This language is not what I think it is, but is it art?
October 11, 2012 3:20 AM   Subscribe

What is a good resource for understanding art theory - book recommendations, websites, things of that nature. I keep finding myself realizing that there's uses of language in art that doesn't match up with what I think it should be.

As an example, I am hoping to get into a graphic design program at one of the local community colleges. I'm fairly facile with the tools - Photoshop, InDesign, working on Illustrator - but some of the requirements use words I know in ways I don't quite get.

As an example:
Portfolio Exercise: Do a composition on an 8 1/2 X 11 piece of paper using TWO squares, TWO circles and TWO triangles.
I am assuming they don't want you do draw two squares, two circles and two triangles in a pleasing manner, but with some kind of arrangement of things.

Unfortunately, trying to find an art theory book gets a number of "not that one, it sucks, try this one". Therefore: the curation of MetaFilter!
posted by mephron to Education (5 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am assuming they don't want you do draw two squares, two circles and two triangles in a pleasing manner, but with some kind of arrangement of things.

They want an interesting composition.

A generic art theory book isn't going to do a very good job of teaching composition, it's already got enough on its plate.

For books on composition, I recommend Jack Hamm - Drawing Scenery, and Trinka Margua Simon - The Art of Composition.

Until you've picked up those books, just do the exercise anyway.

Don't try to do one good drawing, committing immediately to your first idea. Do lots of little thumbnail studies, churning through your own ideas for abstracts and realistic pieces. Try working in 3 or 4 values*, using a few sharp and blunt soft pencils**.

You should probably pick up "Graphic Design - the new basics", and work through the exercises there, using them as portfolio fodder.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:27 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The word you're looking for isn't "art theory". Art theory is stuff like the idea of the viewer and the viewed, or whether things like Damian Hirst's dot paintings or performances by Marina Abramovic are art, and how they are art.

You're just looking for a basic vocabulary of arts instruction. For example a composition is an overall finished piece of work (in this case a drawing). You could draw two circles, two squares, and two triangles in a sequence down the page, if that's what you really wanted to do. The choice is yours. But, yes, obviously they want it to be interesting in some way. Because this is how they're going to judge whether you should get into the program.

I like sebastienbailard's ideas about how to approach this particular composition. Graphic Design: The New Basics is spot on as a recommendation, too -- I was just recommending it to a friend a couple days ago.
posted by Sara C. at 4:20 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only "art theory" here, really, is the idea of circles, squares and triangles as "elemental shapes" (or sacred geometry, if you like) with an implied presence in lots of compositions. What you're being asked to do is work with the shapes themselves.
posted by holgate at 4:46 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you looking for art theory, some form of cognitive science, ux design, or design instruction?

If art theory (or even if not) I recommend the highly recommended Ways of Seeing by John Berger.
posted by uhom at 12:09 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you need critique and help, start a sketchbook thread on concept art
or cgsociety.

NB: Include in-thread images, rather than a mystery meat link to an offsite portfolio. Use language which will trigger helpful chatter: "I'm comfortable with X in this drawing, but I'm not sure how to make Y better."
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:01 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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