It's a Size Thing January 15, 2016 11:41

The other day I listened to a podcast of a scholarly paper about abstract expressionism's relationship to architecture. The speaker seemed to think that abstract expressionist painting was unique in how it was used as kind of a space occupying or even a decorative element in large modern apartments and homes--this even though the painters themselves disdained this role. As far as the artists were concerned, their art was not about decorating walls. Customers had a different idea.

Nightwatch by RembrandtThe question reminded me of Baroque art. Here's an example--Rembrandt's Night Watch at 143 x 172", not something that would have hung in someone's home. So might today's non-representational painting be seen as a kind of state art, only this time, the state is composed of wealthy corporatists? A disturbing idea, but given how plutocratic our society has become, perhaps not so crazy. I hate to think.....

Willem Kalf paintingContrast this monster to this 20 x 20" still life by Willem Kalf. This hung in someone's home, even if it was a wealthy home and the picture was painted to indicate that wealth.

I'm not trying to attack abstract expressionism, which I like. Just thinking out loud about things like size and its relationship to painting style and in turn to how the painting is used--whether as simple decoration, as a statement about wealth, or just art (whatever that means). What do these things say together? This is not for me a rhetorical question.

I've been thinking about size a great deal in my own work. For a while, I fantasized about painting on very large canvases (and I mean canvas as opposed to the heavy watercolor paper I've been using for years). In actuality, the largest I've done are a few works 22 x 30". I found that I got a bit lost in the center of the support with that size, so for now I'm working on a smaller and for me, more comfortable size, 16 x 20". I'll probably work up to 22 x 30" or thereabouts again, but I think that's going to take some time. And I wonder how important it is for me to paint big. Maybe painting smaller is more fitting for what I do and what I would like to do in the future--and for my potential customers.

One thing I've noticed along these lines how many artists paint small. For example, I was startled to find that a landscape painter whose work I enjoy often paints small, like 12". His paintings don't look small at all. Others paint in a range of sizes, including small ones as a kind of orbit for people who don't want to spend as much but would still like to get a painting. 

I know I have a long way to go before I settle the size question for myself. Part of me really likes the idea of painting relatively small. Isn't that how most people see art nowadays? On a laptop or in a print on their wall? Or even on a greeting card or postcard. Another part of me still has the big huge canvas fantasy. To be resolved at a later date...