The Most Beautiful Part of the Picture is the Frame

G. K. Chesterton said, “Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.” Frame has a number of meanings, but they all carry with them the idea of limitation.

First, of course, is the literal meaning of frame. Look at frameless images of paintings on the internet or in books and then examine the same paintings framed and hanging in a museum.  Aside from the difference of being in the presence of the real thing, you will find that the framed image actually looks different from the unframed one.

The impact of framing can be seen in something as simple as deciding what mat board and frame to put around a print. The mat and the frame so modify the image that many fine art photographers and print-makers demand only white mats and the simplest frames surround their images. For the same reason, many contemporary painters show their work sans frame.

The second meaning has to do with what is included within the boundaries of an image. Photographer Gary Winogrand said, “Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put 4 edges around some facts, you change those facts.John Sexton also talked about edges: “And then as I frequently do, some times I’ll peek out from underneath the focusing cloth and just look around the edges of the frame that I’m not seeing, see if there’s something that should be adjusted in terms of changing the camera position.

This notion applies not only to still photography. Martin Scorsese has said, “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” And that is the essence of the matter for all arts. What is incorporated and what is left out determine what the art work is and what the art work is about. So framing is really editing: deciding what is to be included and what is to be excluded. It is a problem with which every artist is familiar, and perhaps one of the more difficult things to do in any art.

And third there is the idea of frame meaning the framework or the structure of the piece. Organizing the information of the artwork into a structure alters the facts of the art work. Again, as Winogrand commented, “putting four edges around a collection of information or facts transforms it.”

We can see this in nearly every art. The “wrapping,” the form of the piece transforms and controls the content of the piece. The ideas contained in some of Shakespeare’s sonnets is also are also found in some of his plays, but how different the experiences of reading a sonnet and watching a play are.

This is true even within a genre; one can find many different poets who tackle the same subjects, yet organize their poetry into different formats, which, in turn, modifies the meaning, creating unique experiences for their readers. Compare any of the first-person novels of Kazuo Ishiguro and the first-person novel The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. Yes, there is a difference in material, but, more importantly, there is a great difference in the framing of the novels in question. Consequently, the novels impact the reader in very different ways.

Even a thing as simple as deciding where to put the act breaks in a play can significantly change the experience, if not the meaning of the play. Ask any producer who has tried to squeeze a three-act play into two acts with a single intermission.

So the issue of frames becomes not only how a piece of art is framed and the nature of that frame, but what the artist puts in and what he/she leaves out of the piece. And it also includes how that material is arranged and formatted. It’s an area of art that is discussed very little, but one that should be.

 

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Date: Monday, 13. June 2011 0:00
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Photography, Theatre

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2 comments

  1. 1

    Great piece and you mentioned T.S. Spivet! Fantastic book, and beautifully done.

  2. 2

    Thank you. Spivit is a wonderful book and is one of the few to try to really innovate on the form of the printed novel.

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