Translated by Gisele Albo - email@example.com
In this article, I expose a point of view of an accurate plastic element that allowed me –on examination and benefit's search– to build the theoretical bases. This perspective doesn't pretend to be an inaugural declaration –for a way of representation that, on the other hand, has always existed– but it proposes to highlight a use that, in my judgement, was underestimated by Occident plastic art and, especially in their teaching. Nevertheless, I still have hopes of being wrong, and in that case I expect criticism from a colleague that indicates me this analytic tool has already been considered by another knowledgeable professional. Anyway, Donis A. Dondis and Rodolph Arnheim texts have done some of it.
For nearly forty thousand years ago, humanity started to representate in stone. It was worried about its warriors, hunters and women. It's true that it learnt how to draw and paint, but how to carve reliefs, too –it's found relevant to distinguish that the first practices use the line for separating one plan from another, while the second one is based on using the shadow; a figure stands out from a bottom projecting a brief shadow on its contour–.
Already in the Upper Paleolithic, in the Solutrean culture, they used to sculpt little reliefs in stone or bone, even though the academic education underlines that the bas-relief was used as a technique by Mediterranean ancient cultures, or even today Wikipedia says in their definition that “it was conceived [...] in the Ancient Egypt”. Bas-reliefs are seen in pre-Columbian America, in India or in the badly called “primitive actual men”, because it's a way of representation that it's feasibly sensed as the drawing by people.
However, the current education system decided to forget that the pictorial art history origin had always been shared by the drawing and the sculpture, and prioritized the drawing, putting pencils and chalk on our apprentices hands. And that interface limited us.
In the same way, for example, the cuneiform letter –that was done with nails into soft clay– conditioned the writing to the point that today lots of typographies have that ending –the serif–. The papyrus, the parchment, the paper, the quill, the movable-type printing press, the linotype, the rotary press and the computer also changed our way of writing and reading. This happens with painting, with any type of art, with any cultural product: the tool conditions the product. The interface that we use to produce an esthetical phenomenon determines the result. Linguistics shows us that the language conditions our thought and its structure, too.
When I was a student, I was attracted by Christian Metz and Michel Chion structuralism, and despite knowing that their investigations had important criticisms, I asked myself if could be possible and useful to emulate what they had done in cinematography and to try the formulation of a painting and drawing grammar –or at least the formulation of a watercolour one–. Notwithstanding that I was intimidated by a possible impertinence, I got close fairly badly to the post-estructuralists and I found the delicate “Barthes' biografema”. So, I wanted to apply that lack of definition to talk about the main elements that would be investigated by this pseudo-grammar and, as I have got nothing to lose, I called them "organisemas". Until now, I wrote an organisemas draft list –which I could share with whomever is interested–, and I also drew up this definition by coping Barthes' neologism definitions.
If the work of art was a living organism that talked and moved, the organisema would be its stereotypical non-semantic recurrent cell of universal aspiration, –unaware of the willingness to mean–, that pulverizes the making of the artwork. Its usefulness is not the artwork or image reconstruction by mere descriptions. Its usefulness is didactic, procedural, of language acquisition. The organisema could be the art part which is not an artifice –that part we feel as miraculous or magical that is subconscious patrimony, and therefore it's unattainable–. It's the workshop raw material; the engineering –the structure, the reduction to simple model terms– of a composition; little work cells and certain syntactic constituent types of didactic and technical nature. Besides, I suspect –and I would develop the idea– that its nature could be of content (or stuffing); of structure (or contour); of effect, position or environment.
But let's return to our student with a pencil on their hand; that pencil built in our culture an image grammar based on the point and the line. Furthermore, the pencil gave us a binary conception without greys or swoons, a priori. Let's imagine for a second that in their place we would have had at disposal, as our ancestors, a hand-axe or chisel and a soft stone, or a sort of airbrush which would help us to generate a shadow. If in the very beginning of our plastic training we had a non binary tool whose basic use is to generate greys and swoons, our conception of drawing and painting would be another. The academy has no doubts about this when demands the use of charcoal in the first year of drawing. But it's different when it saddles us with the reading of “Dot and line in the plane”, by Kandinsky, as if it were the most illuminating visual language text.
The swoon, as constructive and grammatical element, allows us to represent four circumstances:
- On a white support, the description –for example– of a flower petal that has a colour and a white side. Let's call this internal swoon as “local gradient”, because it's typical of the represented object.
- On a white support, the description of chiaroscuro of the object own volume. This internal swoon could be called “gradient of volume”.
- On a white support, the description of an object that vanishes into light –that dazzles–. This could be the “gradient of swoon”, properly, and it's not internal or external, but general –of the whole scene–.
- The description of a shadow that projects an object on another, when the light source is diffuse. This shading is external and could be called “gradient of projected shadow”.
But there is a fifth circumstance that it's deduced from the fourth one, if we stole from the bas-reliefs its synthesis. By the simple necessity of ordering the legibility of a plan over a background, we apply an external gradient on each contour and we create in the bidimension the appearance of depth or pictorial space and we call it “gradient of contrast”.
To summarize, we studied the gradient as a simple transition or a chromatic local treatment, without the intention of representing a shadow; the gradient as a part of the chiaroscuro naturalist, to describe volume; the gradient as dissolution resource, to blur or suggest an incomplete object; the gradient as a part of the chiaroscuro naturalist to describe projected shadows of a dim light source; and finally, the extern gradient as synthesis to visualize.
So, we have two paradigms –two starting points, two ways of thinking the image–: the represented contour by a clear line and the represented contour by a shading line towards the outside of the figure. The synthetic valorism is based on the use of this organisema called gradient of contrast.
Contrast and synthesis
In the perception of whatever esthetical phenomenon, the first condition of a discourse to be received by the person who perceives is the contrast. Regarding visual arts, each school proposed their own ways of analysing it. After the invention of the photography, the traditional use of tonal value was migrated to the colorism; the valorists –represented by Ingres figure– defended the morphological and volumetric description from the use of semitones scale; while the colorists –Delacroix in front line– proposed chromatic contrasts –colour temperature, saturation or non-saturation and focus or out of focus following the atmospheric perspective precepts–. And there is a less evident contrast, which it has to be taken in account at the moment of building a visual discourse, the contrast of dimensions (developed in other article by me). By the way, the synthetic valorism suggests considering this extern gradient as one more valid solution.
We saw on a painting, so, that a bird projects a fake shadow over the sky that it crosses, and this theatre lighting is an easy object of criticism if we are used to the academic perspective and chiaroscuro. But this dispositive –this contrast solution– doesn't belong to the realism but to the synthesis; is naturalist just in its appearance.
Perhaps this synthetic valorism artifice belongs to the bidimensional support to a greater extent than the so overvalued perspective. First of all, in contrast to a round-shape bulk sculpture, we have to think that the bidimension presupposes the lack of other point of view that isn't the frontal one, and then we have to remember when we see a sideway perspective, the artifice is deformed and the verisimilitude is lost. The synthetic valorism could survive a bit more than this forced point of view.
It's not a simple mechanical collaboration, but a system of representation that works out easily and didactically the legibility of shapes problem –contrast, reading order, round– avoiding the illustrative nature of the contour clear line. It's evident in some features of Xul Solar, Gurvich, Hokusai, Hundertwasser, Modigliani or Chagall, to mention some names. For example, painting the reliefs detail of Mayan Calendar (where the plans projects shadow ones to the others) it's enough to understand the synthetic valorism in practise.
Gradient of contrast considerations
- It's a shadow that replaces the clear contour line; it's perceived as a line, it loses their reason for being.
- It's an external shadow that surrounds the whole contour regardless of a supposed light source location.
- The gradient doesn't have to be uniform, or detailed, or far less to arrive to the same darkness level, but its making will have to be modified if a step that repeats with a parallel the direction of the edge appears.
- We learn it in its simplest form, but it becomes much more expressive when we neglect it a bit.
- It's an hybrid in watercolour, because its making includes the use of a damp support and a dry support; a clear contour on one side and a blurred one or out of focus on the other side.
- In this technique, despite the fact that nearly no handbook dedicates a section to it, is the most powerful work cell because facilitates our heuristics and watercolour full understanding.
- With the gradient concept we learn in a practical way how to preserve lights denying the whites that drug out the reading, and thus we achieve the fact of describing depths and volumes taking care of the illumination in our main elements.