Monday, February 27, 2012

Pleasure of the Line

                                     Fragment of the  grisaille painting by Master of St. Bartholemew Altar

One of the never exhaustible pleasures we can constantly return to is the caressing with gaze a beautiful line. It could be a contour of a Grecian vase or a contour of a bird’s wing, or a silhouette of a tree against the evening sky- we search for it to feast on beauty.

                                                  Stairwell by the Great Antonio Gaudi
Geometric form can never have the beauty of natural form. Geometric line presents its sparseness, lean absolutism of its construction and these are admirable qualities but they are somehow foreign, alienating, distancing our wish to connect. Viewing geometric lines generates emotions of orderliness, authority, regimentation, objectivity, sensation of coldness.
Look at the triangle’s vertices- how unpleasantly piercing they are. They puncture the space and our eyes detect repellant coldness of it with a little flinch and we avert the gaze to dwell on less disagreeable part.

Now look at the rectangle and see how successful it is at showing its orderliness. I do not know when in history of men first rectangle appeared but it could have been around the time when first urban habitations came to be. What extraordinary career the rectangle had!. From rectangular base of the gigantic statuary on Easter Islands in the most remote human habitation in the Pacific Ocean to the formal pattern of the earliest Babylonian pyramids. And yet- there is something inescapingly lacking in that form: the contour of every rectangle has no energy and is clearly dead. Rectangularity of a screen followed the shape of the painting and now everybody participates in that astonishing ritual: “..staring blankly at luminescent rectangles is an increasingly central part of modern life”. Of all possible geometric forms that are available rectangle is in as much of universal use, or more than concept of zero.
In representational art line is always an edge of form. It could be attempting to describe the form in a “more-or-less” ,tentative way, like in drawings by Degas or on the opposite end of intentions, like in engraving by Lucas van Leyden.

If observation of nature has been elected as the biggest, most essential source of inspiration of forms in art than one of inescapable conclusions would have to be that nature is never tentative, hesitant, less than perfect. Each form is executed to its perfection. When one looks at tiny seeds under magnification what strikes with amazement, among other astonishments,  how each seed is absolute: no neglect ever!
The Form Creator makes each seed perfect no matter how tedious, innumerably large the task. Coming back to art after such observation the viewer evaluates art-works with a more discerning, more demanding eye. A lot of art suddenly is less appealing, less satisfying because we see how neglectful, hasty, impatient it is.
All too often I read or hear someone bestowing adjective “creative” on himself or others and I flinch knowing how undeserving it mostly is. Before using that praise one should take a good look at the Greatest Armourer who makes 400 000 different vestments for Coleoptera. That is what being “creative” means.

                                         wonderful photograph by Igor Siwanowicz

Line is always emotional, evoking great variety of feelings.

                                                         fragment of Mathias Gruenewald's altar

                                         Limoges curvilinear tracery inspired by shapes of flames

                                                                 Aubrey Beardsley

When you hold a graver, your body is clenched,your arm ready to stop the graver and you start to cut
into the copperplate a groove of  what will become a line.Your concentration is total. Nothing else seem to exist.There is only the diamond shape of the tip of your graver and your eyes.But the 'line segment" or "line" or "dot" are concepts left momentarily outside.What remains in the mind is pure emotion.You cut "it was so sad..." or "it curled upon itself as if hurt..." or "it mingled with the air freely" or endless array of any other possible emotions.Those are the unspoken joys of the lines, wholly outside of spoken language ready and clear to the viewers eyes to be understood by emotional reading,the same reading that reads human faces.


  1. Always perfect timing. Am discovering lines. What remains in the body is pure emotion. "it was innocent like ocean waves".

    And PS. I wish you wouldn't completely dismiss our geometric friends. They are the building blocks of crystals, snowflakes and they allow us to create a contrast inside. A rectangular piece of copper.

    1. And the shafts of protons,perfectly straight pouring down on the planet.You are right,Susan- they are wonderful.What I meant are those geometric shapes that are not taken from observing Nature but come as arbitrary constructs of the mind.They don't look like matrix of a crystal- they look like machine-made shapes.