Every time one man says to another, "Tell us plainly what you mean," he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that there is a perfect scheme of verbal expression for all the internal moods and meanings of men. Whenever a man says to another, "Prove your case; defend your faith," he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that a man has a word for every reality in earth, or heaven, or hell. He knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colors of an autumn forest."
Showing What Can't Be Shown
I've been thinking a lot about tone.
How 9/10 when I switch off the T.V. or put down a book it's because the tone didn't set well with me. Or I didn't get the tone at all.
And I mean tone in all three senses:
1. Tone - quality of sound
2. Tone - attitude of place
3. Tone - harmony of color
I think most of our frustration as artists comes from not being able to nail down the tone of our original idea. It really is less about our technical skills, playing with language or paints, and more about our ability to strike that quality of sound, convey that attitude of place, manage that harmony of color. Tone.
A genuine tone is worth a thousand words.
I think the art of nailing tone is the art of showing what can't be shown. It's saying what can't be said. Reciprocating feelings that we thought were only ours--and when we feel alone in our most deeply felt experiences, that's not solitude or quirkiness or individuality, but loneliness.
We need art and must make it because it alleviates loneliness--because it is an entire place in which we may not physically live but our souls certainly do. Because art, if its tonally rich, will also ring true. And because the right tone, grim or ethereal or paunchy, will at the very least be harmonious.
The Barnstone Method of Looking at Art
Now, I don't care what your discipline is, or if you only consider yourself a hobbyist or dabbler or whatever. If you're into finger paint or write poems for your eyes only, if you fire clay pots on the weekends and jot off fan-fiction every now and then, if you make your money from graphic design or spend half the year giving lectures on the legitimacy of video games.
You should take art classes.
And whether you actually care about picking up a pencil to draw or not, you owe it to yourself to watch the currently free Barnstone Studios Drawing Systems 1. (Use the code: STAYsafeDRAW). It's basically a master-course in the relationships of art: the relationship between Western and Asian and African art, the relationships in works themselves, how artists reveal their relationship to the world with how they render their subjects.
Learning how to see/view is learning how to notice and develop relationships with the outside world. No matter your medium, it's one skill you can improve that will improve you all around.
The sad thing about the art world today is that you have to call it the Art World. Art's no longer a part of the world at large; it's segregated itself behind tastemakers and price tags. In Michaeangelo's day, art was commissioned by cities and popes and families. The Greeks used art as philosophy. Temples weren't totalitarian gymnasiums with the obligatory decorative banner and bouquet of fake flowers--they were expressions of the impossible and mysterious. Art was everyday.
How many mural artists do you know of today? Why do large works of art only show up in the same dozen or so places, all of them major cities? Today there's no natural cross-section between art and everyday living.
Myron Barnstone, a burly Air Force veteran who was the toast of Paris in the 1960s and subsequently burned or locked up most of his artwork during his long teaching career, is a great example of someone who takes art seriously while also treating his students seriously. There's no high-brow or low-brow here. There's no room for that. For his entire life, art was an uncompromising and enthusiastic work. Not a hobby. Not even just a vocation. A way of looking at the world. He didn't think it belonged to a select few; after all, everybody's got eyeballs.
The Alphabet of Art
According to Barnstone, the language of art is so blessedly limited that you'll only find five "mocks" used throughout it.
Myron Barnstone found these five mocks: the dot, the vertical line, the horizontal line, the diagonal, and the arch.
Of these five, only two are actually found in nature. The dot and the arch. There are no straight lines in nature.
Straight lines are an abstract that humans have used since before the Egyptians. They come in three flavors: horizontal, vertical, and diagonal. Any piece of art will be dominated by one of three types of straight lines.
In a piece that is dominantly horizontal, a calm and quiet mood is established.
In a piece that is dominantly diagonal, action is strongly implied. The first word that came to Barnstone's mind was phallic. This is masculine, charging with a lance and all that.
In a piece that is dominantly vertical, order is the order of the day. This is balanced, not as active as a diagonal piece or as stable as a horizontal piece. Christ in his glory is both vulnerable and authoritative. Whereas diagonal pieces dominate with action, vertical pieces can dominate with stillness.
"Portrait Mode" is another way of thinking of vertical since 99% of portraits are vertical.
Beyond the 5 Mocks, there is not much else to art. You start combining dots and lines and arches and you get squares, rectangles, triangles, all the 2D shapes we've come to recognize. You apply light and shadow and you get value. You combine these and you get 3D shapes: cubes, pyramids, boxes, cylinders, cones. And if you take all as a whole, you get the gestalt.
The Long Road to Gestalt
This essay went through so many titles, and I'm still not sure what I was trying to say. I think I want paint in my verse and play in my paint and poetry in my game design--and that, most of all, I don't end up artless in the process. You know, someone who turns their nose up at the everyday without realizing that there is beauty all around. That to me is artless, because it's turning a blind eye. If art is ever about judgement, anyhow, its about judging ourselves and not others.
So perhaps I should leave it off here, or get back to this idea some day, or make a joke--if I knew jokes.
At the very least, I hope somebody new learns to appreciate Myron today!
Until next time.
In Excelsis Deo.
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K.W. writes novels, short stories, the occasional ode, game scripts, and (with actual evidence!), this here blog.