John Thomas Smith, Remarks on Rural Scenery, 1797
Spend two-thirds of the time looking, and one-third of the time doing. This was the advice given by my friend Elaine back in that watercolour workshop that led to this blog. I’ve been thinking about that equation a lot since then and hearing echoes of it in many areas of life.
A pleasing composition – of a landscape, say – has a one-third/two-thirds arrangement. One-third land to two-thirds sky. One-third ocean to two-thirds sky. Two-thirds floor to one-third ceiling.
The ‘Rule of Thirds’ was first articulated by Smith, who quoted an earlier work by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the 18th-century English painter and founder of the Royal Academy here in London (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_thirds).
When we learn to draw a face, we learn – usually to our surprise – that about one-third of the face is forehead, and two-thirds the eyes, nose, mouth, chin. The surprise, at least for me, is that the forehead is so large and that the other features don’t take up all the face space. Children often draw faces with the eyes at the top, below which there’s a nose, and below that a mouth, then a circle or oval all around. I think that’s what our brains tell us a face looks like. But it isn’t really.
We spend a lot of our lives in this one-third/two-thirds arrangement. One-third of the day sleeping, two-thirds not. Many of us punctuate our waking day into thirds by meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner. And some of us spend one-third of our waking day at work, on the job, and the other two-thirds not. Whether this is as pleasing an arrangement in day-to-day life as it is in a landscape or a face is, I’m sure, a personal matter.
I’ve decided to live to this equation in a slightly new way this year. This year I am probably hitting the two-thirds point of my life. I turn 50 at the end of the year, and though I’m not dreading it in the way we’re told we must, I feel I need to notice it, to mark it. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I did secretly make a January pledge to myself, one with a negative and a positive, a limitation and an expansion – not to attend any mediation conferences this year, and to go to at least one art exhibit each week this year. I’m doing well with both, and I've been to some wonderful exhibits so far, including:
Photocollage at the Photographer's Gallery
Judy Chicago at Riflemakers Gallery
Braque at Washington University (St Louis)
Kurt Schwitters at Tate Britain (twice)
Judy Chicago (again!) with Helen Chadwick and Tracey Emin at the Ben Uri
Looking at the View at Tate Britain (twice)
Tudors at the National Portrait Gallery (especially to see the portrait of Thomas Cromwell after finishing Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies)
Kaffe Fassett – wild colour and gorgeous textiles at the Textile and Fashion Museum
Roy Lichtenstein at Tate Modern
David Bowie Is at the V&A Museum
Fate, Hope and Charity at the Foundling Museum
Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan at the Wellcome Collection
Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum
I also went to the Wool House show at Somerset House and learned to darn with TomofHolland, made a book at the Open Day of the new London Centre for Book Arts, and was absolutely bowled over to learn about Barbara Jones (1912-1978) and her work on popular art and ephemera at the Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘Black Eyes and Lemonade’. She was an inspiration, driving around the country in a converted taxi collecting art of the everyday for the Festival of Britain in 1951.
All of this has made me want to look more than everyday life usually allows us to do. So in the final (roughly) one-third of my life, I've decided to spend one-third of my time in gainful employment and two-thirds exploring the tempting art-sweetshop that London is. And I’ve become a volunteer Welcoming Ambassador at the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of my favourite places in the world. It's a fantastic job, an opportunity to learn and share and have what my mentor calls 'moments of shared happiness' with complete strangers. More on that in another post.
As Smith said, two-thirds of one element to one-third of another element. Perhaps a useful recipe for life as well as art?