Monthly Archives: December 2014

There’s no such thing as ‘background’

A Brief Stop coloured pencil drawing

A Brief Stop
coloured pencil drawing, 2008

The subject of background comes up quite often in art groups which I belong to on Facebook.  Now and then a person laments that s/he is not keen on doing them.  The person wants to get straight to the main subject; therefore the background is rather a nuisance – something boring to be ‘got through’.

At the risk of sounding dogmatic, I don’t believe in the word ‘background’ in art.  I like to think that subject and surroundings are equally as important and interesting as one another.  The composition is one whole as opposed to an important part with secondary parts tacked on.

Au revoir coloured pencil drawing 2009

Au revoir
coloured pencil drawing 2009

Perhaps every drawing is like a theatrical performance.  I just saw the film “Mr. Turner” a couple of days ago.  It is about the English painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner.  What a magnificent film.  The acting was superb but just as stunning was every single cinematic shot.  There was no background in this film; every landscape and interior was conceived with care, sensitivity and deliberation and was of equal importance to the actors.

Out and About on a Gion Afternoon Coloured pencil drawing from 2009

Out and About on a Gion Afternoon
Coloured pencil drawing from 2009

Set, lighting, costume, actor, plot, narrative – each one of these essential in performance art .  Consider a concerto; the orchestra must be as riveting as the soloist – each supports the other.   No different in visual art.   So please, drop the word ‘background’.  It would be a four letter word if it wasn’t 10 letters long.

ps …and see “Mr. Turner”.

NOTE:  I am not saying that every space needs to be filled in.  A work with NO background is complete if that was the artist’s intention.  You can think of a musical sonata or an actor on an empty stage or a study of something on paper by itself.  It is background as afterthought that I am complaining about.  Treat all the space you work on as first class; not some first class and some in steerage.

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