Monday, June 18, 2007

Georgia O'Keeffe Month: Learning about Notan #2

"The Peacock Skirt", illustration by Aubrey Beardsley for Oscar Wilde's play Salomé (1892)

This post follows on from Learning about Notan #1. I thought I'd share something about what Dow has to say about Notan - the Japanese concept involving the placement of lights and darks next to the other to read as flat shapes on the two-dimensional surface - and harmony in two value designs and then how this can apply to compositions involving flowers.

Two value Notan
"Line melts into tone through the cluster of many lines. Direct study of tone-intervals begins with composition in two values - the simplest form of Notan" Arthur Wesley
Dow identifies Notan as a way of identifying visual harmony. Key learning points for appreciating two value Notan are:
  • start with avoiding representation at first. He recommends recommends checking out how simple black and white patterns are used in the decorative design of the world - and how they can found in the patterns used in tiles, textiles, (eg see Elizabethan coifs, lace and brocade quilts) wood inlay, inlaid boxes and inlaid instruments, fret work, page ornaments, seals and architecture (I immediately thought of Siena's Duomo and timber-framed buildings in England such as Little Moreton Hall)
  • focus first on ensuring that the line design works before beginning to darken certain shapes within the overall design with black
  • observe how each line design has the potential to generate several Notan arrangements (different arrangements of black and white). The arrangement which should be chosen is that which is most beautiful
  • note how a limited field of expression often stimulates greater inventive activity. An example he quotes is the artist Aubrey Beardsley who scarcely went beyond black on white - see the image at the top and more images here. (I've also included a couple of links below to a website about Beardsley with a lot more information and images and also Charley Parker's post about Beardsley).
Dow considers two value Notan at length - in relation to its application to textile patterns and rugs, gothic sculpture, Japanese design books and representation of the landscape.

Flowers and two value compositions

Katsushika HOKUSAI1760–1849
Peonies and butterfly c.1832
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

In relation to flowers and two value compositions, the focus is on setting the floral lines into a space in a fine way - and I finally begin to understand the impact of his book on the art of Georgia O'Keeffe. (This is also a quotation which is especially relevant to anybody who has ever struggled with backgrounds in drawings or paintings).
It is essential that space should be cut by the main line. A small spray in the middle of a large oblong, or disconnected groups of flowers cannot be called compositions; all the lines and areas must be related one to another by connections and placings, so as to form a beautiful whole. Not a picture of a flower is sought - that can be left to the botanist - but rather an irregular pattern of lines and spaces, something far beyond the mere drawing of a flower from nature, and laying an oblong over it and vice versa. Arthur Wesley Dow "Composition"
He provides an exercise for developing flower compositions. In essence this involves:
  • producing a fine line drawing of a flower with clear outlines
  • deciding the shape (eg a rectangle or square) which will provide the best shape for the overall composition
  • refinement of the line composition within the format of the shape
  • create further designs by painting areas of the design in black to produce opposing and intermingling masses of black and white
His examples highlight the crucial importance of cropping the image and the way in which cutting across a flower can produce a much more interesting picture than producing what might otherwise be called a vignette view or botanical art. I would love to show you the page of examples in the book and I'm looking for a website which illustrate his thought. Failing that I'll produce some notan 2 value drawings of flowers to show what he means!

[Updated to include the wonderful example of the Hokusai print - part of the National Gallery of Australia's Exhibition on Monet and Japan. This particular print was owned by Monet - part of his collection of over 200 prints.]


1 comment:

  1. I'm so excited about the content of this post, Katherine and the promise of more to come. Life is getting in the way today but I can't wait to get back here!


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