Potd3 Looking At Paintings

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  • 1.Painting of the Day #3 ' How To Look at Paintings --composition


  • Some compositions are just plain unpleasant or jarring to look at.Landscape paintings are almost always painted in a horizontal format and sectioned into thirds.Cutting the painting in half is jarring and just plain looks like ass.

3. Good artists plan a painting.They want to control how you look at the piece.When youre looking at a work of art, you should be forced to look at the main focal point or points first; then different aspects of the composition should move your eye around to the less and less important aspects of the work.

  • In the first PoTD I talked about The Last Suppers Composition.Jesus here is the focal point, supported by his centralized position and all those wacky red lines pointing at him.Youre pretty much forced to look at that first.
  • On his right, Mary Magdalene (sp?) leans back and creates a wedge...a break in the rectangle of centralized body parts, this draws your eye to the left side of the painting where Judas is stealing the tip money.This separation creates tension, which is a primary tool in visual art mind control.

4. John Singleton Copley (American) 1778 72x90.25 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston oil on canvas

  • Winslow Homer
  • The Gulf Stream 1889
  • Oil on Canvas
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
  • 71.5x124.8cm
  • Homers The Gulf Stream (below right) is an homage to Singleton-Copleys Watson and the Shark(left) but they are very different paintings, mostly because of the placement of the shark.
  • In Copleys piece the shark extends past the edge of the picture plane suggesting a more dynamic movement, a faster more motivated shark who is totally hungry for naked guys.Homers shark, however, is wholly inside the painting, this placement makes the shark look stagnant and unmoving.This was done purposely and suggests that the shark is circling the boat in wait.Note the thirds rule in this painting.


  • This is Davids (dah-veed) The Coronation of NapoleonIt has a very complex composition.Firstly the dynamic lines from shadows, a bowing Josephine and the heads of the spectators lead you right to Napoleons face (green lines).The blue circle emphasizes the focal point, as illustrated w/ the contrast of light...the light source is directly on Josephine, the Pope and Napoleon, just about everyone else is in shadows.

6. I love this damn painting.John Singer Sargent is the MAN.This was a painting commission by some rich guy of his daughters.Some artists feel that you shouldnt get to know your portrait subjects b/c it influences the work and gives it an editorial aspect.Now when you have a painting of 4 daughters you dont want to put the emphasis on one more than the others.Sargent gets to know the girls and makes a really fantastic and strange composition.At first glance you look at the little girl on the floor, shes in the foreground and pretty centralized.The edge of the carpet then leads your eye up to the girl on the left, standing there very oddly.Although the older girls arein the darkness. They are centralized and grab your attention next, the first one b/c shes looking at you, the second b/c shes oddly the only one that isnt facing the viewer.She hated Sargent and was uncooperative the entire time.All of these elements distribute the attention to the girls pretty evenly and the space is closed off on the right side by the vase.

  • John Singer Sargent
  • Daughtersof Edward Darley Boit
  • Oil on Canvas 1882
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA