To understand still better the difference between the decorative and the pictorial principles we will examine the elements that compose each.
The panel A represents light and dark; all the tints are flat. Placed in a picture they maintain their flatness and through their agency decoration is brought about.
In panel B a gradation of tone called "light and shade," or "shading," creates a feeling as of penetration into space. When a figure is placed in a picture and enveloped in this grading of tones, the illusion is created that it is surrounded by atmosphere. The effect is pictorial.
When light and shade fall upon an object they model form; when they appear in space they produce depth.
We are indebted to the action of light and shade for the "thickness" of things rendered and for the feeling of substance. To understand the development of light and shade and the place that they hold in our pictorial language, the period of art immediately embracing the activity of the Van Eyck brothers should be studied. They introduced oil colors into European art and caused the wonderful development of painting that resulted in the easel picture.
We are not discussing the question whether Japanese or Chinese art is more desirable than our own, nor are we called upon to decide whether the easel picture is of more or less value than decoration. We have not the power even had we the desire to cast out the effect of traditions inherited from Greek sculpture and Renaissance art, from our literature, philosophy, and religion. The determining factor is always the public need and art must not attempt to overstep our civilization.
There is a similarity of terms used in teaching decorative and pictorial art that is quite confusing. For instance, in pictorial art we speak of light spots and dark spots, light masses and dark masses, and though the words sound like the decorative terms "light and dark" they are never disassociated from gradation. For example, Fig. 118 is a plain photograph having pictorial possibilities. We find the physical portion modelled by the agency of frontal lighting. All through the flesh there is gradation of tone, but we may speak of it as a "mass of white." Gradation is also present in the hair and in the hat, forming broken masses of dark. The background and the dress are flat and are in a manner possessed of the decorative elements that characterize the Japanese print, yet how is it possible to develop this picture on the decorative principle ? Is not satisfaction to be gained rather by increasing the impression of modelling and by producing atmospheric conditions in the background? Light and shade have been employed in Fig. 119 to bring about the beauty that conforms with the occidental ideas of the human figure. We want the evidences of health, of cheerful conditions, we want life in its fulness; life itself is plastic.
The ethereal grace of a Japanese rendering of the same subject, conceived and carried out in lines, light and dark, would be a product unacceptable to our people. Photography with its imitation of the round forms of nature does not lend itself easily to other than the pictorial treatment.
Notice the pictorial development of Fig. 118. In decorative art the background space above the hat would be made as beautiful as any other part of the picture; its degree of importance would not be secondary to the face or figure. In pictorial art such background portions should be only relatively beautiful because they are supporting elements. In portraiture we seek entrance into the portrayed one's personality through his eyes. Light and shade must animate the light spots or dark spots that will lead our interest to that point of attraction. In Fig. 118 the eyes are less prominent than the lace, and no more animated. Turning to the portrait Fig. 119 we meet at once the woman's gaze and are held by it, though we are conscious of the rich setting of the entire picture. How this is accomplished is explained in Fig. 20 and its principle. In Fig. 118 the flesh is an irregular light mass in which the neck and shoulders outweigh the head. In our effort to draw attention to the eyes we must counteract the large light effect below the head and carry the interest upward by placing a balancing light above. This is done in the hat, Fig. 119. Then we play a delicate light circle-wise from this spot, still making use of the hat, around to the eyes. The result is an expression of composure desirable in portraiture. This success we will follow by robbing the lace of its sharp contours, thus taking from it its obtrusiveness and forcing the interest into the luminous flesh. In Fig. 119 a half-tone has been introduced throughout the dress to tie together the three isolated light spots of flesh, softening and enriching each. This half-tone is also made to invade the uniformly dark background, breaking its surface and creating space around the figure. Thus "light and shade" permeates all and "light and dark" does not exist.
Photographically considered, the lighting of Fig. 120 is successful, the face being well modelled, the detail well defined. From a pictorial standpoint, the material is in rather a crude state, the face is overpowered by the white mass of the hat, by the larger white mass of the waist, as well as by the protruding dark of the background. In each of the light masses there is a multiplicity of margins refusing to subordinate themselves to the main interest. We improve conditions by giving our first attention to the arrangement for beauty. We feel that the line structure is not a happy one. The sketch 121 shows the general plan to be too symmetrical. The shoulder line C is half-way between A and B, and the hat line D is midway between C and B; the width of the body is approximately the same as that of the hat. We must do something to make this regularity less apparent. In Fig. 123 a great variety in the shapes has resulted from the introduction of a series of lines. Thus in Fig. 122 space 11 is different from space 13. This again varies from 14, from 12, from 8, etc. Questioning the line formations of Fig. 120 with reference to stability, we find the sections of this picture disjointed. Line A, Fig. 122, has been introduced to tie together the shoulder, the hat, and the upper frame; line B, on the other side, starts lower, beginning at the scarf, slightly touches the hat, and ends in the upper frame. Line C invades the empty field to the right, connecting the arm with the right vertical frame-line, and D, which in Fig. 120 is too obscure, is in Fig. 123 made firm and touches the frame. Their united action establishes the figure's firmness.
Considering the velocity of the lines, the hat-rim (E, Fig. 122) shows a sameness of speed in Fig. 120. By changing its accents from hard to soft, varying the degrees of intensity, we attain pleasing, sympathetic results. The upper frame is checked by lines A and B, the right frame by C and D, and the left is modified in velocity by the nearness of B. Thus the tempo of the frame has been brought into harmony with the mood of the picture. Similar modifications have occurred in the body, where the minute definitions of form in Fig. 120 have given way to playful tones in Fig. 123.
It is of interest to notice the difference in the character of lines A and B. Their lengths have been unequally broken. B has been over-cut by leaf forms to modify its strength. These lines, A and B, the leaves, the dark spaces on either side, all act as a foil to the face, giving Fig. 123 the self-contained look so absent in
Fig. 120, where the expression is self-conscious. The factors enumerated also direct our gaze to the eyes in the picture and it rests there, the expression gaining in soulfulness.
Although there are other principles important in picture construction, these are indispensable in the practice of this new art. Their application is varied in each problem. For instance, in Fig. 117, where the background is light and the figure offers the dark note, we find an uncomfortable state of affairs in that the black of the hair despotically claims our attention, the arm visible on the right is almost equally obtrusive, and the bow at the belt is impertinent. Composition does not condemn these factors excepting when they are left unharmonized. It is our duty to learn to make use of them. The drawing 124 shows how the points 1, 2, 3, that in Fig. 117 are unsatisfactory, are linked in Fig. 116 as by an invisible chain to 5, 6, 7, 8, 4, encircling the figure, touching the frame line, breaking meaningless empty spaces, throwing depth into the background, and withal centring our attention upon the face.
Where masses and vigorous spots of light interlace with similar masses and spots of dark against a common half-tone ground the problem becomes truly complex, and requires the deeper knowledge of composition that comes only with long study. A master handling these factors is Carolus Duran. A study of his pictures would help to solve the problem, and will be of special interest to those whose nature demands an expression of the color sense embodied with the portrait.