THE question naturally arises: can one not see the face better when it is placed in the centre as in Fig. 18 and Fig. 32? It certainly is seen suddenly, but the mind does not remain with it, for the attention jumps to the four boundary lines and the picture is made restless, or else the head gathers in all the strength as a whirlpool sucks in the water, perpetually draining the visible plain where there should be a sustaining of all the parts. Unless modified, the picture is not good for that reason. We should be made to feel the surface as a whole. It may be inferred from this that beauty is very much a matter of relation, for feeling comes with certain conditions. To establish conditions for pleasurable sensations is the artist's problem.
There are two kinds of beauty; one is shown in pictorial, one in conventional art. With the latter we have nothing to do as it belongs to architecture, the applied arts, etc. Its law is repetition; for instance, in the panel, — Fig. 33, the design on one side is repeated in reverse on the other. Border patterns repeat the same form indefinitely.
Pictorial art, dealt with in portraiture, in the figure and in landscape, is based on the law of variety. Let us illustrate with spots again. When we have a spot in the centre unrelieved, it is not a pictorial element but a conventional one, - Fig. 34; a line extending from the frame to the spot has always its duplicate on the opposite side. If a second spot is added as in Fig. 35, the conventional characteristics are not destroyed although we are aiming at the pictorial. It is not always easy to place the second dot so that the result will be free from the conventional. We find in Fig. 36 the distance from A to B is exactly the same as from C to D; that A to C and C to E are the same. We have repetition, conventionality. If in Fig. 37 we change the position of the second spot, we avoid the repetition of Fig. 35; the distances from the side frame lines vary, A to B being longer than B to C, but we still have an error, for the distances from B to D and B to E are the same. Figure 38 is no better. In Fig. 39 there is an improvement; we have irregular distances created by the spots. But there is a fault in the sameness of their direction. The horizontal character of the frame is emphasized, as in Fig. 36 we had an emphasis upon the vertical, both leaning toward the conventional and therefore dangerous to the principle we are considering. In Fig. 40 we secure the pictorial element in the placing of this spot.
It is still more difficult to place a third spot correctly. In Fig. 41 the repetition is aggravated; we are tempted to count three. It would be harmful to place another dot in Fig. 37 so as to make Fig. 42, even though some of the distances are irregular, for the plane is evenly divided into two parts, therefore unpictorial, - Fig. 43. To elucidate Fig. 41 by means of a picture, imagine the light striking three objects, the face, feather in the hat, and one hand, thus placed, - Fig. 44. The result is painful. Figure 45 gives us the head and hands very conventional and hence bad for pictorial purposes. To improve it we have but to move one of the hands.
Fig. 46 66
After this explanation there can be no difficulty in understanding why Fig. 47 offers better opportunity for pictorial qualities than Fig. 32. Fig. 48 is an improvement over Fig. 47, avoiding as it does every geometric tendency. Fig. 49 may be equally satisfactory if carefully worked out. It calls to mind some of the interesting problems from Rembrandt's brush.
From the standpoint of beauty, Figs. 24 and 28 demonstrate the successful placing of three spots forming the head and hands, and Figures 26 and 30 show examples of satisfactory placing of head, hands, and the accessories required for balance. The rounder the head, the greater the disadvantage in the central placing, but when the full face effect is made irregular by the extension of the luminous flesh mass into such connecting lights as may be furnished by the sitter's costume, a decentralization is of itself effected and the problem of balance becomes easier. A three-quarter view or a profile,—Fig. 46, has this same advantage, as the lighted flesh portion is irregular.
An oblong frame is often advisable in portraiture, as with it we can better escape our natural tendency to conventionalize. We instinctively place the head above the centre, though we may still be tempted to maintain the middle distance between the uprights.
Beauty in pictorial art is found in a perfectly balanced irregularity; it is the outcome of a plan, a mental picture realized in black and white.