Monday, March 21, 2011

Abstract Logic vs. Representational Logic

The topic (Abstract Logic vs. Representational Logic) arises when we design using the armature of the rectangle, and it has to do with how we perceive abstract shapes and relations, vs. how we perceive representational shapes and relations.

This issue came up as I was trying to compose a picture based on a very quick and sketchy line drawing I had done of four guys sitting on the beach in Barcelona. I liked the drawing a lot, and was trying to find a way to compose a painting from it. The difficulty was that it was so sketchy and linear, that I thought it wouldn't benefit from being painted. There was little form, value or color in the sketch. It seemed a poor candidate for a painting.

So I scanned the drawing and started playing with it in Illustrator. I wanted to find a way to place it within a rectangle that might bring out some qualities I thought were interesting. I was able to change the size of the drawing in relation to the overall rectangle, and to play with it's position. I was also able to superimpose an armature, and to note relations between the various major linear divisions of space and the drawing itself. So anyway, I settled on a composition that I felt good about.

But a funny thing happened when I actually started making the painting... these abstract design qualities that I thought I had zeroed in on, never came through in actual fact. It was obvious that the elements of the drawing were so sparse, that there was no interest in the image. I was hoping that the design of the placement and the scale of the space would make for an interesting abstract quality... but it didn't happen.

This failure revealed something very interesting... which is that there is a fundamental difference between the way we consider abstract things, and the way we consider "real" things. If you look at the images here, there are two that have the drawing in it, and two that have rectangles as abstract stand-ins for the figures. It's interesting to observe how symmetrically correct the figures are in the image beach-real-armature.jpg. But when you remove the armature (in beach-real-no-armature.jpg) the sense of the figures being locked into the armature disappears. Instead the figures just seem to be floating inside a lot of white-space.

This "floating in white space" was intentional... I wanted to compose them figures to highlight the isolation they had when I drew them. After all, they had been a small cluster of figures on a huge expanse of beach, with nothing around them. The analytical "composing" I did was to try and create some abstract design logic that underlay they simplicity of the drawing. But it never came through.

I think this is due to the fact that we just don't perceive representational objects as pure abstraction. If you look at the other pair of images (beach-abstract-armature and beach-abstract-no-armature), you can see that even with the armature removed, the abstract rectangles "read" as being composed geometrically. Abstract things can be read abstractly.

But "representational" things are read primarily as representations. It's as if we need to understand the meaning of the things represented... how they relate to each other, to the things around them.. to the entire "real" meaning of the space they're in. But abstract things have NO real relations, and so we ONLY see abstract relations... and that is the PRIMARY way we see them.

It makes me wonder about the nature of "abstract" composition.... that is... composition that uses geometry to divide space into linear and area relationships. I am convinced by the many examples I've seen that it must be true, that geometric placement matters. However, as my example above shows... it is not sufficient in the case of representation (and is the ONLY thing that matters with abstract content).

Usually the value of geometric composition is explained as some kind of "subconscious" force... a subconscious "sense" of formal placement. Even if we allow that this is true, and recognize that it is secondary to the "representational logic" of the things depicted.... it is still not clear what the relation between geometry and the things represented.

Again, geometric composition is seen as an underlying FORMAL concern... but I fear that this kind of categorization produces a representation/abstraction dichotomy... or a dichotomy between "representational logic" and "geometric logic". But I think that geometry has to be related to representation in some way. How? I'm not sure how to characterize the relationship... but I know it has to exist.

When I consider how I approached my drawing, I can see that I did NOT correspond the geometric design with the figures being represented... other than to place them within a large space in a symmetrical way. However, the representational logic of the figures isn't really about the space "around" the figures, so much as it is about the space "within" the grouping. This represents a disconnect between composition and the figures. And so on.

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