Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's hip to be square

Of the 500 or so images I've created during my MFA program, 80% are in done in a square format. Of the many critiques I've participated in, I've been ready with a thoughtful answer to the question..."so why are you painting in a square composition?"

Yet, no one in the past two years ever asked me or challenged me on why I was painting in a square format. The first problem an artist needs to address before beginning a work, is what size and shape the work will be. The shape of the frame an artist chooses influences the final image and reveals something about that piece of art work.

I consciously choose a square format as I think of the square as a unit, a part of a whole, that has the same properties whole as it does in its parts. It makes up a grid and is considered emblematic of modernism. Square compositions can be both complete and incompleted, as you can always add another square to an already existing one.

A square format does not favor the dynamic vertical or calm horizontal plane, it is stable and supports the image in equanimity. The equal sides allow the image to be, without too much input from the frame. It is a simple, regular and familiar geometry. In Socrate's Meno, doubling the square, he says "This knowledge will not come from teaching, but from questioning, he will recover it for himself." Guess there are some questions you just ask yourself.


Pamela Farrell said...

interesting thoughts about the square format. some years ago, i found myself very attracted to the square format for painting. at the time, it was rather difficult to find pre-constructed panels in square format, and impossible to find paper.
now, i see the square has become almost ubiquitous. i can't say that i fully understood then the allure and strong pull the square had (and still has) for me. but i read your blog post today, almost a week after i had a studio visit with a museum curator, who asked the "why square?" question. i found myself sharing with her the same thoughts you've written here (though not nearly so thoughtfully, and not so eloquently). she seemed to accept my slightly sketchy response, but it is now part of my internal dialoque when beginning a new painting. thanks for this post.

Rebecca Moran said...

I have been thinking about the square format ever since playing around with a medium format camera.

So often I find out what other artist are thinking after they share their thoughts. Thanks so much for writing, it's wonderful to find out who else is thinking along similar lines I am.