Lord of the dance

February 6, 2008

 The Dance

This is my favourite painting by Matisse – The Dance. It displays a perfect balance of colour, tone, line and shape. Looking at this picture you can hear the music, feel the movement, almost taste the wine the dancers have consumed and the sexual tension is almost palpable – all this from just paint on canvas. 

Good news photography captures the moment of an event and potentially evokes emotion that goes far beyond what is possible with paint and canvas.

Yesterday I spent the time looking at pictures on the wires not for news content but just in terms of the balance of shape, tone, colour and line. While a few sang out their song of pictorial balance, many sat silently, dull and flat 6 x 4 boxes of colour where composition seems to be an out of fashion and dirty word, shape a forgotten skill, line and design discarded for cramming the picture into the convenient proportion of one by one and a half.

Potential bloody noses lurk in portraits as faces of actresses, politicians and news makers crash into the borders of the frame in uncomfortable space; limbs are amputated, toes cut off full lengths; dead space or unnecessary highlights lead the eye away from the point of the picture; pointless deliberate or hopeless accidental skewing; words and letters from advertising hoardings draining the grace and power from a winning goal shot skillfully from the far end of the pitch in driving rain; intrusive shapes and incidental lines left in. So many visual blunders which could so easily be corrected by the juidcious application of a sensitive crop.

With a little more time spent listening to the shapes, tone, line and colour that scream out how to crop a picture there would be far more strong resonant images and fewer that lay silent and dull. The world does not fit neatly into “one by one and half” proportions. There is a place for the letterbox crop, the tilted image, the long thin upright, the image with acres of space or so cropped so tight that the viewer feel claustrophobic. There is of course room for the 6 x 4 but only when the voice of the dance permits.

Photo: Visitors to the preview of the “From Russia” exhibition of French and Russian master paintings 1870-1925 at the Royal Academy of Art in London view “Dance II” by Henri Matisse January 22, 2008.  London’s Royal Academy unveiled a blockbuster exhibition of paintings from Russian galleries on Tuesday, relieved the show has gone on despite an ongoing row over ownership of priceless works that threatened to derail it.       REUTERS/Stephen Hird     (BRITAIN)

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