Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What About A Focal Point

Eyes in the Heat
Jackson Pollock

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the concept of a focal point in your artwork.  The general idea behind this concept is that "fine art" is made primarily for aesthetic purposes and therefore must have a central element to make it unique and interesting to view.  Work that is considered "decorative" or from the "crafts" are often not required to have this element.  

"Why" you might ask would crafts not need a focal point?    Because "decorative" work has a "function" and is often considered to be a support player and not an intellectual equal to fine art.  You know I don't agree with this thinking.

So - while viewing an exhibition I was asked by another viewer about the absence of a focal point in one of the works.  It was a show of textile constructions.  My response was that the entire piece was the "focal point" and that the piece was made to be viewed as a whole.  The work was a type of pattern piece rich in color and texture and while the various "repeats" were different in color combinations and the elements were hand-cut, there was a definite repeated pattern which drew the eye all around the composition.

Today artists used any process or material they like and many use them any way they like and there is a wonderful blend of fine art and craft traditions.  

The above pictured painting by Jackson Pollock is a good example of an all-over pattern or texture with no focal point.  This is from his action painting series for which he is most famous.

Jasper Johns

No by Jasper Johns is a nice example of a very subtle focal point or no focal point.  The soft modeled  gray texture creates a beautiful surface broken only by a few marks and the small pale square at the top left.  Is the square the focal point or the small cluster of lines at the center bottom or the full measure of the painting?  I choose the full painting.

Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue?
Barnett Newman

Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue by Barnett Newman is another example of the entire picture plane being the focal point.  To be very strict about this we could however say the red area is the focal point with yellow and blue setting it off....

How about an example of a textile piece that is presented as art and does not feature a focal point.

Crazy Quilt

This beautiful work is a form of quilting call a Crazy Quilt.  The name is obviously based on the unexpected compositions within each unit or block of the piece.  There are certainly areas of interest within each block but no single point of interest.  It was made to function as a traditional bed quilt but looks like a piece of contemporary art.  There are elements in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes and textures and to my eye and shares many elements with the Jackson Pollock pictured. 

In the 1970's there was pattern painting which often had no focal point and color field painters often shied away from focal points.  The point I'm trying to make is there are many ways to approach the making of work and every piece you make does not have to follow every rule or guideline as I like to call them.

Have fun.  Go make something that does not have a focal point.


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  1. Thanks, Terry, for a great post on a subject which causes confusion for so many artists. Your third paragraph sums it up beautifully. In art school, we were taught that a focal point was obligatory; the concept of overall composition was not presented although used extensively by abstract artists.

    1. Thank you Aryana for commenting. At this point I feel my formal education is so far in the past I don't have any idea what my undergraduate teachers told me ;-) A tip of the hat to my graduate professors as some of their wisdom has lingered on. xo, T

  2. Terry, you are a splendid educator.

    1. Hey Christine! I responded to this earlier but for some reason it didn't publish. So Thank You. I appreciate your support and friendship. xo, T

  3. Great post, Terry! I enjoy reading your educational posts. They teach without being intimidating like when I took art history. It’s nice to read that other artist don’t always have focal points. I noticed that since making abstract fiber art that I usually don't have a distinct focal point. I'm just having fun making art that inspires me.

    1. Hi Mia! Thank you. I consider teaching is a form of sharing so I'm happy this is meaningful to you. xo, T

  4. Excellent post, Terry! And very germane to a piece I have on my wall at the moment, so I especially enjoyed reading your summary of the issue. Marcia

    1. Thank you so much Marcia! Can't wait to see what you're up to. It's nice to have confirmation that we're on the right track. xo, T

  5. came over from weaverly, and have to say you are spot on. thanks.

    1. Hi Velma. Thank you for dropping by and commenting. Here's a link to Weaverly.