BY WESLEY BOSSMAN, ART DEPARTMENT CHAIR, JAMESTOWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Hello, again, and thanks for arriving at my second article. Today, I’ll continue the discussion of the Elements of Design, which I began, last edition.
The Elements of Design are the starting point for artistic creation, for all of us. They are: Lines, Shapes, Forms, Colors, Textures, Spaces, and Values. Once we are inspired to create, whether it be remodeling a room, cooking an elegant meal, painting a portrait, or any of a thousand other acts of creation, we begin with the Elements as our “materials” to consider, and manipulate. Part of the purpose of Art instruction, is to make students aware of the process of creation, which will increase their success, no matter what they are trying to make. In other words, if it becomes a conscious, considered process, instead of an inspired, quickly improvised process, a better experience, and a better product, usually results.
A child’s natural proclivity for making imaginative connections and combinations is the essence of what artists try to tap into, to make their pieces more interesting. Many very famous artists built their reputations with unsophisticated images, as they purposely courted the ability to become more child like in their art.( Joan Miro, and Paul Klee are two of my favorites.)
Unfortunately, (for art, at least), as our children grow older, in a need to join the main stream of society, they learn to do as others do, and adopt the accepted guidelines for proceeding through life. There is much we do without thinking, because everybody does it that way, or that’s how it always has been done. Individuals that adopt unconventional methods of accomplishing routine tasks, are usually noticed, sometimes not in entirely approving ways. Children are sensitive to approval, and even implied disapproval from their parents and peers. I have had many students that have given up trying to draw, or create original art, because their viewpoint, and abilities are unique, which translates into “imperfect” in their eyes.
As parents and grandparents, we need to encourage, and value original means of creating when it shows up in the kids we love. The world has more than enough people that slide into the main stream, and live their life comfortably, or uncomfortably, within conventional bounds. I cannot count the pieces of promising creativity I have seen destroyed, or given up on, in spite of my protests and pleadings, because they looked different from everyone else’s (mundane) artwork.
We’ve had a look at lines, and their abilities to convey hidden meaning to artwork. Now, we’ll take a look at shapes.
Just as lines trigger some sort of memories inside of us when we see them, shapes do the same. We artists divide the body of visual shapes into two families; the Organic family, and the Geometric family, (allowing for some shapes to be a member of both). Shapes are two dimensional. They have height, and width, but no depth.
The Geometric family is small, compared to the Organic branch of shapes. We teach that the Geometrics originated from humans, usually have names, and have rules for how they are drawn. A square, for example, must have four equal sides, and four, 90 degree angles, all of which enclose a space. If those conditions are not met, it’s not a square.
Geometric shapes, like rectangles, perfect circles, triangles, squares, and parallelograms, give a feeling of human presence. One rarely, if ever, will encounter a true geometric shape that had no human intervention in its formation.
Some artists delight in geometric shapes, and dedicate their work solely to the vast interacting possibilities of geometric shapes with the other Elements. We naturally associate geometric shapes with buildings, mathematics, and human-built environment. Organic shapes do not fit together well, at all, so modern human construction techniques rely on geometric design, primarily.
Organic shapes comprise an infinite family of shapes that are derived from nature, and impart a natural, extra-human feel. The shapes of animals, trees, leaves, fish, and all living, or once alive organisms belong to this family.
I explain the difference to my kids this way; if I ask anyone, anywhere, to make a square, it will always be the same shape, because there is only one way a square is correctly drawn. It can be different sizes, but the shape is the same. It has rules for construction, and a name. It is geometric.
If I ask anyone, anywhere, to draw a fish, I’ll get as many different shapes as I have people that draw it, and they can all be correct. There are thousands of ways to draw fish, and have the result still look like a fish. Nature supplies us with an inexhaustible variation of shapes. There is no, one way, to make a fish.
Organic shapes give a more natural, primeval feeling to artwork, that has a power to affect us in different ways than the crisp, predictable, human designed geometrics. Some of us gravitate toward the human designed shapes, and some of us gravitate towards the nature inspired shapes. Both types of shapes have their unique expressive powers.
As I mentioned, shapes are two dimensional, and flat. We can see they are tall, and they are wide, but they are not thick, or deep. They don’t actually occupy space. Paintings and drawings are generally limited to two dimensions, so, historically, much attention has been given to creating the illusion of space, where there in fact, is only the surface plane that can be utilized. Skilled artists use perspective, value change, overlapping, size relations, and a number of other devices that make you think you can see “into” their artworks.
Form is the word that describes three dimensional artwork that actually occupies space. Sculptors, glass blowers, potters, and architects, among many others, deal in form.
Form, like shape, can be geometric, or organic, the difference being that the artist working in form has the advantage/challenge of using another dimension to make his, or her art effective.
Next article, we will look at color.
Wes Bossman is an elementary Art teacher at C.C.Ring School, in Jamestown, NY, and chairs the Art Department for the district. Having graduated from Frewsburg High School in 1971, he attended J.C.C., Mercyhurst College, and Edinboro University to earn a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. He has taught for the Jamestown District since 1983.
In addition to teaching, he has painted many public building murals in the Jamestown area, illustrated several books, and paints in watercolors, his medium of choice. He has a strong belief in the value of art, and creative problem solving, for growing children.
He lives in Frewsburg with his wife, Michel.