In “The Two Dimensional Field: Forces within the Screen,” the author illustrates 6 major field forces:
- Main Directions
- Magnetism of the Frame and Attraction of Mass
- Asymmetry of the Frame
- Figure and Ground
- Psychological Closure
These “forces” change the way the viewer percieves the composition. For this blog post, let’s focus on the impact of directions within a frame. According to the author, the directional movements of a composition alter the intended meaning. This can be demonstrated by analyzing the horizontal and vertical.
The author argues horizontal planes provide a familiar and more tranquil feeling. The article exemplifies this by pointing out the Renaissance structures were made horizontal to emphasis the “Golden Age” of human accomplishments. I also found horizontal planes to encompass this same effect within paintings. To demonstrate this, let’s look at William Turner and Mark Rothko. Though the artists are from different time periods, with Turner being from the Romanticism period, and Rothko being part of the Abstract Expressionism movement, they are thought to encompass similar characteristics in their works. Many art historians argue that Rothko, who came a century later, was inspired by the horizontal planes of colors in Turner’s landscapes.
In paintings below, you can see how both artists utilize horizontal elements to compose their paintings. In Turner’s landscape, it adds a sense of tranquility to the scene. Rothko likely opted for the horizontal to instill the viewer with the same feeling of comfort and familiarity. Turner’s “squares” are meant to be seen close-up so the viewer can feel the emotions of the colors he chooses. The horizontal planes make this intention more accessible to the viewer. If the horizontal instills them with a feeling of comfort, they will feel more at ease and thus more likely to feel the emotional value of his colors.
Turner, Color Beginning, 1819, watercolor
Rothko, White Center (Yellow, Pink, & Lavender on Rose), 1950
In contrast to the familiarity of the horizontal, the vertical instills the frame with a dynamic and powerful effect. I particularly related to how to author utilized the examples of ancient buildings, which were built vertically to emphasis the Gods. This is even true for one of the most famous ancient structures: the Giza Pyramids in Egypt. Though they aren’t skyscrapers, their height at the time was an incredible feat, and it was meant to serve as a stairway to the heavens. In paintings, the power of the vertical is especially evident in depictions of the human body. What better example of power than this portrait of the ever powerful Napoleon I? Painted by Jean-Auguste-Ingres, the strong vertical elements add to the feeling of power of the figure. Now that you’ve seen an example of a vertical, how do you think the effect would change if Mark Rothko’s paintings were rotated as verticals? Would you react to his colors in the same way? What if Ingres had painted Napoleon on his side? Would he still appear as powerful?
Jean-Auguste Ingres, Napoleon, 1806
Clearly, horizontal vs. vertical planes affect the meaning of the frame in starkly different ways. But what happens when both directions are present? Combining the horizontal and vertical reflects our “everyday” environment. According to the author, “we like to see mirror our environment mirror our experience,” and demonstrates this with images of skyscrapers that exhibit both components. You can also see this in many of Lulie Wallace‘s colorful flower paintings. The composition encompasses both a strong horizontal horizon lane, as well as a strong vertical line in the background. The variety of directions within the frame more accurately embody that of everyday life. However, there are also a lot of directions present in abstract art, as you can see in Yolanda Sanchez’s painting. Does this argument still hold true for abstract art? Does the combination of horizontal and vertical elements help the abstract feel more of a reflection of reality?
Lulie Wallace’s colorful flowers
Yolanda Sanchez, Looking East