• Evelyn Dunphy

Tension: Is It Good for Your Painting?

As you know, next to actually painting, I love studying about painting, color, design, methods - anything and everything about our favorite subject! Last night I came across a comment that I want to share with you. It's by Gale Bennett (GALE BENNETT (1939-2008), Founder and Director of ArtStudy Giverny in Giverny, France).

"If we want to isolate the one single element that makes a painting a masterpiece, it is spatial tension."

Raphael: Portrait of "Count Baldassare Castiglione, C. 1514"

What is "spatial tension?" When I looked at this portrait, I saw what I would describe as a really great "negative space" that separated the hat from the background. As Bennett described it, this portrait is a perfect example of one of the "formal" elements of masterful art" which is spatial tension.

Bennett says Raphael arranged the subject's hat and collar to create one of "most memorable background shapes in the history of art". Wow!

In my workshops and classes, I talk about "intersecting shapes, linking shapes, over-lapping shapes in order to make an interesting design." And in my landscape paintings, I always concentrate on the "negative shape between horizon line, tree line and/or sky" as that can be fairly uninteresting in real life and one must create variation in shape, size and height in order to eliminate tedium. I was so happy to realize that what Bennett is saying so eloquently, means that I am on the right track. This is how he put it:
"The visual locking of the background into the subject matter creates extreme spatial tension, ia also known as spatial focus. When combined with the universal elements of form, composition, color, value and size, it helps answer the question: what makes a masterpiece."
Happy Painting! Evelyn

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