WITHOUT suggestion appreciation for the beau-tiful cannot come. Beauty without emotion is inconceivable. In art emotion expresses itself, as we have found, through the power, force, and movement of lines. Extending line to tone we have the added factors of crescendo and diminuendo of light and shade. The more spontaneous the handling of these elements the higher is the art expression.
There is one other agent that stimulates the imagination. It is present in beauty and is the silence of emotion. It is the foil.
Over-concentration on any object means that all other parts of a picture do not receive their due share of attention. A foil is something introduced to prevent over-accentuation or harmful weakening of the main intent, it is a means of spreading the interest to the other sections of the picture. It is a balancing feature but it is more, it is a life-giving and picture-making force the merits of which have never been sufficiently rated. The absence of the foil in plain photography is largely the reason for its lack of picture quality.
A foil is a difficult thing to describe for it changes its character with every picture in which it is used. When we have a heavily accented face the foil is the presence of something within easy vision of the eye, strong enough to detract attention somewhat from the face and to keep it from being vulgarly near. It gives the reserve quality that we call refinement. But the foil is not visibly present as such in all pictures. In a masterly oval picture, for instance, when the frame closely fits the figure portrayed, the very nearness of that frame creates the "consciousness beside the face" that acts as a foil. Whenever the frame is close to the figure the need for an especial foil is lessened or removed, but the necessity for it is great where the figure is surrounded by much space. We sometimes find that it is a mere form or tint breaking the monotony of a large surface. This in itself shows how carefully weighed must be everything we introduce in a picture, for each part has more than one office to perform.
In Fig. 28 the background forms gradation of tone lightest at the shoulder, where the accent formed by the shoulder lines is the foil to the face. With the introduction of the successful foil, we see the face less, but feel it more. To look directly at the chief interest in a picture, as in Fig. 86, without feeling any gentle alleviating factor, is to experience a sense of displeasure at the first glance. If what we are to gaze upon is not thrust at us, but has treatment of refinement all through and about it, comes playfully forward, offers itself with reserve, we are fascinated.
Comparing Figures 116 and 117 these qualities are found to exist in Fig. 116. Each playful line and tone sings away the material rendering of the plain photo-likeness and makes the picture alive with merriment. Nature forms a smile with curves. What artist would not take the hint from this expressive face and bring the other shapes into harmony with it? The hat, for instance, in Fig. 117, is as expressionless as any still life, not a form is lifted out of inertia and yet a touch of the hand will make these lines laugh with the face. The treatment in Fig. 116 shows an enlargement of curve into curve, all so made that their natural centre would be the eyes. In Fig. 117 the face is separated from its background by a density of tone inconsistently serious. It is further made matter-of-fact by the obtrusiveness of its margins. In Fig. 116 both objectionable conditions have been removed; the face holds some of the light of the picture and the background softly supports its forms with tones. All about the head are introduced foils in the shape of curved lines of varying strength. They are measured to fit the expression.
Seriousness is manifest in the forms of the body in Fig. 117. In Fig. 116 the sleeves have been outlined with an emotional stroke, the margins of the dress have impetuous lines, and spirited touches have modified the laces over the bust. In perfect harmony with these has been the life-giving characterization imparted to the background. Notice the effect of a low horizon, what depth it gives the picture, what loftiness and lightness to the figure. Compared with it Fig. 117 feels heavy, without movement. Figure 117 is the subject; in Fig. 116 the subject has been analyzed, the smile was found to be the motive and treatment has made the picture. Its value lies in the quality attained.
In Fig. 30 the lines, lights, and darks introduced behind the head are to the uninitiated merely a window and landscape, while to the art student they form the satisfactory foil.
Sometimes the diversion is an apparently meaningless spot or abstract line or wilful shadow. In Fig. 115 it is the light line on the floor, in Fig. 119 it is the sudden light touching the hat and bringing expression into the eyes. The added charm is felt when we compare the picture with the plain photograph, Fig. 118.
There is a lesson for us in a study of the prints 57, 58, 59, 64. Both Figures 57 and 58 are the photographic facts of nature; Fig. 59 brings the introduction of suggestion. Its vertical line in the background stimulates thought and directs our eye to the face, yet it prevents over-concentration upon that face; it is the foil. Very different is the problem in Fig. 64 where lines have lost decision and the illusion sifts through the tone. Here the foil to the face is a shape of white linen speaking through the quality of color. Further decentralization is brought by the delicate accents of light in the background. Nothing in this picture is overcharged and it consequently holds our interest better than its predecessors.
Often the foil is more vigorous, as in Fig. 51, where the upright line of rock makes the face less personal and the attitude more dignified. A foil successfully used causes the workmanship to become less apparent. The tender spiritual quality of the foil cannot exist where there is no picture plan.