Friday, December 12, 2014

"Featuring Jean Marcellino"


  Getting it right, getting it real, redeeming the art of rendering 

By Ilene Skeen

Moody Sue* published its first art of the nude juried calendar in September 2006. Jean Marcellino first entered work for February 2007, after about two years of intensive drawing study. Marcellino's carefully rendered nudes were an immediate hit with those Barebrush guest curators who tend to favor representational art. Artworks by Marcellino were chosen by successive guest curators for February, March and April from among hundreds of entries. I thought that May would be a real test, however, as the curator was from a hip New York gallery known for surreal and abstract urban art. Marcellino was selected again. I was surprised. Like most artists growing up in the era of Abstract Expressionism, I was carefully taught that rendering, that is, making careful, accurate and tonal drawings was, in a word, pitifully nineteenth or even eighteenth century.

Leaning Man
In June 2007, when Barebrush guest curator, Chelsea gallery-owner, Kim Foster, reviewed the hundreds of nudes of all styles submitted, and saw Marcellino's Leaning Man, she exclaimed, "This is not my thing at all, but I have to give it to him, he's got skill, and that has to count for something."

"Jean Marcellino is a woman," I said.

Raising an eyebrow, Ms. Foster replied firmly, "Doesn't matter."

Thus, as the artist-anthropologist founder of Barebrush, I learned then that superior skill can trump aesthetic prejudice. It was a revelation. However, the real story of Jean Marcellino today is a tale of how dedication to a singular vision and superlative skill has developed into a uniquely twenty-first century aesthetic.

As a young girl, Jean drew and painted for hours every day from the age of four through high school. Her goal was to capture what she saw accurately. The "art world" was going in a different direction. As an art major in Cooper Union in 1960, she found Abstract Expressionism unappealing. Tonal rendering was considered unacceptable and irrelevant. Instead, she opted for a major in advertising. After retiring from a successful advertising career, she thought again about drawing. Marcellino credits an article by Ephraim Rubenstein, "Drawing Basics: The Emergence of Tonal Drawing" (American Artist, September 2006) with reigniting her passion for drawing and helping her find her current path. She enrolled in Rubenstein's class in the Art Students League of New York, and after a 40+ year hiatus, she says, "I gave myself permission to be terrible." Painting followed, as well as participation in Barebrush. Marcellino was Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome three times. Marcellino also met and painted in Rome with American painter and fellow tonalist, Wendy Artin.

Also notable is her oil on linen Portrait of Sandra Day O'Connor acquired by the Smithsonian Institute. It is in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery and was included in the "Treasures from the Smithsonian Institute" 2011 desk calendar.

Portrait of Sandra Day O'Connor
Marcellino says that she agrees with Rubenstein in that most drawing instruction is a formula for not looking – most artists are taught to draw what they know, not what they see. To overcome this unfortunate tendency, Marcellino approaches each drawing or painting with "Martian methodology," imagining herself as a Martian who has landed in a studio on Earth with the intention of capturing the lumps and bumps of the scene before her as accurately as possible, knowing nothing about what she sees but really seeing the visible light and shade. Admirers sometimes marvel at the expressions she achieves and want to know what she did to achieve them as if the expression were pasted on a face and not part of it. "Expression comes out of accuracy," she states firmly.

When I chatted with Marcellino over coffee and breakfast in November 2014, I asked her to select some of her "best or favorite" artworks on Barebrush. She selected seven, (marked with asterisks). True to the idea of art as an exploration, Marcellino especially likes capturing the figure with drapery. Using marks on a two-dimensional plane, she builds her metaphor for our three-dimensional world. The light and dark of the figure and the environment participate with each other to form the unity we call art.

Marlo Lost in Stripes is a tour de force of this metaphor. The shallow curves of the ribs
Marlo Lost in Stripes by Jean Marcellino
Marlo Lost in Stripes*
and the hook of the clavicle echo in the composition: in the vertical stripes of the cloth draped on the back of the chair; the long, rising diagonal curves of the folds; and the descending strokes of a shimmering white mist. The mist counters the cloth and focuses our attention on the vignette, and suddenly, by subtle inference, we are surprised to be looking at the downward curve of the mouth in contemplation, and wondering ourselves.

Barebrush curators and the general public like her art as well. Over the years, Barebrush guest curators have nominated Marcellino for the Curators Choice awards 27 times, and she has won 8 firsts, 8 seconds and 6 third-place wins, a remarkable record.
Since the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, representational art has been slowly but inexorably on the rise. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Marcellino's art is its distance from the rendering we have been taught so carefully to disdain. An alert glance at the works below reveals figures in poses and with attitudes that are supremely modern. Most of these compositions could only be found in art at the end of the nineteenth century, at the earliest. At the same time, Marcellino's careful rendering and the subtle artistic explorations of tone against tone are absent almost entirely from the art of the twentieth century.

Fierce Monk*
The effect of her artistic passion for rendering is clear; Jean Marcellino is painstakingly transforming complex design, meticulous observation and a love of the real into art of the twenty-first century. As founder of Barebrush, it is my privilege to present this transformation.

Saskia Hangin' Out*
Jill Looking
Manou's Brief Return by Jean Marcellino
Manou's Brief Return*
Pillow Drapery
and Keryn*

More about Jean Marcellino

* Images selected by Jean Marcellino as "best or favorite." ©All images copyright Jean Marcellino or assigns.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Nude As Muse

The artists in this video celebrate themselves and the world through the art of the nude. The video includes two Barebrush Featured Artists: Emily Stedman and Jon Rettich. Kudos to the filmmaker, Mark Khaimov. Thoughtful and inspiring.

Please do not play this if any kind of nudity offends you.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year's Poem

Here is a toast to the years, both old and new. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year. With warm regards, Ilene

A New Year's Poem
by Ilene Leslie Skeen

The New Year ought not come, but be attained
By only those who celebrate a time well spent.
December's final days are mounting steps
To reach that peak of midnight, head unbent.
To stand upon that yearly peak of time,
Look back without regret, look forward without fear
To stand as in salute to one year's pride
And one year's promise, pledge to both a solemn cheer.
To hold unbridled future as a wild mare
To be caught and tamed and molded to man's will.
To hold one goal, reach out, and finding it too far
To walk toward it, to walk and say, I will.
To gain that goal, to say, I have, and set another goal.
To check the score next New Year's eve.

© Ilene Leslie Skeen

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Guide (3): The Most Recurring Subject

 A Guide to Understanding the Nude in Art (Part 3 of 3)

 Author information:  joellescottgallery  (Richard T. Scott)

The Sculptor and the Nude- Picasso
 I would like to rephrase our original question now in the interest of brevity and to be more specific. "Why is it that the most recurring subject in all of art history by far is the human face and body?" Modern scientific research into the brain also gives us a clue to the reasons behind our question. The human face and the human body are psychologically stimulating to the mind. Our brains are actually hard wired to recognize human form. Take, for example, a chimpanzee. If you look at three different chimps for 5 seconds, would you be able to tell them apart as individuals? Now if you look at three human faces for 5 seconds, I bet your success rate will be much greater. But a chimp can recognize and differentiate between othere chimps much easier, just as you can recognize a human face more easily.

     You might say, Ok I understand why we look at faces, that makes sense, but my question was 'why the nude?'. Well there are multiple reasons. First is tradition. There is a long tradition predating even the Egyptians of recreating the human body. So, as a method of teaching art, there are lots of people who have done it before and so there are a lot of excellent techniques and examples to study. These principles  we learn by studying figurative art can also apply to other forms of art as well. Second, it is a test of skill. If one can make a believable representation of something that we are so familiar with, then everything else is a piece of cake. If I paint a chimp, you would be less critical of whether it looks real than if I painted a human face, simply because most of us don't see chimps every day for our entire lives and we are not hardwired to recognize them in the same way. Some artists get caught up in this challenge for perfection and are never satisfied with their degree of skill (I know I never am) and so continue to pursue the impossible perfection even though most people might not see the minute flaws of the work which the artist does see. -the next passage includes some of my religious opinions on the subject and is not intended to force my views on anyone, merely to share another point of view.-

     Third, (and most importantly to me) the nude, when I choose to paint it, is representative of something more than observation. My works are meant to evoke complex emotions or thoughts in the viewer, and are not meant to be solely decorative, though beauty is important for me and they may be this also. Since nudity is not often seen in normal everyday settings outside of the home, it implies that there is something more to the interpretation of the artwork. It makes the piece more intimate. For me, art is about conveying the complexity of life; its joy and its sorrow. If I paint a nude with a certain degree of sexuality implied, it is to communicate the dual nature of every human being. All of us, from the most pious to the most base, from the greatest ideals of of compassion and love, to fear and jealousy and greed; we are all torn between what we are and what we wish to be. We all have desire to do or see something greater than what is before us, and we all struggle with the desire for immediate pleasure and how they may get in the way of our greater goals. It is this tension between our animal and divine sides that I attempt to evoke; and in doing so, perhaps to help myself and others understand a little bit more about being human.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Guide (2): The Observed Nude; The Expressive Nude

A Guide to Understanding the Nude in Art (Part 2 of 3)

Author information:  joellescottgallery  (Richard T. Scot2t)

 The Observed Nude: Originating in the Fayum portraits of ancient Greece in a technique of painting called Encaustic, which uses wax as a medium for pigment instead of oil or water. the main purpose of this was to capture the individual's personality and particular appearance. Great examples of this can be found in the paintings of Rembrandt, John Singer Sargent, and ancient Roman portrait busts.

Portrait of Kristof-  Richard T Scott
Study of Torso -Michelangelo 
 The Expressive Nude: This form is intended to do just what the name implies. The nude is used here as the main vehicle for the artist's expression, usually with emotive, or in the case of the renaissance, devotional purposes. Great examples would be the work of Michelangelo (who could be classified under ideal nude as well) and most of the artists of the modern period: Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Kathe Kollwitz, Edvard Munch, and Paul Gauguin etc...

A Study in Memoree- Richard T Scott
 To be continued....

Part 3: The Most Recurring Subject

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Guide (1): The Ideal Nude

 A Guide to Understanding the Nude in Art (Part 1 of 3)

 Author information:  joellescottgallery  (Richard T. Scott)
My friends and family often ask me why so many artists paint (as they say) "naked people". Some think that the nude is only an excuse for pornography, while others just think that it's out-dated in the art world today. Most figurative artists (artists who work with the figure) will tell you something along the lines of "we don't see them as 'naked' we just see beauty". Though this may be true, it doesn't answer our question. As a classically trained artist myself, I have a theory on why people make art using the nude as a subject. I think the first step in understanding the nude in art, is to understand why people made them in the past, and why they continue to make them. 
 There are three basic categories of nudes, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive (sometimes they overlap):

Venus di Milo- Greek sculpture
The Ideal Nude: Originating with the Greeks, the ideal nude is just a concept really. the basis of which was most clearly explained by Plato. He stated that within all things there is a universal and divine "form" that defines it. For example: if you look at 100 trees, you'll find that each individual tree will look different, yet they are all similar enough to be categorized as trees. What is the sameness or underlying quality of the tree which makes it a tree? This thing, this sameness, Plato called form. Greek artists took this idea and sought the ideal form of the human body. they used shapes in the body, much like a musician would use musical notes to form a chord. The idea was to create a harmony through repetition and variation of certain visual elements of the body. Excellent examples of this are of course classical Greek and Roman sculpture, Leonardo da Vinci (who also could be mentioned in all of these categories for different works), Donatello, Rafael, and the Neo-classicists of the 19th century.
Vetruvian Man- Leonardo da Vinci

 To be continued...
 Part 2: The Observed Nude;  The Expressive Nude

Friday, November 29, 2013

Body Language, Saatchi Gallery /The Male Nude: Eighteenth-century Drawings from the Paris Academy, Wallace Collection [excerpts]

Form and substance: Jean-Baptiste Isabey's
Seated man, leaning on his right arm, 1789,
the pose that of an antique Roman sculpture
© ENSBA, Paris
Brian Sewell [for the London Evening Standard]

Why would anyone prefer childish simplicity to a complex drawing that grapples with form, musculature, accumulated fat, the tension of the skin and the bones and joints beneath?

In his current exhibition, Body Language, [Charles] Saatchi again explores aspects of figurative art but with neither the aesthetic nor the visceral challenge of Sensation, and as the artists are not English we can draw no useful conclusions from it, as we did with the YBAs. It is the result, I fear, of perhaps too random a trawl in the United States and casual acquaintance in Japan, Budapest and Yekaterinburg. The only familiar artist is Chantal Joffe, an American working in London....

The spaces of the Saatchi Gallery are splendid, lofty, vast, the lighting brilliant, and of this the immediate consequence is that the paintings it houses are given false authority, and we stand before them in veneration as though before an altarpiece. But they are not spiritually thaumaturgical and they deserve no such response. We should discern at once that Makiko Kudo’s verdant landscapes have only the shallow charm of murals that the cheap restaurants of my youth employed to camouflage their shabbiness, that likening Helen Verhoeven’s supposedly mysterious gatherings to Picasso’s Guernica is as arrogant as it is absurd, and that Henry Taylor’s kinship with Martin Maloney, of whom, Californian born, bred and working, he can hardly be aware, is merely another example of the internationalism of bad painting. Why must the critic waste his time struggling to discern purpose in such feeble rubbish?....

The Wallace Collection exhibits 37 academies on loan from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where there is a cache of more than 600 by 220 artists between 1664 and 1793. They are probably the best but I have seen many that are as good or better, drawn over a far longer period as well as by other nationalities — even at the Slade, Royal Academy and South Kensington (the precursor of the Royal College) Schools they were part of the discipline well into the 20th century. They are not rare, nor are they expensive; instead, they are a genre of old master drawing that even the most modest collector may collect, and as observations of body language I would rather have one fine academy than all the slipshod bodies now on view in the Saatchi Gallery. Sorry, Charles.…

[read the whole review here]

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Staten Island LGBT Center's exhibit up through Dec. 9

Ingrid Capozzoli Flinn’s "Nude on Pillow" is
part of the "Women Look at Women" exhibit
curated by Robert Bunkin at the Staten Island LGBT Center
in Tompkinsville. (Courtesy the artist)

"Women Look at Women"

By Rob Bailey / Staten Island Advance 

 TOMPKINSVILLE — "Women Look at Women," the late fall show at the Staten Island LGBT Community Center, has a complicated subtext about female artists looking at women and producing different results, unavailable to other genders.

It's easy to just assume there will be differences even if they're hard to see, no? What isn't debatable is that femaleness has obsessed artists for thousands of years, ever since that handy Neanderthal chipped a rock into a recognizably feminine form. (And who's to say, by the way, that this Neanderthal wasn't female...)...[more]

Friday, November 22, 2013

On the Lighter Side of Naked

Sweden got talent - Naked guys dancing!

Maybe I should write a serious cultural piece analyzing why this is funny, but I can't stop laughing.

Some may think this is off topic, but to me, it is vintage. It is exactly on topic for Body Language: Art, Biology and Culture. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nude Artworks Censored In Berlin Due To Religious Sensitivity

Huffpost Arts & Culture

A recent incident of art censorship in Berlin has sparked a debate about the difference between art and pornography, as well as the importance of artistic freedom versus religious sensitivity.

According to the American Foreign Press [AFP], an adult education center removed a series of six nude paintings in an attempt to acknowledge and respect Muslim religious beliefs.

The school's deputy head feared the works may shock Muslim students and prevent them from attending class. The school is located nearby a newly established refugee center, which draws immigrants and asylum-seekers to the once mostly German-born region.

by Berlin artist Susanne Schueffel
 The decision was immediately critiqued by some as an unnecessary precaution and an inhibitor to artistic freedom. District council member Juliane Witt aptly expressed how the decision could not only negatively affect the artists and German students, but the Muslim students as well. "If you do something to protect someone, then you are defining them," she told the AFP, "and that can be stigmatizing."  [more]

Friday, November 15, 2013

Snite exposes the French Academy - South Bend Tribune: Eventnews

Snite exposes the French Academy - South Bend Tribune: Eventnews

By EVAN GILLESPIE SBT Correspondent  

When we think about the French Academy, if we think about it at all, we tend to think of it as the great limiter of art, the oppressive institution that tried to stifle innovation and hold the fine arts in historical limbo for centuries.

Charles Gleyre’s “Study For ‘The Departure of the
Apostles’ ” is one of the works featured in the exhibit
“The Academy Exposed: French Figure Studies” through
Dec. 22 at the University of Notre Dame’s Snite
  Museum of Art.

That role, historically accurate or not, is essential for the standard narrative of Modern art history; how would we define the Realists and the Impressionists if not by the traditions they were acting against? We think less often about the Academy as a basic educator, a place where young artists learned the fundamentals of their craft. A small show currently up at the Snite Museum of Art helps us to see the French Academy in that simpler role.


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Monday, August 20, 2012

Sensual Geometry: The Development of the Male Nude in Ancient Greek Art

Sensual Geometry: The Development of the Male Nude in Ancient Greek Art

By Ann Aptaker

This article is adapted from Ms. Aptaker’s lectures in Art History at the New York Institute of Technology

Let’s face it, step into a museum gallery of ancient Greek statuary and painted vases and you could get the impression that for about five hundred years from around 600 BCE (this article will use the newer designation of BCE, Before the Common Era) the male population of Greece lived life undressed.1 There are athletes in the nude; soldiers in the nude; handsome young men who were famous for merely being handsome in the nude. By contrast, the Pharaohs, nobles and aristocratic men of ancient Egypt wouldn’t be caught dead in representations of themselves without a skirt or drape of some kind that indicated their rank or stature in society. Ditto for the men of Mesopotamia. Later Romans, though they mimicked the nude statuary of Greece, just as often commissioned statues of themselves in warriors’ armor or aristocratic drapery to call attention to their military heroism or political importance.

So why was the attitude of the ancient Greeks so different from other ancient cultures regarding nudity? Blame it on math.

If that answer seems facile, consider this: the great fifth century BCE sculptor Polykleitos wrote a treatise called The Canon, or The Canon of Proportion, which dictated specific mathematical proportions and relationships for all parts of the human body. Polykleitos based his formulae on work attributed to the sixth century BCE mathematician Pythagoras, whose noted theorem is still in use today.

But Polykleitos’ Canon, brilliant as it was and is, simply codified a way of thinking, a way of expressing beauty, which had been evolving in Greece for centuries. We can actually see the beginning of that way of thinking, and we can marvel that it appeared at a time when chaos and violence left Greek civilization hanging by a thread.

The fall of the Mycenaean civilization on mainland Greece, beginning around 1200 BCE, ushered in The Greek Dark Age. Invaders from the north and from Ionia in the east overran the once splendid Bronze Age heroic civilization and replaced it with the violence of constant warfare and the displacement of whole populations of sacked towns and villages. This miserable situation lasted over two hundred years, but around 1000 BCE things slowly started to settle down. Daily life was still bleak and dangerous, violence continued, but here and there a revitalizing culture started to take root, mainly through items of daily necessity; after all, even if your community no longer needs palaces, your little hut still need cups and jars and bowls. It is in early Greek pottery that we see the beginnings of a way of thinking that eventually became the ancient world’s most sophisticated expression of the beauty of the human figure, particularly the male nude.

Fig. 1 - Proto-geometric amphora, ca. 950 BCE,
terra cotta, 13 ¾” high. British Museum, London

This amphora (Fig.1) dates from about 950 BCE. The style, called Proto-geometric, is simple and strictly utilitarian: lines and shapes moving around the surface of the pot. The Proto-geometric period, roughly the tenth century BCE, sets the foundation for everything to come in Greek art.2 In this pot and others of the period, we see the beginnings of the Greek fascination with rational mathematics, especially geometry. It all started with everyday utensils decorated with simple lines.

Though other ancient cultures also decorated their pottery with similar lines and shapes, what’s new here, and what’s uniquely Greek, is a consciously harmonious relationship between the shape of the vase and the surface decoration. Each facet of the decoration occupies a specific part of the structure and is meant to delineate the volumes, which are themselves in harmonious proportion to one another:
-the solid black of the tall neck with an encircling checkered pattern positioned like a necklace;

-the solid bands on the shoulder;

-the undulating wave around the belly; and the swelling shape of the belly contained by another solid band below;

-the empty “reserved” space above the foot giving everything above a visual lightness, a weightlessness;

-the whole thing resting comfortably and securely on the solid band of the foot.

Note that I’ve used the names of human body parts for the parts of the vase: neck, shoulder, belly, foot. The Greeks believed that the organic structure of pottery is analogous to the organic, balanced structure of human form and that both could be explained by the principles of geometry.

Though mathematics and geometry are rational, for the Greeks, even as early as the Proto-geometric period, mathematics and geometry are not cold. The Greeks gave a philosophical warmth to mathematics, marrying the principles of rationality to the spirit of philosophy, which they eventually developed into the Classical idea of Humanism.

During the centuries prior to the Athenian development of democracy in 508 BCE, the city-states of Greece, like all other ancient civilizations, were ruled by Kings. The Egyptian Pharaoh, for example, was considered a living god on earth. But the Greek relationship with even their most powerful or despotic leaders was quite different from that of other kingdoms. The Greek kings regarded themselves human beings, mere mortals, not gods on earth. If the Greek kings had a divine connection to any of their gods it was because their human mother or father mated with a god or goddess and the resulting child was at best a half-god, called a demi-god, and only because of the human process of sexual relations and childbearing (the gods, among themselves, could reproduce parthenogenically). This great difference in outlook, that human beings, not the gods, were, as the Greek philosopher Protagoras wrote, “the measure of all things” on earth, is what enabled the Greeks to unite the rationality of mathematics to the warmth of humanist philosophy and, by extension, to an appreciation of the human body as an ideal evocation of that unity.

Fig. 2A

Fig. 2B

Figs. 2A and 2B-Dipylon Krater, from the Dipylon cemetery,
Athens, ca. 740 BCE.
3’ 4 1/2” height; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

By the eighth century BCE, a full blown Geometric style was ascendant, as we see in this monumental krater from the Dipylon cemetery in Athens (Fig 2A). This enormous pot, standing nearly three and a half feet tall, was not for household use but served as a grave marker, much as a headstone is used today. The painted scenes represent the funeral service and mourning (upper register of figures) and funeral procession or military parade (lower register of figures) honoring the deceased gentleman we see lying atop the funeral bier (Fig. 2B, center). The rational properties of geometry informed the physical proportions of the vase (which are in perfect balance here) and to rendering the figures, which are expressed in a purely geometric language: ovals for heads; triangles for the upper body; lozenge shapes for hips and legs; rectangles or lines for arms. The upraised arms of the female mourners (who are tearing out their hair in grief) on either side of the funeral bier bend at pure right angles to form rectangles and near-squares.

Though this use of everyday shapes to render human (and animal) form may seem simplistic, a century or so of drawing in this manner gave Greek artists a deep understanding of the properties of shape and the proportional relationships between parts of the human body. This confidence, together with the Greek belief that human beings and human experience are the central issues of daily existence, that the “here and now” is more immediately relevant than eternity, which was the province of the immortal gods in any event and about which human beings had little or no say, gave Greek artists the skills and state of mind to make the next leap in their remarkable development of the nude figure.

Fig. 3-Kouros, ca. 590 BCE; Marble, 6’ ½” height;
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

While it’s fair to say that the development of Greek art and its emphasis on the human and not the godly was unique in the ancient world, it must also be acknowledged that Greek artists did not develop in isolation. Though this kouros (Fig. 3), meaning a statue of a nude male youth, exhibits those values we can identify as uniquely Greek, it also exhibits the influence of Egypt, the dominant power and culture through much of ancient history. Like Egyptian statuary,3 this kouros stands in a rigid frontal pose, his hands clenched at his sides and with one leg forward.

But the similarity ends there. Unlike Egyptian figures, which were meant to express an unchanging eternal, this kouros makes visible the Greek philosophy of male beauty, harmonious of face and body, and above all active and athletic.

To begin with, the young man is nude, whereas Egyptian figures were clothed. Moreover, Egyptian standing figures were anchored to a supporting block of stone,4 but this kouros is free standing. This achievement is not only technical, it represents a philosophical expression as well.

Dealing first with the technical aspect, the balance necessary to achieve a free standing figure of stone was a result of the Greeks’ deep understanding of geometry and its properties. From the lessons inherent in the tectonics of pottery to the painted geometric shapes which earlier expressed human form, by the sixth century BCE, the Archaic period, Greek sculptors were prepared to produce life-sized figures that stood as confidently on their feet as did living human beings.

Aesthetically, the kouros in Figure 3 is purely and utterly Greek. It is created through geometric forms: we still see the oval for the head; a triangular torso; and lozenges to form the legs. And philosophically it is Greek, expressing an idea of youthful maleness not as godly or heroic but as beautiful. This beauty is an expression of the ideal of harmony and balance, two attributes of rational mathematics which the Greeks believed contributed to the beauty of all things, including thought itself.

By the beginning of the Classical period, when Greek cultural confidence was at its height and no longer under the restraining influence of Egypt, Greek philosophy and art achieved a sophistication—and in art, the technical ability—which enabled philosophers and artists to address that most human of experiences, sensuality.

Fig. 4-Kritios Boy; ca. 480 BCE, Athens,
Marble, 2’ 10” height. Acropolis Museum, Athens

This early Classical figure called the Kritios Boy, dating to about 480 BCE, shares the one leg forward/frontal stance of his kouros predecessors, but here the geometry of the assembled shapes is more relaxed, more natural. Kritios Boy is believed to be the first sculpted human figure to employ contrapposto, meaning “shifting of weight.” The sculptor understood that human beings do not stand in rigid poses (except when at “attention” like soldiers); real human beings shift their weight and their body, positioning themselves along the vertical axis of the spine.

The contrapposto of the Kritios Boy is created by:
-the slight dip of his right hip as he balances his weight on his left (rear) leg;

-the bend of his forward leg at the knee, at ease;

-his head turned slightly to his right, unlike the stiff-necked Archaic kouroi.

This more natural posture, derived from the rational application of mathematics to achieve a balance of proportion, gives Kritios Boy not just a more natural appearance but a sensual one. What is being celebrated here isn’t heroism or power; what’s being celebrated is beauty of form and flesh; beauty as a philosophical ideal of life expressed through harmonious proportions, ease of posture, calmness of expression.

Only about thirty years after the unknown sculptor created the Kritios Boy, Polykleitos himself brought the spirit of Greek art to full magnificence with a series of sculptures that are masterpieces of his Canon of Proportion. In his Doryphoros (Spear Carrier) (Fig. 5), Polykleitos expressed harmony, balance and beauty through strict adherence to his mathematical formulae for the proportions and geometric masses of the nude figure.5 With mathematics as his absolute foundation, he was then able to create a contrapposto that is assertive, giving the figure the graceful S-curve that would become iconic in Greek sculpture. Polykleitos further enhanced the grace of the contrapposto with the harmony of “cross balance”: the bent arm is diagonally opposite the straight leg, while the straight arm is diagonal to the bent leg.

Fig. 5-Doryphoros (Spear Carrier); by Polykleitos;
Marble (Roman copy after original bronze of  ca. 450 -440 BCE);
6’ 11” height, Museo ArchiologicoNazionale, Naples

But the point of all this mathematics, of this rational approach to art, was not to express a cold beauty of and strength of mind were core values of Greek Humanist philosophy.

Polykleitos’ Canon would remain the standard for Greek sculpture through its Classical and Hellenistic periods and into the art of Rome. The grace and sensuality celebrated by the Classical nude influenced later masters such as Michelangelo, whose monumental David (1501-1504) is a sensual descendent6 of Polykleitos’ contrapposto and cross balance. And though figurative art is less dominant today, the human need for sensual expression never dies. Who would have thought it could be expressed in math?

1. Female figures in Greek art were more often clothed.

2. Technical advances in pottery manufacture developed during the Proto- geometric period are further described in Richter, Gisela M.A., A Handbook of Greek Art; A Survey of the Visual Arts of Ancient Greece, Seventh Edition, Phaidon Press Ltd., London, 1974; Boardman, John, Early Greek Vase Painting, Thames and Hudson, London, 1998; and others.

3. The period of Egyptian art and history referred to encompasses the Old Kingdom, ca. 2574-2134 BCE through the New Kingdom, ca. 1550-1070 BCE, which, with the exception of the Amarna period, ca. 1353-1335 BCE, essentially set the form which was maintained throughout most of Egyptian art until the Ptolemaic period, ca. 305 BCE-6 BCE. The Ptolemaic rulers, being Greek (after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great), brought Greek influence into late Egyptian art. The defeat of Egypt by the Romans in 6 BCE, further Classicized Egyptian art.

4. Egyptian figures sculpted of wood or smaller than life-size figures in stone were often free-standing. The distribution and balance of weight of life-size and monumental stone figures in Egypt, however, usually necessitated an anchoring block.

5. This figure is a later copy, in marble, made in Rome for the Palestra athletic stadium in Pompeii. The original Greek statue was created cast in bronze. This situation is true of a considerable number of Greek statues, many of them originally bronze, since lost to time. Nevertheless, as far as we know, the ancient Roman sculptors were entirely faithful in their reproductions of the original Greek. Without these Roman copies, we would not know as much about the remarkable development of Greek sculpture. We are especially certain of the Romans’ accuracy of Polykleitos’ works because Roman sculptors strictly followed Polykleitos’ instructions, as written in his Canon.

6. Though the David is clearly influenced by Classical sculpture, and in particular by Polykleitos, Michelangelo had no taste for the mathematical approach to human form. His David is reflective of his belief that organic form already exists within a block of stone and it is the sculptor’s art to bring it out. The proportions of the David, therefore, are not mathematically accurate, though the visual effect is certainly natural to the eye.

Ann Aptaker has been an arts professional for over twenty years as curator, exhibition designer and art writer in museums and galleries on the east and west coasts of the United States. In addition to her present work as an independent curator and art writer in New York, Ann is an adjunct professor of Art History at New York Institute of Technology.

Ann holds degrees from Hollins College (now Hollins University), where she graduated Cum Laude and with Departmental Honors in Art History, and and MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, where she earned fellowships for both years of study.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Barebrush on Art in a Fallen World

Gregory Wolfe: Art in a Fallen World  <---Link to the WSJ article)
This is an article in the Wall Street Journal® about the art of the late Thomas Kincaid. There is a Kincaid painting with the article. The article promotes the idea that there can be no pleasure without pain, no joy without sorrow, no celebration without tragedy. There is a Kincaid painting with the article that is not reproduced here. It is  worth looking at to set the context of the opinion below.

I am profoundly opposed to Wolfe's view. If you are opposed to my opposition, I advise you to stop reading now, because you are only going to get upset. Don't say I didn't warn you!

 It is easy to be enmeshed in the idea that pain is required to appreciate pleasure in our “relativistic” world. Looking at Kincaid’s painting “The Cross,” we should steel ourselves to remember that the vision is just after the most celebrated death by torture in history. Look at the lush sky the beautiful blue-green hills, the promise of day. Most Christians can really respond to it, then he’s got them – they’ve forgotten that their Savior died over night on that very cross. The painting is well-designed for guilt. Christians respond to it and then they are supposed to feel guilty for taking pleasure in the beauty of the world after the Savior’s death.

There is only the world, reality and our own lives. This article and sentiment is a search for redemption by those who feel deeply that they have gone wrong somewhere, but they have hope to find redemption and forgiveness.

 Where they have gone wrong is in denying the law of non-contradiction. They want life and they want everlasting life (a contradiction), they want love (a choosing) and universal love (a contradiction). They want happiness without work (a contradiction unless you can get victims to sacrifice for your happiness). And they want forgiveness without changing their ways.

 The appeal of the Passion is that it tells people that they, in their denial of the law of non-contradiction, are not alone, and should therefore feel the comfort of community. Everyone is in the same boat it tells them, so just stop whining and learn to enjoy your misery. Didn’t Ellsworth Toohey tell Catherine Halsey much the same thing?1

Instead of teaching them where they have gone wrong, that the universe is non-contradictory, that A is A, Christianity perpetuates the myth of mysticism and the consequence of mysticism, self-doubt. Once a person doubts their ability to deal with reality because they believe that things can be and not be in the same respect at the same time, then they are ripe for any type of altruistic ideology, be it religious or secular.

The moral crises the world faces is framed in terms of altruism vs Objectivism, but the support of the morality of altruism comes from metaphysics, and the mistaken belief that Aristotle’s Law of Non-Contradiction “doesn’t have to be true (at least not in all cases).”

The one thing that is not allowed by altruism is a totally consistent universe, and its proper result, the guiltless man – John Galt2. He is Ayn Rand’s shining example of throwing out the fake alternative between a betrayed self as a victim and an evil doer. This is what we must remember and follow.
Note the last paragraph of the article:

“But if faith teaches us anything, it should be that our nostalgia is for an ideal we can only find after accepting, and passing through the brokenness of a fallen world. Any other approach, in art or life, is a form of denial. [Emphasis added].
The Passion is the proper display of their formless, nameless, malevolent guilt. It matches their universe. While we can appreciate the technical skill, I believe that this Christian idea and all of its artistic manifestations are depraved and should be condemned without exception.

1. Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead
2. Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Best-of-the-Rest from Barebrush 11/11

Hot Shoulder — In 2009, New York artist Cindy Sibilsky uploaded one of the earliest portraits on Barebrush, Edie Sedgewick: Pop Goes the American Dream. It has been showing on the Barebrush website with little fanfare for over two years. Victim of the recession, Barebrush was severely impacted. Plans to launch new calendars for six genres: portraits, clothed people, landscapes, animals, still life and abstracts took a back-seat to merely hanging on for dear life. Art for these genres slowly trickled in from artists, some also struggling. Finally, having enough art to launch a single calendar series with all the new genres together, Barebrush founder and CEO Ilene Skeen selected the art for the first non-nude calendar, Best-of-the-Rest. Ms. Skeen notes,
Barebrush Artists have waited long enough. I’ve waited long enough. It’s time to take control. Nothing could be better from Barebrush and Barebrush artists than a hot shoulder and defiant attitude toward the gloom and doom of the country. It’s time for a positive springboard to the future, in which nude and non-nude artworks are easy for artists to show and viewers to enjoy. Soon these works (both originals and prints) will be available for sale directly from the Barebrush website.

Portraits and clothed people predominate in this calendar. Long-time Barebrush Featured Artist, Jean Marcellino of New York shows off her solid technique and composition with a brutally rigorous oil painting, Reclining Robert. Jacqui Morgan, also a Barebrush Featured Artist from New York presents two accomplished watercolors: Julie & Dirty Having Fun and Eternal vs Fleeting. Still another New York artist, Jon Rettich, shows a delightful drawing, Tank Happy and a ringing endorsement of the New York art-making locale, with Spring Studio which he describes as “Best studio ever.” Participating from afar are Robert Nizamov from Moscow, Russia with two landscapes, Boats and City, Featured Artist Roger Cummiskey from Malaga, Spain (and sometimes Ireland) with Joyce the Pluralist, Featured Artist Chuck Miller of Corsicana, TX with an oil of his wife sleeping, entitled Sunday Afternoon and Featured Artist Jacqueline Saunders from Burke, VA with a series of watercolor heads called Band of Brothers.

Two artists are making their calendar debut: Jeff Caramagna from Beacon, NY and Justin Austin from Graham, NC. To round out the thirty artworks in the first-ever Best-of-the-Rest, New York artist Geoffrey Stein ends the month with the dean of double-speak, Alan Greenspan, in a collage portrait featuring a well-deserved paper “black-eye.”

The 30 artists represented in November, 2011, in day order are: 1 Cindy Sibilsky, 2 Justin Austin, 3 Cynthia Angeles, 4 Damian Huntley, 5 Jeff Caramagna, 6 Jean Marcellino, 7 Will Ellis, 8 Ione Citrin, 9 Guadalupe Herrera, 10 Jon Rettich, 11 Chuck Miller, 12 Tai Lin, 13 Jacqueline Saunders, 14 Pacifico Palumbo, 15 Roger Cummiskey, 16 Brian Crede, 17 Robert Nizamov, 18 Jon Rettich, 19 Hannah Davis, 20 Bruce Erikson, 21 BlindWolf Photography, T. F. McDonald, 22 Jacqui Morgan, 23 Penelope Przekop, 24 A. Galban, 25 Terry Tayler, 26 Jacqui Morgan, 27 Gil Conradis, 28 Haydee Torres, 29 Robert Nizamov, 30 Geoffrey Stein.

Each of the artists selected for the calendar receives two (2) complimentary listings for each artwork included in this calendar. Viewers can also vote for “The People's Choice,” a poll which includes all of the art in the calendar. The top three artworks in The People's Choice win one (1) complementary listing for their artists. Winners announced December 1st.

The Barebrush Provenance for each artwork is viewable by clicking on the calendar thumbnail (above) or on the caption under the artwork from each artist’s Barebrush Gallery page. The Barebrush program of retiring artworks which have been selected for three calendars is designed to encourage all artists to show their best new work and keep their online galleries fresh and interesting.

The Barebrush Provenance for each artwork is viewable by clicking on the calendar thumbnail (above) or on the caption under the artwork from each artist’s Barebrush Gallery page. The Barebrush program of retiring artworks which have been selected for three calendars is designed to encourage all artists to show their best new work and keep their online galleries fresh and interesting.

Click here for more about Ilene Skeen

Thank you all for your interest and participation in, dedicated to the art of the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

PhotoArt N*des from Barebrush 11/11

Lookout World! — Launching the first PhotoArt N*des calendar is Naked Sky Captain by Barebrush Featured Artist, Angelique Moselle Price of Tennessee. Price’s piece has attitude, style and composition, which says it all.

Price is an accomplished painter as well and her work can be found in many of the original N*des-of-the-Month calendar series. Other Barebrush Featured Artists participating in the launch of PhotoArt N*des include: Guenter Knop, William Thierfelder, Dan McCormack and Janet E. Gorman from the New York area. Kentucky photographers Joseph Mays and T.F. McDonald are also Featured. The record holder for participation is Tony Lee of Panama, a consistent prize winner since his first calendar entry in May of 2007. As veteran viewers of Barebrush know, Featured Artist status is invitational only. These photographers have shown interest, enthusiasm and support for the Barebrush concept. Most have appeared in many of the calendars in the original series.

Each of these artists has a distinctive style and oeuvre. Knop specializes in highly polished art-deco beauties, deliciously posed. Tony Lee is known for his emotional male nudes in at peace or war with the world around them. Dan McCormack has resurrected pin-hole photography to a high art with his scenes women at home and literally in the field. Joseph Mays’ work is instantly recognizable for his series called Alien Twilight, carefully composed nudes, sometimes with body paint, glowing out of the darkness. William Thierfelder often composes to a theme with variations, sometimes adding much hand work (where the art would be appropriate for the original calendar), and other times leaving the photograph pristine.

Participating from further away are Corrie Ancone of Sydney Australia and Gabriel Sanchez of Mexico. Making his Barebrush calendar debut is George McClintock from Purchase, NY.

After five years of showing photography with our original N*des-of-the-Month calendars, it was time for photography to come into its own. Ilene Skeen, Barebrush founder and CEO, selected the art. Ms. Skeen states,
I am proud at last to showcase the photography nudes at Barebrush in their own calendar series proving that even in the photographic medium, art of the nude can be tasteful and delightful (or arresting and provocative), while having nothing to do with prurience and pornography.

The 30 artists represented in November, 2011, in day order are: 1 Angelique Moselle Price, 2 Tony Lee, 3 Tony Lee, 4 Tony Lee, 5 Tony Lee, 6 Dan McCormack, 7 Dan McCormack, 8 Corrie Ancone, 9 Joseph Mays, 10 BlindWolf Photography, T. F. McDonald, 11 Dan McCormack, 12 Guenter Knop, 13 Peter King, 14 George McClintock, 15 Gabriel Sanchez, 16 Dan McCormack, 17 William Thierfelder, 18 Joseph Mays, 19 William Thierfelder, 20 Joseph Mays, 21 Gabriel Sanchez, 22 BlindWolf Photography, T. F. McDonald, 23 Matthew Smith, 24 Guenter Knop, 25 Guenter Knop, 26 Joseph Mays, 27 Janet E Gorman, 28 Michael Seif, 29 Guenter Knop, 30 William Thierfelder.

Each of the artists selected for the calendar receives two (2) complimentary listings for each artwork included in this calendar. Viewers can also vote for “My Favorite PhotoArt N*de,” a poll which includes all of the art in the calendar. The top three artworks in My Favorite PhotoArt N*de win one (1) complementary listing for their artists. Winners announced December 1st.

The Barebrush Provenance for each artwork is viewable by clicking on the calendar thumbnail (above) or on the caption under the artwork from each artist’s Barebrush Gallery page. The Barebrush program of retiring artworks which have been selected for three calendars is designed to encourage all artists to show their best new work and keep their online galleries fresh and interesting.

Click here for more about Ilene Skeen

Thank you all for your interest and participation in, dedicated to the art of the nude.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

N*des of the Month from Barebrush 11/11

My Turn — Shimmering with life and movement, this calendar art was selected by Barebrush founder and CEO, Ilene Skeen. Veteran Barebrush guest curator, Mikaela Sardo Lamarche selected the Curators’ Choice nominees. Ms. Skeen remarked,

After more than five years of carefully watching Barebrush guest curators as they struggled to select the art, I said to myself, ‘It’s my turn.’
It was a lot harder than I thought. So much good art and even some great art. I have to admit, I gravitated toward well-designed art from artists who diligently maintain their gallery on Barebrush. I want to show site viewers wonderful art from a wide variety of artists. I hoped to make a calendar filled with life and fun. I think November 2011 N*des-of-the Month calendar has both.
The calender launches with an oil, Study of Man #3 by David Schulz of Middletown, CT. Ms. Lamarche selected this painting as Curators’ Choice nominee, and Ms. Skeen was happy to place it on November 1, noting “The attitude is arresting, the composition is satisfying and the skill is evident. What could be more important?”

Ms. Lamarche also nominated Repose, an oil by Chuck Miller of Corsicana, TX. This large work could be a lesson for all artists. With a minimum of detail, the figure is solid and the ground is solid as it appears to move away in space: a masterful performance. Artist Tools #2 by Donelli J. DiMaria, located in New Mexico, is also an oil. DiMaria gives us a nude in the guise of a still life, filled with humor, color, and showing off his love for art.

Two nominees are graphite. Ms. Lamarche chose On The Bed by Eddie Torres of New York, NY whose diagonal composition is intriguing in its simplicity and expression. She also chose Leaning Nude by Hannah Davis of Brooklyn NY, also diagonal, emphasizing the femininity of the model’s lines and curves.
Two artists are making their calendar debut at Barebrush: Darryl King from Pensacola, FL and Malcolm McCoull from Perth, Australia.

One artwork is retiring: Entwined by John Luce Lockett of Northampton, England. Other artworks in this calendar of special note are: Markos by Brian Crede for its design; the unusual ceramic, One Long Lazy Afternoon by Marsha Karagheusian; Daniel Maidman’s conceit, Self Portrait as Hockney. In addition, the shocking attitude of Embrace by Terry Hinkle is beautifully executed, as is the fanciful exuberance of Defiant Angel by Rebecca Venn, and finally, ending the month with another masterful representation of space, N*de St*dy 2011 WB1 by C. Charles Wang.

The 30 artists represented in November, 2011, in day order are: 1* David Schulz, 2 Hector Olvera, Etor, 3 Brian Crede, 4 Chanit Roston, 5 Carmine Santaniello, 6 Merrill Brace, 7* Chuck Miller, 8 Lynne Levin, 9 stephanie Fuller, 10 Marsha Karagheusian, 11 Paul Rybarczyk, 12 Emily Stedman, 13 John Luce Lockett, 14 tim woodhouse, 15 Daniel Maidman, 16 Terry Hinkle, 17 Betsy Podlach, 18* Donelli J. DiMaria, 19 A.D. Cook, 20 Leslie Lambert, 21 Sara Swan, 22* Eddie Torres, 23 Rebecca Venn, 24* Hannah Davis, 25 Darryl King, 26 Gil Conradis, 27 Gary Paul Stutler, 28 Tina Johnston, 29 Malcolm McCoull, 30 C. Charles Wang.

Each of the artists selected for the calendar receives two (2) complimentary listings. Five artists, indicated by asterisks (*), are nominated for the Curators Choice Awards. Curators’ Choice nominees receive 8 additional complimentary listings. The top three artists receive additional prizes.

Viewers can also vote for “My Favorite N*de,” a poll which includes all of the art in the calendar. The top three artworks in My Favorite N*de win one (1) complementary listing for their artists. Winners announced December 1st.

The Barebrush Provenance for each artwork is viewable by clicking on the calendar thumbnail (above) or on the caption under the artwork from each artist’s Barebrush Gallery page. The Barebrush program of retiring artworks which have been selected for three calendars is designed to encourage all artists to show their best new work and keep their online galleries fresh and interesting.
Click here for more about ACA Galleries

Thank you all for your interest and participation in, dedicated to the art of the nude.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Few Words about the Barebrush Experiment

As many readers of this blog know, I am an artist, entrepreneur and anthropologist.

I began Barebrush as a sort of experiment to see if I could discern any consistent threads in the way diverse curators think about and select art. With the myriad of styles and approaches current in today's art world, I constructed an anthropological model to see for myself if any dominant approaches or preferences emerged.

I am pleased to report that they have. No matter whether the work is super-realist or runs the gamut from impressionist to abstract, professional art curators, curators who know the technical difficulties of many media, look for three major accomplishments from the artworks they review:

Skill: Skill is evidence that the artist exercised care and judgment appropriate to the artwork. Non-artists tend to think of skill primarily in terms of rendering, but curators are aware of the related skills required to pick a subject point-of-view of interest to the art viewer. There is also significant skill required to place the subject in space. In two-dimensional art this is called “placement on the page” even if it is a painting or a mural. In three-dimensional art, the challenge is placement in space in such a way as to compel viewers to want to see the work from all sides and to reward them for doing so. My observation has been that even in sketchy, gesture drawings and paintings, and especially in more rendered work, curators look for evidence of thought and consideration accompanied by technical mastery and a unified presentation. Unified presentation could also be considered mastery of style, but since mastery of style involves mastery as such, for purpose of clarity, style can be considered an aspect of skill.
Emotion: Curators universally love looking at art. The ability of a visual artist to evoke emotion is highly prized. Just like the rest of us, they love to be surprised, delighted, touched by tenderness, impressed by dignity. And it seemed to me that as art professionals, they would rather be goaded into anger than to feel nothing about an artwork.
Significance: The artwork necessarily has significance to the artist, as is self-evident by the fact of its very existence. Curators seem to look for artworks which “speak” to them about the things they care about. This is the reason why we ask each curator to submit a personal statement in order to help the artist understand at least something of what the curator is about.
As year number five draws to a close, the process continues. Barebrush is growing. We are working on the next big upgrade which will introduce direct selling by the artists on the Barebrush website. My thanks to all the curators and the artists who together have made Barebrush the website to find excellence in contemporary art.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

DG13: Composition Based on Human Visual Dynamics

Looking for Principles of Composition with the Diagonal Grid 13.

Composition in art refers to the visual organization of the work.  In The Art of Color and Design, Maitland Graves writes, "The aim of composition is to create an interesting unit. Interest is the result of variety. Unity is created by dominance."1

In 2005, I was studying the anthropology of art and I wanted to understand composition. I had two reasons for wanting to understand composition. First of all, my focus in anthropology was the 200 years between 1800 and 2000 when profound changes had taken place in Western Art. During that period, painting went from striving to depict history and beauty to being contempuous of subject matter entirely. Everything that could be dispensed with was jettisoned—important subjects, meticulous finish, beauty, to name just a few of the early casualties. Cutting-edge, “modern” art became, in turn,  a statement of tonality, impression, expression, line, shape, color, and finally nothing at all. I noticed that over time, although many people resisted each new change, eventually people came around, so that today probably the most popular styles in the US are some forms of impressionism or expressionism.

So my first reason related to my budding theory that over the 200 years, until art reached the dead end of pure nihilism, the great artists were still making great compositions and great compositions matter to people as much or more than the actual subject matter, finish and beauty. I wondered if there were a basis in biology for what humans consider great composition. How do we recognize them? Why do they resonate with us?
My second reason for wanting to understand composition was simply to be a better artist.
When art historians talk about composition, they seem mostly to talk about the objects and “things” represented in paintings. They might also talk about the relationship of the people and objects in the painting to each other. Sometimes they sketch vague triangular shapes, angular v or w shapes, loopy m shapes or arrows indicating the direction of eye movement.
Books for painters are no better. They are filled with do’s and don’ts, and general exhortations, but not with any clear principles or procedures that work to serve as a guide for either students or art historians. Even design books, which talk about harmony, balance, diversity and areas of interest, seemed to leave the student on his own to find what is “pleasing” as a composition, or they recommended using the golden ratio.
Golden Rectangle
The golden ratio is the most famous constructive method for making the overall length to width of the artwork according to “pleasing” proportions. It can also be used to determine the size of subsidiary elements. The most famous building said to be constructed along the lines of the golden ratio is the Parthenon of Greece. Thus, this ratio has fascinated artists and mathematicians since Greece's Golden Age, about 2400 years ago. It is associated with the Fibbonacci series. The rectangle at right is an example of construction using the golden ratio.
 Construction of a golden rectangle:
1. Construct a unit square (red).
2. Draw a line from the midpoint of one side to an opposite corner.(arrow)
3. Use that line as the radius to draw an arc that defines the long dimension of the rectangle
The Wikipedia discussion of the golden rectangle notes the on-going debates about which great painters used or did not use the golden ratio in which of their works.
Generally, the golden rectangle means nothing to the viewing public. For art viewers, viewing great art, the reaction is immediate. If the painting’s overall dimensions do or do not conform to the golden ratio, what does that tell us? Only that the overall dimensions should be pleasing, if we even bother to determine whether the overall dimensions are in a golden rectangle.
 For artists, the problem with the golden rectangle is that the reality of what the artist needs to accomplish often does not conform to the golden ratio in terms of shape and size of the art. If the picture space is square, almost square, very tall, very wide, or just not in conformance with the golden rectangle, the question becomes, what should the artist do to make the composition designed within the given space as dynamically interesting and pleasing as possible?
The bottom line is that whether or not the outside dimensions of an artwork conform to the golden rectangle, the contents, meaning the forms and shapes, may still be arranged poorly. The golden rectangle does not help us to understand the arrangement of the art within the two dimensional space – unless, as in the rare case, the artist painted a compositional spiral like Velasquez’ Las Minenas.
So I eventually discarded the idea that even great artists routinely used the golden ratio for their work. The evidence does not support that conclusion. I also discarded the idea that artists would construct sections of a painting to conform to the golden rectangle, even if the work did not follow the golden ratio overall. I discarded it because artists are constantly and consistently concerned about the unity of their work, because great painting has an immediate emotional impact as a single whole, not as a sum of parts. Basically, a method construction that teaches the artist to address parts of a painting while saying nothing coherent about the entire painting would be pointless.
So it seemed to me that I had reached a dead end. There seemed to be no theories on visual harmony which presented specifics on how humans process the information within a two dimensional space of a picture as a unified whole. Thus I found no principles of composition of which I could take advantage, either as an anthropologist or artist. Finally I had nothing left but my two eyes and a blank piece of paper, and that’s when I had a breakthough and invented a new type of visual grid for composing and judging two-dimensional art.

Because most of us have two eyes and we want to take in as much of the image as we can in a single glance, I reasoned that there could be a natural visual flow to looking at a painting that is informed by these facts. I marked the edges of my paper into thirds both along the length and the width so that each side had two marks. If I connected the marks horizontally and vertically, I would have had a tic tac toe grid. However,  since my goal was to mimic how the eye might move around the picture plane, I knew that a static, horizonal-by-vertical grid would impede eye motion rather than promote it, so I drew the grid on the diagonal.
The Diagonal Grid 13 in steps
Construction of the diagonal grid with 13 shapes (DG13)
1. Construct a rectangle (or square) of any size.
2. Mark each edge into thirds.
3. Draw 4 short lines (adjacent marks, left box, above)
4. Draw 4 long lines (far marks, center and right-hand boxes )

The resulting grid has exactly 13 shapes: 8 triangles, 5 quadrilaterals (four-sided figures), never more, never less. Four of the triangles are right triangles, and 4 are isosceles. The mathematical relationship of each shape to the whole is constant with the smallest triangles being 1/36th of the whole. If we were to draw diagonals from the corners of the rectangle, we would wind up with 12 triangles and 12 quadrilaterals, each quadrilateral being twice the size of each triangle. It would be a nice pattern, but bascially static: we would lose the visual dynamics of the grid when it has the 13 areas, four different shapes of various sizes, including the large center shape which is one-third of the entire area.

If you have a computer drawing program, you can draw a square as a multiple of 3 units. Then you can easily place the lines and group them. After they are grouped, you can change the size of your box and the lines will automatically adjust. My theory is that this grid mirrors is the way the viewer's eyes efficiently scan the image and that art which conforms to this grid is more visually satisfying to the viewer.

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein
The very first painting I analyzed with the diagonal grid was The Ambassadors  by Holbein. Here is the painting to the left.  If you have a drawing program you can draw a grid and place it over the painting and do your own analysis all electronically. Or you can print out the image and draw the grid by hand.
In the next post, I will show how the grid helped me to understand both the visual dynamics of this composition, the relationship of the men to each other and to their instruments, and the strange, stretched skull in the lower center. 

I will also show more examples of work which seems to "obey" the grid and work which does not.

The key concept to remenber is that the rectangle or square is always divided by thirds along each side so that the resulting grid has 13 shapes.

When dealing with constructing a composition, I will show how the diagonal grid 13 (DG13) helps the artist actually create the unity of composition to which all the design books would have artists aspire. DG13 will not automatically make an artist a better artist -- it's a tool, like any other. I don't claim to have all the answers, just an interesting way of dealing with the question. I'm going to assume that the grid can be used or misused. My purpose is to introduce it, turn it loose, and see what people make of it.
1. Graves, Maitland. The Art of Color and Design.  New York. McGraw, Hill & Company. 1941. p. 242.