At the last meeting I had with my mentor, we discussed the appropriate way to crop the body in an image. One of the best things my mentor has taught me over the past 8 months is to be more aware and purposeful in my image making. I don’t have much classical training, so I will often ‘wing it’ when it comes to composition and scale. Intuition is extremely important in art, but so is planning. My paintings often feature a figure that is cropped in some way. It’s rare that a full figure makes it onto my canvas, and, before this meeting, I hadn’t really thought about why. It just sort of ends up that way. She and I spent a long time going through the work of Munch and Braque to see how each artist dealt with the cropped body in his paintings. What struck me the most was how classical Munch really was in his compositions.
Take this image above by Munch called “Separation”. My mentor and I discussed how the man has been cropped around the knees while the woman is shown in full. This gives the viewer a sense of perspective – the man is closer to us than the woman. We also looked at the structure of this image on the whole. It’s a rectangular canvas with the two figures standing parallel to each other and to a tree. This gives three parallel forms to anchor the image. The woman’s hair floats behind her connecting to the male figure in an almost straight line. This creates a rectangle formed by the two figures. The woman’s dress gets enveloped by the shore curving from the bottom right toward the center and then spiraling back into her shoulder. The red plant at the man’s feet creates the counter balance for this shoreline making two diagonals within the rectangle of the figures. Visually it controls the viewers eye and keeps the viewer within this rectangle, feeling the tension of the forms who face opposite directions and are moving away from each other, yet simultaneously they are being pulled back and held together by the plant and the shoreline criss crossing between them.
My mentor pointed out how, as an artist, you must think with each figure about how it moves into or out of the space and why. So now I am looking at images in new ways. Why do artists or photographers crop the body in a certain way? Does it work? Why or why not?
Here are some images featuring cropped bodies that I thought were engaging.