Welcome            Artwork            Books            Archive            About            Blog            Contact Us

Form and Color
In this article, Taubes discussed the relationship between color and form in composition
Form and Color  
By Frederic Taubes
WHILE discussing the sculpture of the Greeks in one of my books, I stated that their conception of esthetics (apprehension of formal laws of beauty) did not parallel ours in one essential point: They did not recognize that there is a basic dichotomy between form and color. You recall Pausanias' description of the original appearance of Greek statuary, the pink-cheeked, blond-tressed Apollos, the Delphian charioteer with the long eyelashes, lapis-blue irises, enameled eye white, cherry-red lips, and‚ÄĒof all things‚ÄĒa silver foil inserted between the sweetly parted lips, so as to suggest a row of glistening teeth that would greet the beholder from far away! It must have been some sight, and as you release on this occasion a Homeric guffaw, I shall join you in it with glee. Well, sometimes what we are want to call calendar art was perfectly at home even within the precinct of the Aegean climate!
To pinpoint the problem: Color and form are engaged in a perpetual warfare, a nip and tuck‚ÄĒhere the one wins, there it loses. That the polychromed Jupiters and Pallas Athenas were esthetically off beat, is not an outlandish thought, for what could be more wrong (from a formal consideration) than to paint into one and the same oval a blond permanent, cobalt-blue eyes, cherry-red mouth and‚ÄĒif you wish to aggravate the condition still further‚ÄĒa highlight on the lower lip, perhaps, to indicate its dewlike freshness. Now, enough of it! Let us not dwell any longer on these lugubrious fantasies!
If we ask ourselves what the inexorable consequences are once we arrive at the principles upon which the probity of a form rests, we shall have to accept the following: since form in its ideal sense postulates monumentality, and since monumentality in its most cogent moments leans toward the monolithic-as the polymorphous in its own most acute state abjures the monumental (scattered, multifarious forms tend to create the feeling of disunity) we shall have to accept that the more monochromatic the form, the more monumental and unified its effect. It follows that any excrescent form elements (protruding at odd angles from a solid mass, as would outstretched arms, legs, etc.) may, as likely as not, appear adventitious, for as soon as we truncate them and allow just the torso to remain, the solidity of the whole will at once assert itself. Ah, the ineffable beauty of a torso!
But, should we continue with our quest for the ultimate solidity, we shall arrive at a certain point in our journey, at the-pebble, a monochromatic pebble, preferably. And when you, 0 artist! proceed a bit further in this direction in search of the ultimatetake heed, for you may over-reach yourself, and -before you know it, the substance you are after may transubstantiate itself and ultimately Cezanne become the Absolute precisely the absolute Zero! known under the alias of nonobjective art.
Now we may ask ourselves: Does the polychromy in a painting detract from the feeling of monumentality? It may not in a style such as the early Renaissance, for example, where the colors are consciously subordinated to form. In the Impressionistic system, color fairly destroys the solid and monumental without exploiting the color per se as a compensatory measure.
Attachment to the trivial illusionism made this quest impossiible, hence my detestation of Impressionism-in painting as well as in music. Cezanne, for example, in rejecting the method of the Impressionism, tried to endow his paintings with "solidity" as he saw it in the old masters of the Louvre. In his own fashion he undoubtedly achieved it, but how he arrived at it remains a mystery to our high priests in esthetics, for whenever they refer to Cezanne they rhapsodise about the "ravishing melody" of his colors-and their "solidity."
Now, it must be understood that the solidity in Cezanne's paintings resides in the absence of the polychromatic, and this was achieved by disregarding the atmospheric color handling of the Impressionists as well as the classic order of color, and instead by establishing an equalized picture surface.
It was to my great amusement when, opening the book, Painting and Painters, by the renowned art expert Lionello Venturi, I came across his statement, to wit: "Cezanne's incomparable chromatic splendor, its intensity, restfulness and firmness, depends on the same qualities as does his form." Should you try to invest one modest syntax with more non sequitur and confusion, you would find it a hard task!
To what picture was the sage referring? To the Gulf of Marseille in the Metropolitan Museum, and when I saw the picture in the Met what did I discover? You guessed it: The Gulf of Marseille is kept in perfect monotones. Well, forever will the art critic look at paintings with his ears!
(Q) I gilded my frames using the standard materials: gesso ground, japan size, and gold leaf, but was unable to burnish the gold to a high gloss.
(A) Burnishing of gold leaf can be done only on a clay surface (guilder's clay, a soft materia‚ÄĘ bound by glue and attached to the clay ground by means of water on the surface, the glue of the gesso becomes softened thus serving as size for the leaf.
(Q) My problem is how to mend a wax figurine that broke in half. Can you help me?
(A) Take an equal quantity of wax and damay or mastic lumps, place them in a spoon, and let the ingredients fuse under heat. Apply this mixture generously to the broken-off surface and combine it with the corresponding surface before the compound has a chance to solidify.
(Q) How can one recognize the strength of glue and a coherent glue film on a sized canvas?
(A) In a concentration of 7 per cent, a glue of good quality should jellify at normal room temperature. The weaker the glue, the greater the concentration of the material will be required to form a jell at a temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If a coherent film of glue rests on a fabric, its interstices will be closed. This is evident when holding it against the light.
(Q) What does the term "redistilled" or "double rectified" turpentine imply?
(A) Turpentine is a compound which, while ageing, develops resin due to oxidation. Because the presence of the resin impairs the quality of the liquid, a redistillation is necessary to eliminate the residue.


form color



The Taubes Page

The Frederic Taubes GallerY                    Info@FredericTaubes.com