How to See Rhythm in Paintings

When a painting is successful, it tends to achieve on certain fundamental levels. The best word to use that captures one of the most important aspects is rhythm. We tend to associate rhythm with music, or more broadly  rhythm Painters   with anything that has a temporal basis — something that exists over time. Most pieces of music have rhythm. So do poems, novels and films, although their rhythmic patterns may be less easy to tap along to.

Paintings have rhythms too: the idea I’m thinking of is how our experience of a painting occurs over a period of time, and it is during this time that our eyes wander over the image in front of us. The artist may not be able to control how long we actually spend looking at the work, but the capacity to lead our gaze in something like a rhythmic motion is very much a part of the artist’s toolbox.

At this point, I must concede that the type of rhythm being talked about is not a regular beat such as one would hear in music. In a painting, rhythm exists in a more subjective way, in the viewer’s experience of the patterns, colours and shapes of the work, and also in the emphasis of points of interest in the image using devices of perspective, contrast and texture.

Rhythm in this sense means a kind of visual movement, the way the eye travels, the sense of flow within the painting that the gaze must traverse and get hold of in order to take in the whole work.



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