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Cropping: the artist’s lifesaver

Did you ever wonder why paintings in museums are often such odd sizes?  I have a theory based on my own experience, the advice of a carpet cleaner and my Art Students League instructors.

First, the carpet cleaner.  Years ago, I was working on a large watercolor painting and having some difficulty with it.  The man who had come to clean my carpet confessed that he was also an artist and offered me some free advice:  crop off the part of the painting I wasn’t happy with.  In fact, he suggested that I should always work big:  with a big painting, there should always be some part of it that would be okay to frame.  With all the arrogance of youth, I dismissed his advice.

However, since then, I have had my own direct experiences with liking a smaller subsection of a difficult to successfully finish painting and deciding to crop off the offending part, often at the suggestion of my ASL instructor.

My latest example of this:

Namafjall v1 Lo

Námafjall is a high-temperature geothermal area in Iceland we visited earlier this year.  I created this painting a few weeks ago but, even after several changes/improvements, wasn’t happy with the result.  The large mustard color area in the lower half of the painting was simply too dominant;  my eye kept going there and staying there.  Not good.

So I did what I often do when I don’t know what to do:  I showed it to an artist friend at the League.  After a lot of discussion, she simply covered up the bottom half of the painting and voila! Problem solved.

Namafjall cropped

Namafjall cropped

My teacher, Frank O’Cain, agreed that this was a good solution.  And then we discussed other ways of solving the problem … by creating a new and different painting (one with all the elements, perhaps more abstract and hopefully better balanced) … possibly the subject of a future blog.

Now I’m not saying that all the odd size paintings at MoMA are the result of the artist cropping off his or her mistakes, but maybe some of them.  I know I’m not the only artist to save a painting by cropping it.  My League instructors, artist friends and that long ago carpet cleaner are all in agreement.

Posted by ruthhurd on December 3, 2012

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