So what is a line? A line may be perceived as any mark or area that is significantly longer than it wide. So while we tend to think of lines in the more literal sense we must begin to expand out understanding of what a line can be. If we learn to apply the mental abstraction “line” to the world of real things we can see trees, grass, legs, and even telephone posts as lines. Today we will develop the ability to discern lines in artworks and to understand the aesthetic functions they serve.
Piet Mondrian. Apple Tree in Flower. / Bloeiendeappelboom. Oil on canvas. 78 x 106 cm. Gemeente Museum, the Hague, NetherlandsHere we see a medley of lines that can be arranged to be perceived as a treeHow does this make you feel, calm, anxious, satisfied, discontent?The repetition of the same types of lines gives us a feeling of unity and rhythmThe horizontal arrangement gives us a steady peaceful feeling, similar to a landscapeWhere is the focal point?What makes it a focal point?
Barnett Newman Broken Obelisk Here edges can be read as lines in a 3d work. The sharp edges where the flat planes meet, create contour lines that emphasize the form and define its three-dimentionality
Eva Hesse “Hang Up”
Some lines are not physically created; they are merely suggested by the artist. Our mind with its penchant for trying to read order into the messages from the senses, does the rest, perceiving lines where there are none. Part of the visual excitement of the ad for Harper’s Magazine by the Beggerstaff Brothers is the filling in of lines that have been left out. Just enough information is given for us to see the well-known figure of a Beefeater in his distinctive uniform. The illusion works particularly well along the right side of his lower tunic where an edge is suggested by very slight upward swings of the dark bands.
Fox-Trot A; Lozenge Composition with Three Black Lines Mondrian, PietWhat do you all think of this piece? I could do that!Yes, I am sure you could do this, but the question is did you?Piet Mondrian created this piece because he understood lines, he thought about lines and as a result he created paintings like this one. It first gets a reaction from us, we think, that’s it? Or like you all thought a moments ago, I could do that but there is more to it than that. Why do you think Mondrian chose to put the frame set on an angle? Do the edges of the frame create even more lines and movement. Do they cut off the black lines in any interesting places?This painting is not about what happens inside the frame but what happens outside the frame. The artist asks us to make assumptions about what “happens” beyond the edges of the picture. For this we need to be given enough information based on our experiences of the physical world. Geometric figures are perhaps the easiest to predict. Shown part of a square or circle, we may automatically fill in the rest with our imagination. In Fox-Trot A Piet Mondrian shows us a cropped segment of a linear image that by all implication extends beyond the picture plane. The challenge he sets before us is to determine how much larger the uncropped original would be. We automatically assume that the left vertical and horizontal will continue as straight lines and intersect just beyond the frame. But what about the two verticals? Will they be joined by a crosspiece above? The only clue that the cropped segment shown may be part of a hypothetical series of rectangles- like a multi-paned window- is the crossing of two lines at the lower right. The suggestion that the figure doesn’t end here leads the mind outward to imagine a much larger series of lines that cannot be seen at all.
In addition to drawing the viewer into participating in a work, implied lines are often used for compositional ends. Eyelines – the implied lines along which a subject’s eyes appear to be looking- are a common device for directing the viewer’s eye or pulling a composition together. Usually eyelines occur between figures such as in Bouguereau’sNymphs and Satyr painting, in which each person in the circle is looking at someone who is looking at someone else, so tying them all together. But in the Hellenistic bronze piece, Thorn Puller…
Bronze sculpture of Spinario (Thorn-puller). 4th c. B.C. A high technical level seen in this free-standing bronze, and a naturalism that focuses on carefully rendered surfaces. A sophisticated treatment of formal composition that focuses on the injured foot. But in the Hellenistic bronze piece, Thorn Puller, we follow the “line” between the boy’s eye and his own foot, for his concentration is so clearly fixed on his own foot that our eyes go in the same direction. His limbs are also arranged to form lines that lead our eyes to the foot. Our attention is often drawn to points where many lines intersect. If our eye then strays to examine the figure as a whole, the lines of the body carry us around in a circle to arrive back at the same point.
Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World makes use of the same types of implied lines and compositional techniques as in Thorn Puller. Here you see Andrew Wyeth's neighbor – who was a paraplegic- out in the field near his home. You first notice her figure, it stands out from the monotony of the field as a bright pink spot. Her body is being pulled and straining in one particular direction as is her gaze (although we cannot see it). The viewer is then drawn from Christina to the old farmhouse, but where does our gaze go to next? The small barn on the top left. Wyeth had created a triangular composition here in order to pull us all the way around the painting. What about the edge of the plowed field as it moves left of the barn? It activates the space on the left. Without it we would come straight down to the girl and the left side would be dead space. Though the figures gaze and reaching hand direct our gaze to where the artist intends it to move, it also creates meaning. You know where she wants to go, or needs to go. This creates interest, and begins to tell a story.
Ellsworth Kelly,Apples 1949A descriptive line is a line that tells us about the physical nature of an object and how it exists in space. In apples, Ellsworth Kelly’s seemingly simple pencil line is purely descriptive. With the barest of means, his line tells us to read certain unfilled areas as nine apples, each having a somewhat different form but still quite recognizable as apples. We can see and almost feel their volume. Line here is used as a contour line- an imaginary line defining the outer boundaries of an object but not its internal modeling, color, shading, or texture. Not only do the contour lines allow us to “see” the apples; they also describe the space around them. We can infer from these brilliantly arranged lines that the apples occupy three dimensional space of a certain depth and that they are sitting on some flat surface that we cannot see.
Durer Head of an Apostle Looking Downward1508Lines may be used in two dimensional work to describe three-dimensional form- to create the illusion that a figure’s mass, or solid content, occupies a certain volume in space and has a certain visual weight. In the Head of an Apostle by the German Artist Albrecht Durer
A.m. cassandre poster 1927Lines may also be used by artists to steer the eye in a certain direction. In this poster for a luxury train by French poster artist A.M Cassandre. These lines lead us to our destination as the artist implies the train will lead the traveler.