Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rhythm: The Secret to Life in Art - Harold Speed 11

My Closest Neighbor
5in x 7in
colored pencil on paper
copyright 2012 Rose Welty
$45 at my Daily Paintworks Gallery

This post picks up again in my series on Harold Speed's book on drawing. Below are some highlights from the chapter on Rhythm. The entire series can be found on my favorites page.

To encourage you further in your reading - Speed's book on drawing was listed in James Gurney's Survival Manual for Artists.

"The word rhythm is here used to signify the power possessed by lines, tones, and colours, by their ordering and arrangement, to affect us, somewhat as different notes and combinations of sound do in music."
-- Harold Speed

Speed then argues that rhythm is the secret to life in art - without "rhythm" the artwork is cold and dead. This is not surprising given all Speed has previously said about lifeless pieces of perfect workmanship.

He offers that the key to rhythm is unity and variety. Unity is the relationship of parts to the whole - i.e. what holds the whole piece together. Variety "holds the secrets of charm, vitality, and the picturesque."

He notes that Roman works of art look "heavy and dull" next to Greek ones. He claims this difference is because of a lack of rhythm in Roman works. The Romans used circles everywhere - those exceedingly perfect gross roundnesses, whereas Greeks used conic sections - "curves possessed of the greatest amount of variety."

He does caution against too much variety: "variety must always be under the moral control of unity, or it will get out of hand and become extravagant." I love that he says "moral control" there - no one in the art world today would use that terminology, but it's absolutely fitting.

He ends with a good summary on style, composition, and colour:
  • Good style is "variety in unity" (he does not claim this as his own formulation)
  • Good composition is "varying well" (Speed attributes to Hogarth)
  • Good colour is "contrasts in harmony"
The next four chapters of the book concern variety and unity of line and variety and unity of mass. So we'll be looking at that secret to life in a big way!

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