Chapter 10 Summary—English
Proportion
Lesson 1: The Golden Mean
Through the ages, artists have looked for a ratio (a mathematical
comparison of sizes) that produces an ideal form for figures
and structures. The Greek mathematician Euclid found what
he considered a perfect ratio. Known as the Golden
Mean, this ratio consists of a line divided into
two parts so that the smaller line has the same proportion
to the larger line as the larger line has to the whole line.
In math, this ratio is written 1:1.6. The Golden Mean was
extended to the Golden Rectangle, which had sides that matched
this ratio. Many artists have used the Golden Rectangle to
organize their paintings. Also, if you divide the average
adult male body at the navel, the two body measurements match
the Golden Mean. Many artists, therefore, have used the Golden
Mean to represent humans. This was common in the Renaissance,
when the Golden Mean was called the Divine Proportion. Although
there may be no “correct” proportion for works
of art, many people have looked to the human body as a source
for perfect proportions.
Lesson 2: Scale
Scale refers to the size of something as measured against
a standard reference. In art you can judge whether an
object is represented in large or small scale, based on the
average size of that object. Artists often use hierarchical
proportion, which is when figures are arranged
in a work of art so that scale indicates importance.
You can also consider the scale of an artwork itself, based
on what you know of the average size of works of the same
type. Some works that seem monumental are actually very small
in size. This is why the dimensions are always listed in the
credit line of the work. Variations in scale within a work
can change the work’s total impact. When drawing human
proportions, Western artists usually try to represent them
realistically. But sometimes they use the technique foreshortening.
Foreshortening is when artists shorten
an object to make it look as if it extends backward into space.
Other artists use symbolic proportions, showing areas of the
body they consider more important, such as the head, as larger.
By studying the general proportions of the human body and
the human face, you will learn to create naturallooking figures.
Then you can vary these proportions for expressive effect.
Lesson 3: How Artists Use Proportion
and Distortion
Many artists use correct proportion in their works so that
viewers will recognize the person, place, or thing being shown.
Other artists choose exaggeration and distortion—deviations
from expected, normal proportions—to create works
with unusual expressive qualities. Michelangelo’s statue
of David (Figure 10.19, page 267) has very accurate
proportions, but its large scale adds to its dramatic effect.
Portrait painters often use accurate proportions because they
want to record information about real people. Other artists
deviate from expected, normal proportions to convey their
ideas and feelings. In Single Family Blues (Figure
10.23, page 269), Leo Twiggs exaggerated the size of a hand
to show the dominance of “the blues” in one family.
An artist may place a small head on a large body to give an
artwork a monumental quality. Masks often have highly exaggerated
features that enhance their purposes. And cartoonists often
exaggerate their characters’ bodies and expressions
to make them funnier.
