|The Impact of Size|
Does size matter? In art it certainly does. How many times have you seen an artwork in reproduction, perhaps an invitation to a gallery show or a page in an art book only to be shocked when confronted with the actual work?
I recall my first experience with that as a young child. In the 1960's Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa traveled from the Louvre in Paris, France to be exhibited in New York City. The image of the painting was everywhere, on huge posters, on coffee cups, t-shirts and in the newspaper. It was the most famous painting in the world! People around me were talking about it and in my imagination I saw this painting as a least 6 feet tall. I didn't see the original at that time but years later when I visited the Louvre, I was stunned. Here was this relatively small painting encased in bullet proof plastic completely diminished.
Size of an art object determines our experience of it. A small work can have an essential intimacy that would be destroyed by making that image larger. The viewer literally has to get up close and actively engage in a physical way in order to see; sometimes even picking up the piece and holding it in your hands to feel it. Something you are unlikely to do with a 6 foot painting.
A perfect example of small but arrestingly powerful art pieces are found in traditional Persian miniature paintings from the 14th -17th century. These are delicate and richly detailed illustrations created with an extremely small brush. Using vivid color, and gold and silver leaf, the works are filled with absorbing complexities that demand undivided attention. As you invest your time looking you are rewarded as the hidden details will emerge. The small size inspires a very personal relationship with the work.
With a large scale work you see the art piece from across the room and make snap a decision about whether or not you will invest in a visit up close. In a glance you begin to make your judgments and criticisms. Once you are directly in front of the piece your peripheral vision is filled and you are surrounded by the art. If you get close enough you become a physically active part of the painting, you might even feel engulfed. Your reaction either positive or negative, is likely to be amplified.
Look at a piece from Jackson Pollack like Number 31. Would a smaller version impart the energy and activity that the mega sized work does? Our physical selves are very naturally impressed by sheer size. I don't even think the world would have been compelled to look into his paintings had most of them not been enormous. The out-sized work confronts and challenges us. First physically and then mentally, as we try imagine how active he had to be to create such a large piece. The canvases were so large that they had to be laid on the bare studio floor as he danced and attacked around the edges with poured and dripping paint. Pollack's mammoth canvases command us to look at painting as pure paint and energy, the arena for the action and process of painting itself.
Pollock's One: Number 31, 1950 occupies an entire wall by itself at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City
The size of the artwork is one of the first decisions an artist makes. As a viewer you take in that message and begin to establish an opinion. Is the painter of large works a bit of an ego-maniac? Are small works equally important for their intimacy or do they reflect a timid artist? Personally I prefer to paint both on extremes, staying away from midsized canvas. I've been interested in how the same subject, in this case my series of wave images, get translated and affected by size.
Next time you are viewing any kind of art (photography, sculpture, drawings, paintings, prints, installations) consider just how size may be affecting your reaction.
Until next time,