Gabriele Munter's Madonna with Still Life: Focal Point

I really appreciate the piece of Gabriele Munter's Madonna with Still Life.  I had not heard of her before now and this particular piece was really exciting for me.I saw something different though and my eye followed a different path.  My eye went directly to the face of the Madonna, then to the child, then to the hands of the child holding the golden heart, then back to the white flowers in the vase.   They are the white-ish elements in an otherwise chromatic painting. They felt like a path to me.

When you noted the red vase with the red flower pointing back to her face, I first questioned my subconscious.  Then I saw it as a different path into the painting and wondered how the two paths relate.  I'm still wondering.

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Elements and Relationship


I do have one question about the picture. What’s the background area on the right doing for it? I understand the circles relate to the circle of the sun and the size of the things in this area are a contrast, but what for? I have no story for this part.

The piece is a neat one and a great example to analyze. Here’s an important thing to remember. Not every element serves a purpose that’s obvious or directly related to the storyline when the images are figurative (recognizable elements) as opposed to being abstract, or something you don’t recognize as objects at all. In this case, the circle pattern just adds interest and texture and the fact that it relates to the sun keeps it in the realm of building relationship. So adding interest visually may occur without adding to the actual story told by the elements.

One other exercise you can do when you are looking at work is think about what you might do differently to make the piece stronger! This is NOT sacrilegious. It’s a great learning tool. For example, in this piece if the circles on the fabric on the right make sense because they relate to the Sun circle, that's good– and because they relate to the sun, they add interest on the right side of the composition without being distracting. If that fabric was another color - like maybe blue, which would be the complement of the orange sun–would it improve the piece? I tried it on for size in my imagination, and decided No. Because when I really looked, I saw that the color in the circle fabric is also in the background behind the sun - so it makes sense to continue onto the right side with that color. Thinking about whether anything could have been done differently that would enhance the piece you are studying deepens your insight into the decisions the artist made. It’s not uncommon to note where something COULD have been done differently that would make it better. Not every piece we make is perfect - far from it. So then that same attention and questioning is a good approach for our own work. It’s a self-critique that’s really helpful.

Question About Lesson Two Exercises

I noticed though on the lesson two exercises that we're instructed to look at other artist work and and be mindful of what we see there, but not to explore a piece of our own.  Was that intentional on your part?

Not intentional although now that you’ve asked, it was probably because until people study other people’s work they may not have the understanding needed to analyze their own work. You are certainly welcome to look at others and then also your own!

Examples of Symmetry: Artist Conan Chadbourne

I happened to go to an art opening on Friday night and this man’s work fit right in with our discussion on symmetry, so I thought I would share it via the Q&A section.

These are examples of his work, which is designed (by him) on the computer and then digitally printed, along with his Artist’s Statement.

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Artist Statement

My work is  motivated by a fascination with the occurrence of mathematical and scientific imagery in traditional art forms, and the frequently mystical or cosmological significance that can be attributed to such imagery. Mathematical themes both subtle and overt appear in a wide range of traditional art from Medieval illuminated manuscripts to Buddhist mandalas, intricate Islamic architecture and the patterns in African textiles. Often this imagery is deeply connected with how these cultures interpret and relate to the cosmos.

I am especially  interested in symmetry as a mechanism for finding order in the Universe, from its intuitive appearance in ancient cosmological diagrams to its important role in modern theoretical physics, and my recent works explore various forms of symmetry.

Anyone who wants to read more about his work can visit his website.

In terms of this discussion on symmetry, is symmetry an ideal?

It’s an interesting question. I suppose symmetry might have been considered an “ideal” from a classical point of view, just as beauty was considered an ideal. Certainly the symmetry in buildings was considered an ideal when cathedrals were being built, for example, because the structure honored God. The “ideal” bank or government building was symmetrical for similar reasons, as I say in the essay for this lesson. Symmetry sent the subliminal message of order, trust and solidity!

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Can I create asymmetrical balance design without piecing the pattern pieces?

How can I translate asymmetrical balance into a garment?  For example, I am working on a kimono style jacket.  It of course has a back, two front panels and two sleeves.  How do I create asymmetrical balanced composition that works with all the different pieces of the garment?

I know that the different parts of the garment can be pieced to create the design.  I have done this in the past. I am wondering if there is a different way to create an asymmetrical balance design without piecing the pattern pieces?


Great practical question.

Piecing is obviously one way to create asymmetry. Here are a few others:

  1. Hand paint the garment to create the asymmetrical balance. For example, the back could be painted so that color shifts diagonally across the back panel. Asymmetry could be introduced to the front panels by doing the same thing - painting so color shifts across the surface - and then could even wrap around to the back so that the color shifts across the entire surface of the garment from front to back. This assumes painting just a couple colors together which would be the simplest version, and be a “color field” effect rather than recognizable elements.

  2. The front and back panels could actually have shapes or objects painted (or appliqued for that matter) onto the surface to create the asymmetrical balance (which is actually a cool thing to be talking about since the garment is essentially symmetrical. Introducing asymmetry onto a a symmetrical background is a neat paradox!) In this example, the objects added to the surface would need to balance based on placement. If a large circle was added to the back, it could be right in the center (radial symmetry) or it could be top right shoulder or top left shoulder, but probably needs to be down from the shoulder line a bit or it will look awkward! Use cut paper to play around with placement to see this for yourself. AND in a case where a large element is being added, it may very well be that the balance needs to be stabilized by adding two smaller elements to the composition (in this case the back of the garment) to balance out the large one.

    If it was a kimono form that was mainly going to be displayed on a rod with both sleeves extended, it would change the available shape and size of the composition - and that would expand the possibilities for designing. But as long as the design isn’t mirror-image, it will be asymmetrical whether you plan for it or not. Which is why it’s so worth it to PLAN in advance rather than defaulting!

  3. Another approach would be to literally make the sleeve and right side of the garment a different color from the left side & sleeve.

So you see there are a lot of ways to develop the piece. It would be fun to play around with cut paper shapes - the basic pieces of the garment - in order to explore the possibilities.

Does symmetrical balance have to be vertical, or can it also be diagonal?

Does symmetrical balance have to be vertical, or can it also be diagonal?

Perfect symmetrical balance would actually be in both directions! But that perfect symmetry isn’t often found - not even in Nature. If you cut an orange in half, you’ll have a great example of symmetry in both directions but if you measured or took photographs of the cut orange sections there wouldn’t be any guarantee that the four cut parts would be “perfectly” the same. So when we discuss symmetry we are talking about a very high ideal, not necessarily the way even Nature herself presents to the world.

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