The Four Spheres

There are four basic concepts that are used with respect to representational painting and drawing. They are: 1) Imprint 2) Gesture 3) Structure and 4) Massing. Considering these concepts can facilitate a comprehensive study — and conversation –of how the visual world is, and has been, interpreted by visual artists, represented from the earliest cave art to present day art. Considering these concepts can also help students of art jump into the process of creating visual art with some tools and road maps with respect to where they are in the context of visual expression. Many artists over many years have used various media to express different visual realities, but these realities transcend media, and can be broken down into four basic concept centers. For this blog, I’m going to refer to these concept centers as “spheres”. The reason being is that these concept centers are more like orbital planets with their own creative gravitational pulls, if you will, than simply concepts. They float freely, if you will, on the great and unseen plane of ideas, and can call us into different modalities of expression, if we allow them to. The “spheres” model is then a way–an attempt–to quantify visual art, so that visual representation can be better taught to those wanting to learn.

“Imprint” is the first sphere, containing ideas related to abstraction and semi-abstraction. Leaf imprints, stone rubbings, non-linear smudges creating illusions of shadow and light, and various types of “relief” images are good examples of “imprint” images. Images within this sphere are recognizable in the midst of their “vague” quality. Imprints tell the story of a visual reality that is at once vague and at once instantly recognizable. They tell the story of something very specific while at the same time they reveal something more universal. A distant figure may look like only an “imprint” from very far away–it’s a person –yet the individual can be recognized even though detail cannot be seen. The distant figure is thus both universal and specific, at the same time.

“Gesture” is the second sphere, embodying rhythm and flow of line. Gesture lines dance, conveying rates of change, speed and direction. They convey action. Gesture lines are really rhythmic “parabolas” which could be represented by mathematical equations, although as drawers we have no need to “do the math.” Gestures can also convey connection. When linear statements are put down without lifting the drawing instrument they become representations of connection and fluidity.

“Structure” is the third sphere, and can be broken down into two subsets: A) revelatory structure which translates volume and conveys the three dimensional plane as it is revealed; and B) invisible structure which is unseen, presenting itself as an accurate representation of size and proportion.

A) Revelatory Structure

1) Circular structure – circular strokes that convey form
2) Geometric structure – squared off strokes that convey form
3) Silhouette structure – the isolation of the silhouette so as to convey form

B) Invisible structure: “placement” & “proportion”

1) “Similar triangles” solve the “size and placement” problem on the flat visual plane, as does measuring, and then of course, just a good eye.
“Massing” is the last and fourth sphere, comprised of five areas:

A) Massing with respect to method: masses express themselves in terms of flatness or non-flatness, but masses can be expressed in a variety of ways: by horizontal lines across the form; by flat or semi flat areas of color-value laid in; by dots punched in; by splatters splattered in — you name it! Really, there are an infinite number of ways to mass. No matter how one masses, mass areas communicate volume and dimension the more flatly they are painted or drawn. There exists a continuum between implicit flat and explicit flat, no matter how one chooses to mass. But the way one chooses to mass determines how “weighty” a subject feels, or how “solid” a subject feels — the character of the mass in general.

B) Massing with respect to value: massing on a 1 – 9 value scale, for example. There are many value scales.

C) Massing to communicate color & vibration. Color is better communicated when color is laid out flatly. In this way mass and color are related. When not flat, color is engaging in a rate of change within a mass – as one mass approaches another – affecting the visual illusion of space. Such refraction occurs throughout nature. Color can be put down in a “broken” way, alternating warm and cool versions at the same value.

D) Massing with respect to edge: masses meet other masses. Manipulation of the edges of mass creates a sense of space and atmosphere. Masses generally are not static. There exists transitions of color and value within masses.

E) Massing with respect to texture: masses can have texture to evoke a sculptural affect; often referred to as “impasto” in traditional schools of painting.

Thus, within these four concept centers, or “spheres”, one can discuss representational art. Representational artists, as such, of different periods, have stressed, and continue to stress, different spheres so as to create novel affects, or to communicate unique ideas. Artists, as such, create or evoke different feelings and responses from viewers due to the various — and infinite — permutations of these spheres, including omission of one more of them. So not only can we study others’ art through the lens of these concept spheres, we can jump in and explore drawing and painting while considering these concept centers for ourselves.

In future posts I will show some of my own artwork, especially drawings, that “front-load”, if you will, different concept centers, or, spheres; I will also include drawings that “omit” overt consideration of one or more of these spheres. It’s a mix and match kind of thing. You get the idea!

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