Exploring Contrast in Art and Life
Updated: Sep 23
The study of contrast is an essential part of an artist’s education. Imagine life without contrast. Monochromatic colors, all blending into each other. No texture. No shadows, either. No diversity. Just a bland and boring view of life. Flat and uninspired.
Contrast provides depth and understanding for whatever we are looking at. It’s an important ingredient in any well-balanced composition and in any well-balanced life. In art and in life, contrasts point out the differences…therefore, they also show us the similarities. We learn to see them both, equally, to understand the whole.
Without a full sensory experience of one’s world, the nuances of life are lost to the bland sameness of an algorithmic pattern repeating itself over and over again. Doomed to exact repetition every time. The process itself becomes devoid of creativity. It becomes dry, rigid and stale, unable to evolve over time.
The more contrast in a work of art, the more firmly the audience’s attention is secured. Sharp contrasts are almost impossible to ignore. What we choose to focus on is what we will continue to see.
By tapping into the fullness of the human experience, I became exquisitely aware of how life itself is a contrast between the temporary nature of our moment-to-moment daily lives and our propensity for living life long-term. In the blink of an eye, life can drastically change, and yet, we work to purchase a home, send our children to school and plan for retirement. It’s a profound contrast that we delicately balance our lives between. It feels like a tight-rope walk at times.
In the cave paintings of our ancestors contrast is found, not only in the colors, textures and shades of the petroglyphs, but also with the firelight’s shadow-castings as they danced along the walls of the caves. Light is a source of contrast. It provides clarity, bringing out the differences in forms, shapes, textures and color.
An artist uses the tool of contrast to direct the viewer’s eye in a composition. It can keep the eye moving along the contrasting patterns, creating visual excitement, interest and drama. The image becomes alive before our very eyes because the artist gave it movement within the contrasts of the composition.
As we begin to comprehend a bigger picture, the contrasts are even more important. They provide information about what we are perceiving, informing our perception of distance, geography, space and time of day or night. My experiential-based creative practice opens up fresh possibilities for understanding something as simple as the difference between light and dark, revealing the commonalities that lie hidden in plain sight.
In the deepening of my study in contrasts, it’s gifts spill over into my daily life. The difference between a sweet and salty taste gets translated into my art by the sheer essence of the experience engulfing my senses. I notice the feel of the silk against my skin more intensely. That becomes part of my understanding about how to paint silk against skin, creating a more sensual illusion of silken layers embracing the curves of the human body.
All of my experiences are infused into my art, delivering a depth of richness from the sensory input. As I use all of my awareness to explore the creative mysteries of Contrast, inner and outer doors open up more possibilities for it to enrich unexplored areas of my life with its wisdom.
(Image credit: Original Art created by CShepardArts c. 2017