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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 natural-looking 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 distortiondeviations 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.

 

 
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