Where to Draw the Line…

“Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.”

– G.K. Chesterton

I loved this quote when I found it – I’m always up for a good pun.

But, in truth, there is a lot to ponder about in this statement for the artist. It all boils down to how you interpret the word “somewhere”.

Does it imply the non-specific, random “somewhere”, as in “put it somewhere, anywhere for God’s sake!”? When you are 2 years old this is what happens – paintings are a series of random marks. Sometimes, when faced with a blank canvas, putting some random mark “somewhere” can be a good way to get started. It gives you something to work off of.

Or does it mean a more specific placement of the mark in the painting? Once a piece is well under way, we often reach a stage where the painting needs something to progress and we study and study it, looking for the exact “somewhere” that will work. It’s often not easy to decide.

Often with non-representational work it seems that the artist has reverted back to their 2 year old definition of “somewhere”. How often have you overheard the remark “my 2 year old niece could have painted that!”? But I suspect that more often than not, that painter was operating under the second definition, and those seemingly random “somewheres” were actually much more akin to the specific, intentional “somewheres” described above.

I’ve heard that those who observed Jackson Pollack doing his “gestural paintings” (the recipient of many comparisons to 2 year old painters) were struck by how deliberate and considered his application of the paint actually was. I know from my own experience that if I try to do a whole painting “randomly” I get a big mess. Even the most abstract, non-representational pieces need to have some design and intention behind them in order to work.

I guess it’s all in knowing “where to draw the line”…

4 responses to “Where to Draw the Line…

  1. Chesterton’s quote is terrific!

    Your premise that “design and intention” are needed, really got me thinking that this reflects the reality of the Universe we inhabit – that beneath the seemingly random and chaotic disorder there is a very real design and purposeful intent in its fabric. So perhaps art really does imitate life….

    On a somewhat less heavy note, I can’t resist naming this piece “Attack of the Killer tomatoes!”

  2. Kev

    I love the title! It does look like tomatoes are flying in, toppling city skyscrapers in their wake. Maybe I’ll do a whole fruit and vegetable series…

  3. Oh yes, what a quote!!!!

    And if it says a kind of truth, then I guess that one could analyse our abstract process to draw a line in morality and we would understand how we draw the lines in painting. At least I would understand my lines in painting, as I have noticed that many of the processes according which our (my) brain works, underlie the same formula, they are just applied in different fields. I do believe that “drawing a line” in painting or morality underlies the same principle (formula, algorithm, etc.)…
    And at the basis this principle follows the need of ordering and structuring the chaos…

    You see, i can’t help, when it comes to such themes, I can’t help going back to mathematics… and I love it!

  4. Miki

    It must be true what you say, that we apply the same underlying principles to how we paint or make art as we do to all the other areas of our lives. We can’t help but be ourselves. It’s a great idea to contemplate since I think we generally don’t examine our personal “algorithms” as they apply to different areas of our lives. Doing so probably would be insightful.

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