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  1.  (1853.1)
    A topic to get people's opinions/insights on an element of art that I find very difficult to pin down and define...

    There's a certain quality that you can find in artwork sometimes and it's something that can't be easily explained. A friend of mine, John Aggs, has referred to it as 'Gesture', which is the best word I've heard, but I usually just call it 'it'. As far as I can tell, it's most often found in sequential or narrative art, and I feel that it ties in very closely with animation, or the feeling of an animated scene.

    It's the difference between a picture that just looks like a picture of someone doing something, and a picture that is someone doing something... but it's not just confined to the figure, it can also be present in background or any element of drawing, painting or any representational art. However, it's not technical competence (although the two can go hand in hand): I've seen images that are perfectly accurate or anatomically correct that don't have 'it'. I guess it's a sort of holistic property; when an image somehow becomes more than the sum of its lines.
    And it's not an on/off switch. It's found in degrees, and one artist can hover on the edge, sometimes capturing 'it' and sometimes falling short.

    An elegant analogy (again used by John) is that if the picture is a tree, 'Gesture' is the wind that blows through the branches.

    Does anyone know what I'm nattering on about? I'd be totally grateful for opinions, personal ideas about 'it', or especially if anyone knows if 'it' has ever been written about constructively?
    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2008
    I think I know what you mean; for me, Chris Weston got it right in the Ministry of Space. It was interesting in the backmatter of the trade seeing his posed scenes that he worked from for some of the images...and how much of the live energy translated onto the page.
  2.  (1853.3)
    Here's something that I've totally pulled out of me arse on impulse....

    Sounds like "Engagement" to me, wherein an art piece has sufficient depth for the observer to impose their perceptions on it. You have engaged with the picture of the tree, and imposed the illusion, the impression, of motion on it. When the piece isn't engaging, that's when one points to a work and says "what the hell is this supposed to be?"

    I think as far as engagement in sequential or narrative art, any given observer already has a training in visual language from film and teevee, so the impressions are already kinda hardcoded in the head, the mis-en-scene of a frame of a comic panel echoes that of the frame of a film. The visual coding of motion is there from observing it within the frame of a film, and if the art is engaging enough, then the same coding is imposed on the still life.

    There, that was my completely unsubstantiated and thoroughly indefensible opinion on what you suggest. I know what you mean; I, too, only know it when I see it....
    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2008
    Does anyone know what I'm nattering on about?

    like Vermeer's maid with the milk? just to see if i understand. don't know if i'll have anything to contribute to the dialogue, but i'm curious: yes, she's two-dimensional and still, but she is still pouring milk.
    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2008
    I do know what you're talking about, and that analogy is perfect. I have found 'it' in only a few of my own paintings. There's something that happens when everything's working just so; when you've got the perfect canvas, your head is clear enough (or maybe cluttered enough) and the subject matter is look at a face and you're waiting for the eyes to open, for breath and a word to come from the lips. You can feel it. For me it feels like the difference between a crush and love. It's just strange.

    You're right, Paul, it's really hard to explain.
    • CommentAuthorjohnmuth
    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2008
    The first thing that popped into my mind's eye was Eduardo Risso's art - specifically in 100 Bullets. Where, a lot of the background and inconsequential characters seem to be living their own story and while it's not enough to draw your attention away from the main characters, if you look at the way the pages are done, the whole place seems alive.

    I think that part of it has to do with how he short of pulls his own focus change. Always keeping the main story going, but the background will shift to where it's in the foreground and might be nothing more than silhouettes of two characters plotting something, but it just gives the impressions of being in the park. (I'm thinking specifically of a scene in the first two trades somewhere...Sorry, can't recall where exactly.)

    Again, we could be talking about completely different things, but that is just what came to mind, from reading the initial post.

    • CommentTimeApr 18th 2008
    I think its an entirely subjective thing too, depends entirely on the person viewing it and the frame of mind they are in at the time. Two different people could stand next to each other and view a piece at the same time, and one will be rapturously entranced and the other completely indifferent. I find the works of Rene Magritte to have extreme depth and life in them, I can see the movement outside the single frame that he's captured, whereas other people I've spoken with have just found them flat and incomprehensible.
  3.  (1853.8)
    @KitsuneCaligari & Adam
    Ah! Interesting idea Kitsune, and that ties in perfectly with what Adam says about it being a subjective thing too.
    Although, I have to say, I've found myself agreeing with too many people about what does and doesn't have 'it' to think of it as *entirely* subjective. Maybe that 'engagement' requires some specific state of mind or training, that once achieved is a relatively predictable constant. I guess we'd need specific examples and data regarding who sees 'it', who doesn't, and what the viewers relative artistic experiences/abilities are.

    That painting is a perfect example. It just has that beautiful weight, action and light that combine to form a scene in which you can believe and be absorbed.

    I'm not familiar with Risso's art, but I just had a browse of his website, and from what I can see, for me he's on the cusp of 'it'... his work's gorgeous regardless, but occasionally it's too forcefully stylised in dynamic movement to convince for me. That did make me think though, I think that an image without 'it' when seen alone or out of context can take 'it' on when seen as part of a good sequence. There are comics I've flicked through and not been impressed with based on the individual quality of images, but have completely absorbed me when actually reading.
  4.  (1853.9)
    I read Paul's first post last night and thought 'oooh, I know what he means but can't quite put it into words'... The Vermeer painting helps tremendously, it's a two-dimensional image, but she is still pouring milk because of the subtleties of the composition, of the light and shade and the way the lines of the image gently move your eye to the point at which the milk is poured.

    I think sometimes you can see 'it' clearer with photography, if you're looking at a contact sheet or a directory of very similar images, there'll be one or two that work because the dynamics of the composition throw your eyes slightly. I have a whole bunch of shots I took up a mountain in Spain at Christmas of trees in fog; they're all technically well executed but there's one that 'just works' because the angle it was taken at was subtly different and threw the lines of the image into positions that gave it movement.

    Maybe it's something to do with destabilising the viewer?

    I used to notice this a lot in press photography; the way the Guardian or Independent edited their pictures compared to say, The Times - shots of the same event would be treated very differently, with the Times playing it achingly straight and the other two would go for odd dynamics and angles.
  5.  (1853.10)
    Motion. Engagement. Not gesture - that word is usually used for style; though it plays a part. Fluidity of line -or lackthereof- can help convey motion, as well as not doing spotlight-style lighting, and balance. It's not one single thing that gives an image that zing, it's a combination of a masterful use of all tools an artist has at his or her fingertips. The effect is something we all know when we see it- and it's something very useful these days when, at least in gallery situations, most people won't look at a painting for more than a few seconds. It seems right; and it holds the gaze.

    We live most of our lives through sight. A lot of things are taken for granted and especially with the human form, we don't over think what we see. We can tell -because the form is so familiar- if we got it right, or if we didn't, but not necessarily how we did it or didn't do it... simply because the form is SO damn familiar. We all know what a person is supposed to look like on a pretty much visceral level; it's what makes it easy to see monsters in the shadows at night.
  6.  (1853.11)
    I think what you're talking about is mildly subjective. I see it in Freakangels, just like I see it in Calvin and Hobbs. For example...


    I think it's motion, action, timing; 'Gesture' to me is the grand illusion we gladly accept as it conveys all sorts of emotion. And I see it in movies along with comics.

    I think this subject is great! Words might not convey enough. Give me some images along with your words, people. I would like to see some samples of what 'gesture' means to them.
  7.  (1853.12)
    I have to say, I've never heard the word 'gesture' used with regards to style (or in fact any artistic property) In what context have you heard it used before?

    Words aside - since it doesn't really matter what it's called - what you're talking about with regards to the unfamiliar could tie in with JonCarpenter's post about photography, and the need to 'destabilise' the viewer in order to re-engage them with something that would normally be familiar.

    I think (from your emphasised dismissal of the word gesture because of its relation to style) you seem to underestimate the role style plays in this, since style is a process of symbolising the familiar and representing it as a coherent visual language.... however, I feel if we get too deep into that discussion there's a danger we'll just end up using different words with different personal significances to describe the same effect.
  8.  (1853.13)
    @Paul Duffield - Specificly "Gesture Drawing" Somewhat of a warmup style, where you use quick flowing lines to convey form, shape and motion. SWOOOOOOOP!

    Art and Design are rather hard to talk about at times because of the lack of a concrete, standardized vocabulary for a lot of things (Something I do like about the sciences.). What one teacher and book calls one thing, another may call another. :(
  9.  (1853.14)
    Ah! I had no idea that was called gesture drawing. We just called that warm-up at uni. I guess that kind of fits though, since it's an exercise tailored to teaching people to capture movement, which is a big part of what I think of as 'it'. It is a shame there's no standard vocabulary. It makes talking about concepts like this one a bitch to even begin.
  10.  (1853.15)
    @Paul Duffield -Design's getting closer to a standard vocab. It's trying. Art seems like a bit of a free-for-all, though. The Design Encyclopedia helps some, and I tend to keep open if I'm working on a project along with ArtLex.
    • CommentAuthorjohnmuth
    • CommentTimeApr 19th 2008
    Speaking of the vagarities in art (which, I guess like the other threrad talking about what art is, how can you define something that is a definition of something subjective.) I did a light search and came across Rodin's sculptural work - specifically, The Gates of Hell and The Burghers of Calais as great pieces that I think also work in the vein of what is being discussed here - granted not in a 2D form. But, what I wanted to mention was a term that caught my eye. It was used to describe Rodin's work method and skill, I guess, by George Bernard Shaw. The word is √Član vital, or Vital force, which was a philosophical term used for "evolution and development of organisms". What caught my eye in the description was this passage, and interpretation of the word, which I think sort of follows along with what Paul has made this thread to sort of discuss.

    "denotes a substance in which the distinction between organic and inorganic matter is indiscernible, and the emergence of life undecidable."

    Unfortunately, then the term is said to have been an inspiration of "The Force" that George Lucas created for Star Wars. :-\

    Another thing that I had thought of and wanted to mention - and I'm still pretty much working on what my mind eye sees this discussion as, since besides The Milkmaid, we don't have too many people's ideas on what we're discussing - and sort of goes along with whoever said that this works in photography, where the photos are off balance, or destabilized, is that it's the asymmetry that helps to establish the look of whether there's movement in a still object or not. Best example that I can think of now - and in comics - is obviously Jack Kirby. It's more stylized and exaggerated (like Risso's art) and wouldn't be confused with a photo or, I don't know, looking out the window, but it's a still image that provokes the feeling of movement and action - or life.

    I don't know, just something that I saw and made me want to add this to the conversation. :)