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Develop Your Aesthetic Instinct for Harmonious Paintings

Apr 9, 2008
Lacking the guidance of definite rules and regulations for color harmony, the artist must rely to a considerable extent on what we rather loosely term the aesthetic instinct or the "eye." This vague, subconscious power helps him in many ways. Strangely, he can often depend on it more than on his conscious judgment. Although it varies greatly in different individuals, it is present to a marked degree in most of us who feel an interest in painting and it can be cultivated.

The comparatively undeveloped instinct of the novice is frequently of far more use to him than many of the rules and regulations which he consciously acquires. Although the author would be the last to belittle valuable things which the student can be taught, he feels it would be unwise indeed to put this knowledge wholly above instinct. In selecting color schemes, for example, he should place great reliance on this power, choosing the colors which his "eye" tells him are right.

Even the professional artist relies to a surprising degree on this subconscious sense, applying hue after hue more or less intuitively. If anything chromatically offensive develops, his intuition gives warning and he makes the necessary changes before going on. This bold method of working, with reliance on instinct or "the eye," strengthens that instinct. In fact, it seems that anything which one does to further his knowledge of color or his appreciation of it reacts in this advantageous manner.

The student should early acquire the habit of sketching from nature and of studying her ever-changing hues with the thought in mind of their interpretation in pigment form.

It is a splendid practice to carry a little white cardboard with a rectangular opening in the center (perhaps an inch and a half by two inches in size), holding it upright, as a finder, peeking through it with one eye closed, selecting pleasing "pictures" much as is done with the viewfinder of a camera. By comparing visible hues with the white of the card, it is easy, after a bit of practice, to estimate what pigments would be necessary for their representation.

Works of art are also splendid illustrations of color harmony, as Walter Sargent points out in his excellent book, The Enjoyment and Use of Color (unfortunately now out of print but still available in many libraries). Familiarity with works of art, according to Sargent, "educates our eyes as good music does our ears, and develops our discrimination and enjoyment beyond what can be gained in any other way.

Works of art show us in perfected form what we are striving to attain in our experiments with color, and thus give a new meaning to our more-or-less crude results. The combinations of color in nature are often more beautiful but are complicated with other interests, and the harmonies, although highly suggestive, are seldom set forth as clearly as in art."

Color is a fascinating subject but a confusing one. The more one learns about color, the more he comes to realize how little he knows. For the scientist, there are endless unanswered questions to be investigated, but for the artist, in the long run, there is only one: How can he use color to create a work of art?

No theory of color vision or color measurement or color harmony can give him the answer to that question. Only his own talent, strengthened and developed by training and experience, can help him perhaps to find it someday. Regular practice will prove valuable in this direction.
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