“If you’ll learn nothing else from this class, you will learn to better appreciate a trip to an art show.” This was the first thing I was told when I started my first class of Design 101: Two-dimensional design and it was this sentiment that I tried to keep in mind as I went through this class. I loved making art, I always had, I loved to draw, paint, color, sculpt, you name it and I had probably tried it or wanted to try it. But until then I had not really tried to cultivate an appreciation of viewing art. When I saw a painting, especially if it was abstract, I would be fascinated by the idea that someone had made money from doing but I was more or less indifferent to the subject itself. In fact the only time I ever seemed impressed with the quality of a work of art if it was hyper-realistic or huge, and then I would marvel at the technique of it.
But in all the time that I had been a lover of making art, I had never really been a lover of art itself. My favorite artists were Esher, for his realism, Dali, for his surrealism, I had never considered that there was something that the art was trying to convey or that the goal of an artist might be something other than the perfect representation of the subject matter. And so when I was told that this first wave of classes (Design 101, and Drawing 101) would at once teach me to better create art and better see art, I was excited.
There are many ways to observe art, and many ways to talk about each one. There are also many interpretations of what art is. But in my opinion there is one fact that is almost always true of good art, and that is that they are all visually interesting. This was the basic idea that was instilled in me in this class, and it very much gelled with my other world views. There are a number of ways, as with most aspects of art, to import this visual interest in a piece of artwork. The first I’ll only mention because it deserves it’s own post in the future and because it was not covered is not covered in most foundation programs, is through content. It is a very tricky but powerful way to convey visual interest in a piece, to use some subject matter that carries its own emotional or intellectual interest in a composition to lend it that interest.
The second and easier to teach method to develop interest is through the visual element in the piece. Not only is this method easier to teach but it is a more useful way to understand visual interest, as it can be used in a genres of art from political art to abstract expressionist art. This is due to another nearly universal aspect of art, when you exclude from your discussion, music, the visual presentation. Which is not to say that music is not art, simply that it is often more useful to talk about music in its own right, because of it lack of a visual component. Since all art is visual in its nature, and certainly two-dimensional art, you can always develop interest using this second method, by manipulating the forms, color, and texture to increase the visual tension and interest.
So, lets talk specifics. Any good piece of artwork will have three or more areas of contrast. That is to say, three areas that are visually distinct and different from each other. These areas can be distinct in many ways, and those ways are defined by the various types of visual component that can be made. These visual types include shape, line, color, tone, texture, size, and position. Now I want to be clear, it is not impossible for a good work of art to break from these rules. It is also possible for a bad of boring piece of artwork to be beautiful. What I am talking about right now is simply a set of guidelines. Guidelines that can serve as a starting frame of mind to help you the better develop a base of interest on which to build your artwork. They also outline a set of terminology which can serve to enhance your ability to communicate your ideas and opinions about a given piece of art.
This post has begun to get a bit long so I will save the specifics for another post. But before I finish I would like to say the following. Art is an often beautiful and powerful way of communicating an idea, whether the idea in powerful itself or not. If you disagree with my view of it, I’m not surprised, as I have said before (tell me if this quote belongs to someone) There are as many ways of interpreting art as there are viewers of art.
And that’s my take on two-dimensional design.