THE first thing that gives evidence of a desire for expression in black and white art is the placing of a dot or spot upon paper. It is a means of expression because it betrays a purpose. If to that dot or spot is added a second, there is more than an expression, there is evident intention, and the mind looks from one to the other, wishing to understand the significance of these two placings. If a third spot is added there is increased significance.
Dots placed as in Figures 16 and 17 convey the idea of something enumerated, they have no art significance, no picture meaning. If, however, they are in a given space enclosed by boundary lines such as a square, oblong or oval, they assume an art meaning, - a meaning that lies at the foundation of all art. For instance, where in Fig. 18 the dot emphasizes the centre of a picture surface, all attention in the square plane is drawn to the one spot. But in pictures we should be interested in more than the mere centre; in Chapter II (Art Versus Nature) we learned that the whole space became important, that everything between the boundary lines should be of interest. As a step toward accomplishing this we introduce a second spot to lead away from the centre, - Fig. 19. Now our attention is no longer limited to one place but is directed upward, and we perceive the first evidence of controlled art intention. There is a conscious method employed of leading the attention of the observer in the direction the artist desires. We find in Fig. 19 that something is still lacking, that the picture plane as a whole is not felt; there is merely an upward movement and the lower part is empty. Whatever may be put below the central dot will direct the attention downward just as the spot above drew the interest upward. Thus in Fig. 20 the picture plane has reached a development that makes us perceive a 'space-filling' of the entire square. We note again the principle that whatever is placed upon the surface made by four bounding lines or by the circle is a means of expression, and to so use this means that it will accomplish what we intend is to employ the art language.
Let us analyze further. The eye is so created that it can focus upon only one spot at a time. For instance, if a boy is shown two apples of equal size, color, and shape, and is asked to choose, his eye will wander from one to the other. In the effort to see both he would have to look at a point between them; he would then be conscious of the one to the right and the other to the left, but he would not see them directly. So the mind when dealing with two spots alike in size does not linger on either, the attention is equally distributed, - Fig. 21. If, however, we make one large and the other small, - Fig. 22, the mind accepts the large one as a kind of accent or evidence of strength, and the smaller as an accessory, or if two small ones are grouped, - Fig. 23, they assume the relation to a third small one that the large spot held to the smaller, the mind going from the latter to the former. The same principle holds when a third, fourth, fifth or other spot is used, provided no other factor is called into play.
To make this applicable at once we will show three spots from a work arranged pictorially, - Fig. 24. The largest is composed of a well-lighted head, the second in size is made by the hand, and the third shows only part of the hand. These spots being of unequal size, the mind is directed from one to the other, the eye passing from the frame limit by way of the small spot on the right, thence to the other hand and then to the head, where it rests; or it may be that the attention is drawn in from the frame line at the top, fastens upon the large spot forming the head, and though virtually held there is attracted downward by the lesser spots of the hands and is made conscious of the whole picture surface. This is a successful expression of the artist's wish, his desire being to paint a portrait in which, of course, the head holds the chief interest.
Let us suppose that our picture plan must conform, not to a portrait, but to an illustration in which a newspaper held in the hand is to receive a preponderance of interest. We can draw notice away from the face to the newspaper and the hand by the principle shown in Fig. 25. Here again the largest spot gains and holds our attention. But if inexperience has led us to plan a portrait as sketched in Fig. 25, we may still be able to draw the observer's thought from the newspaper and most comfortably establish it upon the face by the simple device illustrated in Fig. 26, - the introduction of a window possessing such characteristics that the right portrait-balance is established.
Fig. 25 47
Fig. 26 48
The photographer who has long cherished marginal sharpness everywhere will doubtless feel perplexed when he first tries to think of nature in the abstract and endeavors to apply the principle. Figure 27 is an instance in which the coat, hands, face, and background have been rendered with equal mechanical exactness, although the photographer was no doubt impressed with the intellectuality of the man. This literalism debars him from the realization of his otherwise rightly executed plan in which by his three-spot arrangement he has succeeded in leading our attention from the hands to the face. The same negative has yielded Fig. 28, where unessential facts of form have been suppressed and the largest spot of light has had its definitions emphasized until the face holds us with a heightened interest found only in portraiture and always absent in the mere likeness. It will be seen that no principle of art is independently active and we must try to discover the place of each in the interrelation of things pictorial. For instance, it is interesting to discover that in Fig. 28 a white patch of linen has helped to make the whole head more effective. It is so placed that it breaks the directness of the triangle formed by the hands and head and gives the composition of the spots the grace of the letter S. The background, too, has been relieved of its metallic impenetrable quality by soft gradations of light adding to the effect of depth. The mood created by these added and changed effects is continued through the picture by the treatment of the hands and the coat; the inert folds, the materialism confronting us in the cloth texture in Fig. 27, have been pervaded in Fig. 28 with an emotional quality singularly in harmony with the rendering of this man's personality.
The spot arrangement of Fig. 25 is reproduced in the pose of the figure in Fig. 29. Notice that although the face is full of character and naturally sympathetic, it does not hold our gaze because the newspaper constantly pulls our interest downward and forces us to divide our attention. Since in portraiture we endeavor to establish a truly live relationship between the one pictured and ourselves, we cannot, without utter destruction to the portrait element, permit such inconsistencies to occur. The distribution of the spots should be so well directed and all else should so contribute to their support that the eye would sift vitality from the whole picture area and we would have the consciousness of a personality whose presence would permeate every part. Under these conditions the eyes of the sitter become very effective as a means of direct communication with us. Illustration 30 has the subtlety of treatment that, refusing to be disturbed by the aggressiveness of the newspaper and harsh line of the cuff, establishes through "balance' the dominating interest about and in the face, the eyes gaining in expression. How much more real, plastic, healthy, restful is the face pictured in Fig. 30, and yet both are printed from the same negative, Fig. 29 before manipulation, Fig. 30 afterward.
Character, physical strength, dignity, soulfulness, beauty are gained in art through "treatment," as is witnessed in the transformation of Fig. 29 into Fig. 30. Over the head in Fig. 30 there is a circular light that lifts the figure into space, giving it erectness, strength of character. In Fig. 31 this light is missing, certain movements of the darks weigh down the forms and introduce a depression. Figure 29 can be pictorially developed by other means than the one we have chosen; in fact every touch upon the negative will change the character of the person portrayed. No other medium is so well calculated to help us to realize how facial and picture expression comes into being. Notice that the eyes, hair, ear, collar, background, coat, hands, cuff, are all immobile in Fig. 29, but the slight changes in Fig. 30 have brought the quiver, the liveliness, the life-likeness, into all the parts.
Facial expression is not a fixed thing. It is dependent upon the treatment of its surroundings.