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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Land

The Artists Thought Process

“Good composition is like a suspension bridge; each line, adds strength and takes none away…Making lines run into each other is not composition.  There must be motive for the connection.  Get the art of controlling the observer, that is composition.”  Robert Henri


The second question I received regarding “Starting a Painting” was regarding famous artists.  A follower wanted to know if I though Frankenthaler and Jackson Pollack thought about composition?  My answer to her was that because of their background, where they studied, and who they studied with, they knew about composition.  However, what any artist thinks about when he or she paints is anyone’s guess, unless they have had their ideas documented, which all notable artists have had done.  There were many different movements during the period of Modern and now Contemporary Art, which were and are concerned with many different thought processes.  So sometimes the need to express an intent, takes president over what we might term “traditional composition”, but concerns itself more with the basic “Principles of Good Design”.

For example:


Robert Motherwell was an American painter and printmaker.  He used hulking shapes, and large-scale strokes, and calligraphy in his work. He wrote extensively on the theories of art and was one of the most educated of the New York School of painters. His intent was to show a balance between the bold and the restrained.


Josef Albers was a German born American painter and teacher.  Celebrated as a geometric abstractionist. He was an influential instructor at Black Mountain Collage.  He directly influenced such artists as Rauschenberg, Twombly, and Rothko.  His main interest was in the field of color.  His book “Interaction of Color” provides a comprehensive analysis of the function and perception of color.  He had a major roll in influencing the “Color Field Painters” and “Minimalists”, whose intent was color relationships.


Jackson Pollack was an Abstract Expressionist and is best known for his radical “Action Painting”; which were the outpourings of a disturbed mind, living in the shadow of nuclear war and drink.  He was attempting to find a new means to describe pictorial space.  His early works however, were more realistic and well composed. He was mentored by Thomas Hart Benton and attended “The Arts Student League” in NYC.


Louise Nevelson was an American sculptor.  Her subject matter included her personal feelings about an uprooted childhood, clashing cultures, and natures divinity.  She purposely selected wooden objects for their evocative potential, to call to mind the forms of the city, and nature, and the celestial bodies.

Do Modern and Contemporary artists as a whole think about composition?  The more you read about why each painted, where, and with whom they studied, the answer is yes. Our general education teaches us little about art.  If we take an art class, it teaches us traditional composition and the basics.  Many people look at at Modern and Contemporary Art and either like or dislike it.  The average person unfortunately does not take the time to read about the artist and their reason for their creative process. .  They make the, “I like, I don’t like it”  judgement call.  Would it surprise you to know that Robert Motherwell attended the California School of Fine Arts, has a BA from Stanford University in Philosophy, and went on to study art at the post graduate level at Columbia University in NYC?

The point here goes back to what I said in the first blog about “Starting a Painting”. “If you don’t know what you want to say, you are going to have a hard time putting it down on paper”. Historically Traditional, Modern, Contemporary Artists have one thing in common.They had intent, something important to them that they wanted to convey.

Even in front of nature one must compose.”                                                                    Edgar Degas

Why do you paint? What is your message?

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