If you are a photographer or have taken some pictures using your first digital/ film SLR, you will have realized the position of an object has the ability to tell a story. Steve McCurry has his nine-guidelines of introducing objects in his pictures (published by COOPH).
As for painting or drawing on canvas, the concept on whereabouts to place your object works quite similar to photography. The main difference is the artist has to introduce the environment to the empty space that embraces the object. A renowned artist that had mastered the skills of spatial awareness is Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944). Kandinsky started painting at around the age of 30 and became very famous then, but the paintings that made an impression was not in his early works. Good art, as similar to many skills in life, takes some time to evolve.
Composition VIII by Wassily Kandinsky (1923) is worth the reference to learn about positioning of objects and the awareness of space. The artwork is currently located at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, if you can’t make a trip there to view the artwork, the internet search engine helps.
Knowing the scale helps: Minimalism or Maximalism
Contemporary artists vary across the two extreme ends, really. In the artistic world there is the range of, ‘OMG, this piece is talking to me, it’s telling me to bring it home!!’; the next range, ‘It’s heavy, it’s dense, the focus here is so massive like a butter-spread on bread.’
‘The-talking-to-me’ range is generally minimalism art, and it plays with space. Minimalism is often considered a witty artistic approach to convey uncanny messages and tagged along with a sense of humor by the artist. In order to achieve minimalism, the object must be relatively small. But how small is small? Between 1:6 and 1:100; micro it is. The position of the object (black box) is usually at the middle segment of the canvas or at the eye-level.
Maximalism utilizes all the given space. The artist makes it big, makes it grand; heavy and heavier. Most often the artworks are accompanied with heavy strokes and a generous use of impasto; a thick buttery technique used in many contemporary artworks and production cost can be quite expensive when multiple layers are applied on the canvas. The object of focus is produced by multiple magnified overlay layers. An example would be seven layers and stretched across the canvas.
If you are making art for your home
You have a huge blank wall, which is unbelievably white, ivory white or creamy white, and you want some colors or a voice that speaks out loud. Perhaps a conversation between the ambience and furnitures, you think. The story of the artwork can make or break the living space. A safe approach which is generally picked as living room space art (85% to 90%) is maximalism contemporary artwork. Maximalism compliments the biggest living space.
Minimalism art tends to be the preferred artworks for bedrooms and study. Centralized focused objects which give a good-balance and peace for the mind.
Where is the object? You have no idea what is drawn on the canvas. The artwork is intentionally blurred or pixelated,
But there is always a theme. Hence, an object must exists. Follow the brush strokes, and if there isn’t, it is usually aligned along the middle segment of the artwork.
Presenting white-on-white canvas
Kazimir Malevich is considered as one of the founding fathers of white-on-white art concept. Malevich produced Suprematist Composition in 1918, an exceptional artwork which he defied the rules of minimalism art to illustrate the growth of a new society in materials and wealth gained after the Russian Revolution. Malevich’s composition is currently located at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; https://www.moma.org/collection/works/80385
Position… does it really matter?
Positioning of your object on canvas is a decision that is often made with no intended rational, rather it is a subjective decision; feelings. For instance, Malevich could have tilted his diagnonal white-on-white square to the left, but he didn’t and tilted it towards the right.
Whatever the mysterious reason Malevich felt it was appropriate to position that diagonal white square to the right, his composition which looks outrageously simple has made a statement. And after nearly a hundred years, Malevich’s statement still resonates.
Featured photo: Coaster artprints by the Long Museum (龙美）