I have had the topic of “Viewing Distance in Art” on my mind for quite some time now. Perhaps it started a couple of years ago as I learned the Sight-Size Method of Drawing in Florence, Italy. In that method, the artist draws from one point of observation and is precise to the point of marking the viewing position on the studio floor and even wearing the same shoes throughout the process so as not to change the height of one’s eyes.
In another example, unless we are creating a 3-D street painting, we madonnari generally ignore the precision of the concept of “Viewing Distance.” That said, we are very aware of where our audience will be standing while we create our horizontal artworks. We also know that because of the perspective that we have chosen to draw from, our street art is best photographed from above.
There seems to be a position in which each artwork is best viewed. Many things factor into this, but I wonder if it boils down to the idea that the viewer can best take in the entire composition from the same vantage point in which the artist used during the creation of the original work. Even as I say that, exceptions come to mind (such as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling). The size and style no doubt also figure in – but I still believe this to be intentional.
As an artist I often hear that gallery staff always know how to tell whether a visitor is an artist or a collector. (Yes, sometimes we are both, but …) Collectors, the rule says, generally enter and look around the room before approaching the one or two pieces that interest them. Artists, on the other hand, methodically look at each work on exhibit and usually, at some point or another, will walk up close to see each brush stroke or detail in the sculpture. It makes sense that collectors are seeking the emotional experience and artists also want to learn more about the technique.
Anyway, I include three images here of me recreating one of Michelangelo’s Sibyls on Via Calimala in Florence, Italy, in a pastel street painting. Drawn from a viewing spot or perspective that is equivalent to a bird’s eye view, each of these images shows you that the photographer was not standing even close to an ideal viewing position for that artwork.
Of course, once artists began to think about this position, manipulating it to the extreme or unusual (such as those wonderful 3-D drawings you most certainly have seen floating around the Internet) became a matter of fun and creativity.
Since I have more I would like to share with you, I think I just came up with the topic for my next art newsletter. That is scheduled to come out in early March and is a different subscription list (sign up here if interested).
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