Up close differences

Painting, while often thought of a 2d medium, is much more three-dimensional than it is often given credit. It makes it hard to appreciate a work of art in two dimensions.

I spent a while yesterday studying two of MoMA’s masterpieces.  Flag by Jasper John stood outside the entrance for the Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends exhibit that’s in place right now. From a distance, flag appears to be a textured painting of an American Flag, but as you get close you can not only see that it’s newsprint underneath, but you can actually read the paper. You can see how it hang off the side of one of the stripes.  You can hear other people ask ridiculous questions like “Was this made before Alaska and Hawaii were states and that’s why there aren’t 50 stars on it?” (there are 56 stars). Up close and in person, you really get to appreciate the aspects of the piece you can’t see from a 2d picture.

Around the corner, Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic Drowning Girl inspired a similar feeling. When you look at photographs of Drowning Girl or you view it from far away, it comes across as a comic book piece that likely was first done in pencil, and then gone back over in ink (we can debate if this is tracing some other time) but upclose it becomes clearer that it’s not just clean lines. The strong black lines that dominate the painting aren’t smooth. The brush marks are clear. The dots that make up the shading are far from uniform in size. Many of them, especially in the lower left of the painting blend into each other.

When looking at things from far away, it’s easy to miss the imperfections. But it’s the imperfections that make it art. In many ways, it’s the same when we are working on a website. From a distance, when we aren’t intimately involved, there are things we aren’t going to see. When we get close, we can start to really understand what is going. We learn the background for why specific decisions get made. It can also cloud us. We stop seeing the big picture and focus on the flaws.

Balancing the close-up view of the imperfections and the broader story is always going to be a challenge. Concurring it though is what helps separate good from great.

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