Notebook, 1993-

Eastlake's Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters

Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock [One-time President of the Royal Academy], Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters [Formerly titled: Materials for a History of Oil Painting]. Vol. One. New York; Dover Publications, Inc. 1960 [Originally published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in 1847]

Professional Essays - Necessity for Definitions

Definitions are arrived at by ascertaining what a thing is not. This is not so endless an enquiry as might at first be supposed: it would obviously be unnecessary to compare an object or quality with others totally and evidently dissimilar to it. In order to arrive at something like precision, the range of comparison must be narrower; it suffices to distinguish the object or quality from those with which it might by possibility be confounded, or which, at all events, are most nearly allied to it. [p. 314]

Definitions are arrived at by ascertaining what a thing is not. This, which is true of mental perception, is also true of outward vision. The immediate and indispensable cause of our perceiving an object, so as to be aware of its nature, is its difference from what is next it. Its essential character consists in those points in which it differs from everything else.

Such being the cause of visible distinctness, the first step in painting, to produce a just imitation of nature, is to define and apply the principles of negation. The negative element sought may be either general or specific. For example, the expression of substance will be assisted by the opposition of space; but the representation of a specific substance or object will be assisted by a comparison with other objects calculated to define its particular character.

To proceed in due order: it is necessary to begin with general negations; general distinctness, which is their aim, being of primary importance. For it is not enough that the specific character of an object should be accurately expressed, it is first, and above all, necessary that the mere substance should be distinct. The positive elements are form, light, and colour: the negative elements are therefore obscurity, or space, and neutrality.

With regard to form, which always supposes variety, the comparative negation is the straight line; the absolute negation the absence of all lines. [p. 315] With regard to light, the comparative negation is diminished brightness, the positive negation absolute darkness. With regard to colour, the comparative negation is reduced vivacity, the positive negation neutrality.

In each of these cases, the negation is the real cause of effect, and the attention should be chiefly directed to its due employment and not to the quality to be displayed, except only as it may be an exponent of the other. Diminished brightness, neutrality, and the absence of form are the chief elements of effect, and they are to be considered as the foundation of all visible distinctness, vivacity, and character.

It is the same with other qualities; a spirited touch is desirable, but the touch itself is not to be thought of till a bed is prepared for it, which, by its more or less sfumato nothingness, shall give the touch value. [pp. 314-316]



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