Art Quote of the Day

” You weren’t born knowing the difference between a marshmallow and a rock.  You had to learn it.  Most of what you now take for granted you had to learn at one time, and these associations that you take for granted about natural objects are acquired types.  Three categories of acquired types are important to good painting: functional, technical, and formal.

Functional type: You don’t have to drive a car to appreciate the design of an automobile.  Even when you have no personal use  for a thing, you can still admire its design.  This is the aesthetic pleasure of the functional type.

The function of any object is the purpose for which it was made. Your pleasure in the fulfillment of functional type is the satisfaction you get when you recognize that the object’s structure  agrees with your idea of its purpose.

A thing should do what it’s supposed to do; if it doesn’t it fails to fulfill its function, no matter how good it looks.

The functional type of a painting is decoration.  A painting fulfills its functional type when it looks better than the wall it hangs on.  If the painting fails to meet at least the minimum requirements of good decoration, it will not be displayed, and everything else that’s in it, no matter how good, counts for nothing.

Technical type: Technical types are the skill requirements needed to produce an object or a result. Someone who uses things usually has a fuller appreciation of functional type than someone who doesn’t, just as a person who has tried to do something usually has a fuller appreciation of technical type than someone who hasn’t.  If you visit a museum with someone who is not a painter, most of his comments will be about the subject matter.  Go there with a painter and his comments will likely be about color relationships, patterns and design, and technical virtuosity. The painter is more interested in technical types than subject matter.

Formal types: a formal type is always a formula or stereotype. It is an organizing pattern that, once discovered to be particularly successful, gets used over and over again.  For example, a sandwich is a formal type. The stereotype of formula for a sandwich is two pieces of bread with something in the middle.  The fillings, and maybe even the breads, change, but the formula never changes.

Every Art form has its formal types; in music, for example, the sonnet, the symphony and the fugue. ( Impressionist or cubist paintings are formal types.) Because formal types follow strict rules, they are difficult to fulfill with distinction. ( an intrinsically beautiful pattern is usually an indicator of formal type.  A Rembrandt that looks like a Rembrandt fulfills the requirements of formal type.  When we recognize the fulfillment of a formal type, it adds for us another layer of beauty to the painting besides the beauty of its materials, its pattern and its design.”

Conversations in Paint – A Notebook of Fundamentals by Charles Dunn

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