Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Level best

It might sound silly but one of the things I really like in drawings and paintings is when a level surface looks level. By this I mean, for example, that because of good drawing, a drawn or painted tabletop can be seen to be level. The edges might be slanted because of perspective but we as ordinary viewers know if it's "right". This preference goes against the grain of Modernism which delighted in throwing conventional perspective out the window and which teems with "tipped up" tabletops and other such surfaces. I like these too but don't feel authentic doing it myself and besides Modernism is long gone.

I sometimes use a little test of my own to figure out if something in a drawing is level. For instance, take the chair seat in Vermeer's "Woman Reading a Letter", and try this to check if it's really level: imagine placing a marble in the centre of the seat and then feel it with your body. Will the marble stay put or will it roll off?

The thing about tipped-up tabletops in Modernism is interesting for another reason. The trend developed from a belief that Cézanne's tipped up still life paintings were a manifestation of the use of multiple viewpoints and were therefore a precursor to Cubism. In previous posts I have ventured some evidence against this view. I'm now reading a book about Cézanne's landscapes that tends to question some of the 20th century art theory that was built on the tipped-up assumptions. Very interesting indeed, more in another post.

No comments: