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Establishing ‘scale’ in your painting

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I am an abstract artist. My medium is oil painting, often painting on primed board. My wife and I live in San Diego, California.

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As a developing artist, sooner or later you will need to be establishing scale in your painting, or so the critics might suggest.     In terms of art history, the discovery and use of perspective was ground-breaking for artists and those who enjoyed looking at art.  With the advent of perspective the element of proportion and scale became very important.  Figures in the distance were made smaller to heighten the sense of perspective and so artists developed elaborate ways to determine the correct scale (relative dimension) in their painting.  All through the rennaisance artists enhanced their skills, most notably by the young Rafael.  Artists such as Titian, Vermeer and Rubens all stayed bound to the exactitude of perspective and correct scale.CouchDSC02543

The next break through came with the Impressionists who, little by little began to break down the rules of perspective and especially scale.  Van Gogh’s Starry Night seems to thrust the heavens right before our eyes. The stunning painting by Manet, the Dead Toreador seems to abandon or at least greatly bend our understanding of scale. By the time we reach Cezzane, Matisse and then Picasso it is clear that those elements which were considered so vital and important have been eroded.  New, more invigorating elements have become paramount.  Then with Chagall and certainly with Kandinsky, perspective and scale have been entirely abandoned.  Their use would add nothing to the message and would in fact be a detriment.

Understanding this progression is important for the artist today.  How tied do you wish to be to proper scale ?  Perhaps for you, it seems more powerful if everything shares the same plane, or…weave between themselves.  If for example you are developing your art along the lines of abstract painting, your judgements will be required to determine exactly what elements are to be emphasized.  It will mostly likely have nothing to do with scale.  Balance, rythmn, contrast and the dynamic of line and form – probably, but not relative scale.  There is of course a certain freedom here but conversely a requisite demand for a deeper awareness of how your painting is creating its message.  When rules are abandoned a whole new concert is created which can be very dynamic.  I immediately think of Pollack’s work.  His better works are completely void of perspective.  There is no scale but his work vibrates with a remarkable energy and force.  In his case, trying to incorporate perspective and scale would have been a useless endeavor.

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