Life has been busy lately, moving at a very quick pace. I haven’t kept up with my daily drawing time. Now that Inktober is over… well, other things have taken precedence over my morning drawing. And, other than my experiment with theoretical art and color schemes, I haven’t been spending any time at my easel, either. As for art magazines and the inspiration they give me, they’re sitting in a stack near my easel.
But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been learning. It’s a back-and-forth process, you see. First I learn, then I do. Or, at least I try to do, using what I’ve learned as a guide. That means you can take this as a forewarning of sorts. In future posts you’ll probably be seeing lots of fauvish colors — is that actually a word? You’ll be seeing lots of paintings that focus on the concept of rhythm in art. That’s what I’m studying now.
Because I’m a musician, I suppose the idea of rhythm in art feels natural to me. It’s a concept that is logical. It makes sense to me. But, of course, rhythm in art is quite different from rhythm in music, so it’s much like being a very young child and learning these principles all over again.
Just as in music, there are different types of rhythm in the art world. One of those types is called alternating rhythm. Here’s the definition:
“Alternating rhythm describes an artwork that contains a repetition of two or more components that are used interchangeably. Some alternating rhythm examples include alternating light and dark colors or placing various shapes and/or colors in a repeating pattern.”
Earlier in my studies when I had a little practice time, I had fun creating this simple rhythmic painting:
It is simple because it is based on only one design element: curved lines, or scallops, as I call them.
When we move beyond a singular element, though, we can create much more complex rhythms, including an alternating rhythm.
I learn best from examples, and while I might not always understand the interpretations and explanations behind the studies, it’s always good for me to be exposed to famous artists and their very famous works.
So, learn along with me today, if you’d like, or if you’re already familiar with the concept of alternating rhythm, maybe you can comment on these paintings and share a few thoughts. These paintings, you see, represent use of alternating rhythm in art.
We begin with that Fauve master — now that I know the word, I love throwing it around — Henri Matisse. Here is his Red Room.
Although it’s said to be a painting of harmony, I don’t quite see it that way.
In his Paris studio with its windows looking out over a monastery garden, in 1908 Matisse created one of his most important works of the period 1908-1913: “The Red Room”. The artist himself called this a “decorative panel” and it was intended for the dining room in the Moscow mansion of the famous Russian collector Sergey Shchukin. Matisse turned to a motif common in the works created that year: a room decorated with vases, fruits and flowers. Yet, as he wrote in 1908, “the basis of my thinking has not changed, but the very thinking has evolved and my means of expression have followed on.” The luxuriant raspberry red fabric with its energetic twists of blue pattern seems to sink down from the wall, taking over the surface of the table and uniting it in a single whole, swallowing up the three-dimensional space of the room and masterfully confirming the decorative potential of the canvas surface. Matisse first made such uncompromising use of this compositional device here, in “The Red Room”. But in affirming the flatness of the red colour, the artist managed to create within it the impression of space, space within which the female figure bending over the vase could move and within which the sharp angled view of the chair seemed natural. The window, through which we see a green garden with flowering plants, allows the eye to move into the depths of the canvas.”
Let’s move on, shall we?
Much more to my liking is Lizard by M. C. Escher.
Created in 1942, this is an example of op art, and I’ll get around to learning more about that another day. I do like this work, though. I’m a huge fan of all lizards, plus I like the neutral color palette. Even I can understand the alternating concept here. He’s repeated both the lizard motif and the colors — if black, brown, and white can be called colors. Escher’s art works, I’ve learned, were generally based on mathematical principles — and as every beginning music student knows, math and rhythm go hand in hand.
Next, let’s consider Endless Rhythm by Robert Delauney. I chose this as an example primarily because he used the idea of rhythm in the painting’s title.
The Gallery display at the Tate tells us: “The coloured discs strung out diagonally across the picture are so arranged that each one leads on to the next and the movement is directed back again into the picture at the two ends. Perhaps because of this infinitely looping effect, the artist’s wife Sonia considered Endless Rhythm to be the most appropriate title. The year after painting this, Delaunay was commissioned to paint murals for the Aeronautics pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition; the resulting compositions included discs, rings and colour rhythms on a huge scale.”
And, if you need something to wake you up a bit, take a look at this very loud example of rhythmic art:
It is Sweeping Ribbons by Bernard Hoyes, and I would not want this hanging on my bedroom wall, thank you. Still I can feel the rhythm and sense the movement of the painting.
I think one of the key points to learn about rhythm in art is something I touched upon in my comment about the Hoyes painting. Art is something we look at. It’s visual. We see paintings. Rhythm, however, can’t really be seen; it is something we hear. We have to hear the beat of a drum, the syncopated striking of a piano’s keys, the rhythmic play of pizzicato on a violin’s strings.
We see art; we hear rhythm.
But these two expressions are brought together by feeling, by how our body experiences them. The lights, shadows, and colors of a painting — things we see — come together to create mood and atmosphere, to evoke memories. In similar fashion, the rhythm of a painting adds to the experience. While it may by-pass our physical hearing, it goes straight to our emotional senses. The rhythm of a painting vibrates through us and can truly move us, as strongly as if we were hearing it through the performance of a symphony orchestra.
Some “art performances” are loud, with crashing cymbals and dissonant tones. Charles Ives comes to mind as a composer. Others are minimalistic, like a quiet Philip Glass piece fluttering in the background. You might disagree, but I think of Gustav Holst (specifically The Planets) when I look at Endless Rhythm, and as for Jamaican-born artist Hoyes and his Sweeping Rhythms, is there any doubt we’re hearing reggae?
It’s fun for me to look at famous paintings, to explore their mathematical, rhythmic patterns, and to now associate them with music and with specific composers. I may never see art in quite the same way again, and who knows, maybe the next time I’m at the symphony I’ll be seeing — or hearing — new pictures in my head as they play.
Art and music do go together quite well, indeed.