Ambiguity in art: art work having several possible interpretations or meanings; of an uncertain nature. And why am I bringing this up?
Think of the Mona Lisa’s smile. It’s ambiguous- we don’t know why she’s smiling and there are so many possible stories we could create. She’s kept us intrigued all through the centuries and still we’re curious and hypnotized by this painting painted by Leonardo da Vinci. This is a great example of ambiguity in art.
And what about the work of René Margritte? You look and then you look again and then you see the ambiguity and strangeness in his art.
So what I’d like to suggest to you is sometimes creating work that is uncertain as to its meaning. This could be done by including something that perhaps doesn’t quite belong but that might be noticible at first look. Or the whole painting can have an ambiguous feel.
I have a pastel painting that came about in a rather strange way. A painting was covered with glassine. When I removed it, I could see a design of pastel on it that spoke to my imagination. Have a look:
Not that interesting right? But there was something there that caught my eye. And so I drew up a quick sketch with the idea.
I saw three figures. I wasn’t sure How they would turn out but I figured out their placement as well as a value pattern. And then there are those cloud-like forms. I wasn’t sure what to do with those! But next was to draw it up on UART paper:
And now for the three colours in three values. I wasn’t working from any colour scheme in reality so in part the colours were randomly chosen. Having said that I was vaguely thinking grass and sky.
I added a second layer. The figures are taking shape – three women who have some sort of relationship. The cloud-like forms look a bit like the start of trees. So with that thought, I added some green over the initial red.
And you can see the piece in black and white below. You can see how close in value the green and red are in the puff forms. Do you see how in black and white they disappear into each other?
I decided, nope, not trees. Then what? Possibly talk or thought balloons (argh do these things have a name? I’m sure they do)? Or what else? To get away from the idea of trees and thinking about the potential of ambiguity in art, I reintroduced the red, brightening up the greyed red below and covering much of the green.
I also decided I needed to do something with the large flat area behind the figures. I added pinks and yellows to the blue.
I worked on the figures a bit, tweaking the details. Almost finished. But not quite.
Can you see that I also added some height over the horizon on the left?
I decided I needed to break up the edges of the floating area on the right. I also felt I needed to ‘attach’ the figures to the background more so I chose to use the colour of the girl on the left’s coat along part of the horizon line behind her. And it’s done but untitled as yet.
And here it is in black and white. You can see how I stuck to the original value structure
And here are the pastels I used. And in black and white.
Ambiguity in art gives us the chance to add to a painting’s texture. When we view a painting with ambiguous meaning we ask, What does it mean? And from our own life experience, perception, expectation, imagination, and knowledge, in that moment we create an answer. An ambiguous painting has no correct answer about its meaning. It encourages you to look to yourself for a response, no matter what is. The hard part sometimes is to express that answer boldly and without fear.
So now it’s time for you to respond!! What do your experiences and your imagination tell you about this painting? Go wild. Don’t hold back! Let your creative juices get to work. I’m looking forward to hearing some amazing stories.
Until next time,