Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Language of Art: Value

The language of art often includes words that convey another meaning in real life, as I tell my art students (ages 5 through 14). We are studying “value” this week.
Student drawing of a cone
They will tell you that it means how dark or how light something is. I remind them that it includes all the shades of grey in between. We create value scales in pencil, crayon, and charcoal, which most of them love because it is very messy (one 6th grader won’t touch it because it gets his hands dirty). 

Student drawing of a sphere

I try to impress upon them that without value, there would be no picture. With no black, you can’t see white. And all the shades of grey are what create form, or as they like to say, “3-D!” We draw cones and spheres under bright lights and ask ourselves “is this part lighter or darker than that part?” Forms begin to appear.

Differences in value lead us to contrast, which has similar meanings in art and in real life. I like this one, from Collins English Dictionary: “distinction or emphasis of difference by comparison of opposite or dissimilar things, qualities, etc.”

©2013 Rebecca Stebbins
Altering contrast can improve a picture. The calla lilies on the left and right are identical, but the contrasting background makes them appear differently.
©2013 Rebecca Stebbins

In life as in art, paying attention to contrasts can be helpful too: cool, cloudy days help us appreciate warm, sunny days; without sadness, happiness would feel empty. Perhaps we wouldn’t appreciate eloquence as much if we weren’t exposed to so much daily drivel.
For a more eloquent explication, here’s what Emily Dickinson had to say:


A door just opened on a street --
I, lost, was passing by --
An instant's width of warmth disclosed,
And wealth, and company.

The door as sudden shut, and I,
I, lost, was passing by, --
Lost doubly, but by contrast most,
Enlightening misery.

No comments:

Post a Comment