Much of my knowledge of painting is derived from the Baroque tradition of painting, and my link to Baroque painting is through my teacher, Charles Cecil. The reason for my preface is because “disegno” is something I learned from Charles, it was not a discovery that I made on my own. Only fair that I give him credit!
The Italians have a word for the noun “drawing” which they call “disegno.” “Il disegno” means “the drawing.” The derivative is the verb “disegnare.” Linguists will have to tolerate my limited knowledge, but the artistic application is what I am going for. What does the word “disegno” look like? To us English speakers, we would guess “design.” That is precisely the point of my writing today.
The Italians are so preoccupied by the idea of design, that they will not even tolerate the idea of doing a drawing without there being present the element of design. Think of this for a moment- not even a rendering of a hand, a study of bone structure, is to be done without design. There is no drawing without design- they are one and the same.
And so, when I paint, the chief of my concerns is design- where is the climax? How do I balance of light and darks? What is to be emphasized, what is to be downplayed? What should be graceful? If I had to draw a shape around the important works, would it be a square, a triangle, a circle? In this painting, Bluegrass Bedlum, the climax of the design is not the cork in the wine bottle, which is the peak of the triangle encompassing the objects. Instead, it is a deferred, whimsical climax- the knocked over glass, with drips of wine falling off the table. All of the lights and darks are designed in such a way as to emphasize the highlights on the glass. While this is the climax, everything else is given just enough interest so as to keep the eye moving all around the canvas.
When I began painting, I was unaware of these elements of design. I just selected things at random, tried for absolute, razorsharp accuracy. The result was “photorealism,” a detached, mechanistic mode of painting in which there is no human spirit. Accuracy is found in photorealism, but poetry is altogether absent. An Italian of the naturalist persuasion would look at a well rendered, aimless photorealistic painting and say “senza disegno.” For the sake of clarity, I will give this the rough translation “without any ability to design or draw.”
And in a reference to the previous essay on linear calligraphy, I return to the idea of painting being more concerned with composing than with observing. As a painter, I always think of myself as the head of an orchestra. As both composer and conductor, the elements of design are my instruments by which I lead my audience to the same feeling that I am trying to convey.