Shiva within the precincts of a room, a note of emotional discord would be sounded. For the curve of the Himalayan peak gives the idea of space and infinity is in entire harmony with the conception of Infinite mercy associated with Shiva, whereas the straight lines of the room give the effect of limitation which would be out of harmony here.

RHYTHMIC UNITY

Besides harmony of line the proper regulation of space and the right proportion of the various objects is essential for rhythmic unity. It is the regulation of space and not the size of a picture which gives the sense of largeness or smallness. A picture is may be small in actual size, but if the space between the objects is great we have an impression of largeness, but however large a picture may be if the space between the objects is not great we have the effect of smallness. The size of the objects too must be carefully arranged and in proper proportion both as regards one another and their own various parts. Again as in reading a lyric the mind naturally seeks rest in a rhyme, or in listening to a melody the ear anxiously awaits the note to which the voice returns again and again as if with a caress, so in the composition of the artist, the eye seeks naturally for the rhyming line without which the picture would lack balance. It is this combination of proportion and balance which creates rhythmic harmony.

The sense of rhythm and harmony is not to be found in art only, though it may attain perfection there. It is present everywhere in Nature. It is to be found in the human movement in the flight of birds, in the growth of trees. Who has not seen the rhythmic flight of a flock of birds over a stream swaying curving to keep in tune with its bends and curves, or who has not noticed the harmony in a grove of trees whose branches and leaves fit in so exquisitely with one another that they form a rhythmic whole ?

LIGHT AND SHADE

Besides harmony of line the proper regulation of space and the right proportion of the various objects is essential for rhythmic unity. It is the regulation of space and not the size of a picture which gives the sense of largeness or smallness. A picture may be small in actual size, but if the space between the objects is great we have an impression of largeness, but however large a picture may be if the space between the objects is not great we have the effect of smallness. The size of the objects too must be carefully arranged and in proper proportion both as regards one another and their own various parts. Again just as in reading a lyric the mind naturally seeks rest in a rhyme, or in listening to a melody the ear anxiously awaits the note to which the voice returns again and again as if with a caress, so in the composition of the artist, the eye seeks naturally for the rhyming lines without which the picture would lack balance. It is this combination of proportion and balance which creates rhythmic harmony.

So much for rhythm and harmony. But just as in the external world, it is contrast which gives life and variety, so in a picture, there must be contrast - the element of surprise which gives tone to it. We have seen that rhythm depends mainly on outline, but contrast depends also on the arrangement of colour. Just as flowers light up and beautify a tree so labour lends charm to a picture, and it is through proper manipulation of the colour scheme in a picture that life and tone is given to it. Contrast in colouring is one of the chief instruments of the artist in giving this tone. Very often we see a delicately harmonious picture, but somehow it lacks life and distinction. The reason is that it is painted in semitone. Colour contrast is not used to show up the various colours. Everywhere in nature we find this contrast. But in nature it is in the form of light and shade. There must be light to throw shadow, and it is shadow which shows up light. In order to give distinctness and definiteness to an object there must be a contrast, light against shade or shade against light. In European art, the artist studies the effect of light and shade in nature and then reproduces it in his art. The Indian artist, on the other hand, has only taken the principle and uses it in the form of colour contrast in order to show up certain features in his picture. Imagine a dark night and a solitary traveller making his way with a torch along the steep side of a mountain. Before he arrives at the top suddenly dawn overtakes him, the torch falls from his hands and the rosy beams of the rising sun light up the whole scene giving form and animation to it. Here in a metaphor we have the effect of colour contrast in a picture. Just as the contrast of the light penetrating the darkness shows up the scene, so contrast in colour lights up and gives form and beauty to a picture.

Rhythm and harmony in a picture gives us the sense of peace and enjoyment, contrast introduces the element of surprise and fear. A sudden shiver disturbing the calm slumber of a child as it rests on its mother's lap, the sudden flight of a flock of birds sporting in the meadows - these opposite movements in nature give up the same effect as contrast in colour gives us in picture.

ELEMENT OF SURPRISE

This element of surprise is introduced in various ways. It may come in the form of a sudden contrast in a subject matter. The palace of sleep, the soft rays of the moon, people resting in golden beds, not a sound anywhere, suddenly a demon appears with eerie shrieks and waves his wand, and the whole palace is full of noise and action. Here in folklore we have the effect of contract in subject-matter. In art too we see it in the works of the ancient artists at Bagh and Ajanta. In the Bagh caves there is a picture of the deep grief of a queen and next to it the picture of an animated crowd engaged in joyous song and dance. This sudden change in subject emphasises all the more the bitterness of the queen's grief. In the Ajanta caves again we have a picture of the Buddha preaching to his disciples and next to it a scene of luxury and mad enjoyment in the inner-rooms of the palace. It is possible to use this form of contrast in subject-matter in cave paintings, because though each picture is complete in itself, the whole is linked together and forms a huge panorama. It is like the different scenes which go to make up a drama. But a single picture it is possible to have this method of contrast. The Japanese and Chinese artists make good use of it in their pictures. For instance, we have a picture of spring, cherry blossoms everywhere and a sense of joy pervading both man and nature. Suddenly riding at terrible speed comes an envoy bringing the news of battle. This sudden element of fear only emphasises the happiness of the atmosphere of spring. Once more we have a scene of battle, the clash of armies, houses on fire, rivers of blood flowing, all creating an atmosphere of terror and cruelty, and the horror of scene all the more emphasised by the peace reigning in a cloudless sky and a full moon shading its soft lustre over the earth.

TOUCH OF FANCY

Even in small everyday happenings contrast is what inspires the artist. He feels the rhythm of things and by the introduction of a sudden element of surprise turns the key of our imagination and lets it wander forth in glad freedom. For instance, we have the picture of a village girl going with her empty pitcher to fill water. Suddenly she sees a lovely lotus and leaving her empty pitcher on the stone steps wades out to pick the flower. This sudden touch of fancy in the midst of common work gives our imagination scope. In another picture we see a village girl with a basket going to the market-place, but suddenly attracted by the sound of a flute puts down her basket and listens absorbed to the flute music.

Besides contrast of subject matter the artist uses contrast of colour to enhance the effect of his picture. This depends chiefly on the arrangement of tones. For instance, blue with its impression of distance can be described as a soft shade hardening gradually into green, yellow and brown. Thus if there is a predominance of brown in a picture, splashes of blue or one of the softer shades will relieve the hard effect by contrast or if a picture is painted mainly in soft tones, a harder colour effect is necessary to give it stamina. We see this contrast in the colour-scheme of nature. The green grass and yellow and blue flowers blooming in its midst, the brown earth covered with variegated vegetation, the green branches spreading against the blue sky, all these contrast with each other and give greater vividness to the scene.

HARMONY AND CONTRAST

Even in decorative design where rhythm and symmetry are most important the artist uses contrast to heighten the rhythmic effect and design. For instance the rhythmic flow of a decorative scroll is all the more emphasised by the straight lines of a geometrical pattern placed in between. This use of straight lines is not confined to designs only. We have it in nature. Who has not noticed a small Indian village hidden amidst the foliage with its curving thatched roofs rhyming with the curves of the tops of the trees, and here and there the straight tall coconut stems emphasising the rhythmic effect of the scene? Thus contrast in outline is attained by the alternation of the flowing curve with the dead effect of the straight line.

In a picture therefore both harmony and contrast are essential and it is the delicate adjustment of the artist which without creating a cash gives emphasis and distinction to the picture.

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