Friday, May 15, 2009

Bernard Leach on Composition

Leach's book, as I've mentioned, is wonderful. I reached a section on composition and would like to share it. I cut a few parts out as indicated by the ellipses. It speaks to any number of disciplines and I hope you enjoy:

"[My diagrams of a pot] are analytical intellectualizations and cannot be more than signposts to intuition I am well aware ... If they are used as shortcuts to an oversimplified system of judging pots I shall have failed in my purpose ... Analysis should follow and support intuition; the inner preceding the outer.

The basic process of composition in pottery, as in other forms of art, appears to depend upon an intuitive perception of the way in which similar and dissimilar elements can be coordinated in a new whole. The actual coordinating or creative faculty defies analysis; it exists -- it knows that this speaks to that in such and such a way. It employs catalysis , thereby relating the seemingly unrelatable. Repetition and contrast, symmetry and asymmetry, major and minor, dark against light, convex and concave -- these and many other dualisms have to be resolved in every pot by the catalytic effect of neutrals.

By a neutral I mean a line, shape, or color in which opposites have already come to an equilibrium. The difference is that between primaries and secondaries in color. For example, in a painting, or a woven fabric, there may be a grey, made up of red and blue primaries, in which the red speaks to a red area, and the blue to a blue, producing a sudden harmony where the was discord before. Or in a pot a tenuous neutral area may be the link which successfully relates two otherwise ambiguous statements of form. Or in a pattern one slowly discovers that the unpainted part is, so to speak, of an acoustical importance better understood in the Far East. In pattern, as in melody, proverb or dance, irreducible components are united in a relationship of complete rhythmic simplicity.

Some pots are enhanced by decoration, others are not ... Generally speaking, decoration should be subordinate to form but not at the price of dull uniformity ... But no matter what one writes about the complex relationships of shape, pattern, and color-texture, ultimately it is the manner in which such abstract ideas are applied which will determine the vitality of the work, for the pot is indeed the projection of the man who makes it and of the culture, or cultures, upon which he draws."
-- Bernard Leach "The Potters Challenge" (pg. 38-39)

While some of that required reading and re-reading, I really love the way he defines composition. While I was teaching art I emphasized composition to the students and was constantly coming up with new ways to communicate the idea of "composition". Leach describes it well and verbalizes what I quickly realized: there is only so much you can say. It is intuition that needs to fill out the picture.

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