Nature is unbroken. It is continuous. Much of its beauty comes from the contiguous nature of its forms; there is no end of frame or barrier to it. It stretches from one end of the eye to the other, and requires that we move our eyes if we are to see more. Even the microscopic is only appreciated as a part of its connected activity with its surroundings. The inch worm that intends to cross a river. That unbroken aspect is its context, no matter the scale of the natural world we view. Yet every art of human hands, however close it tries to come to nature, is bound somehow by borders in space. There is an edge to the page, the space of the museum, the boundaries of the imagination — and there are boundaries even there. The difference is what I call unbroken composition. Both contexts define their art. The unbroken composition of nature is inherent, while the unbroken composition of photography, or of any human art, is its striving for continuity. Art attempts to portray in limited space, and song in time, what is otherwise unlimited.
It is a necessary evil of any art to do so. It shouldn’t be shunned. We shouldn’t cease to take images of the landscape because we find the image to be a lesser portrayal of the real thing. I recall thinking these things over as a child artist, having to conform my creativity to the limitations that the edge of the page provided. It disturbed me then that I wasn’t going to achieve the unbroken composition of nature. I was trying to achieve a state of nature. These days, the photo is its own work. Point being, these are beauties of kind rather than degree. The one is not a lesser version of the other. They are two different contexts.
There are numerous great works that have attempted at unbroken composition, or some sort of continuity beyond the page, beyond the field of view. To name Picasso is to name the obvious. Cubism was an attempt at containing in a flat surface the multiple facets and lighting situations encountered around a single three dimensional object and world. We can place Gertrude Stein’s Auto-Biography of Alice B. Toklas, a form of cubist literature, into the lot of great attempts. Another not so obvious one would have to be Melville’s Moby Dick with a character trying maddeningly to destroy the indomitable whale force of nature, side by side with a narrator bent on understanding that whale from every angle, every bone, every metaphor. And without luck. The doubloon at the heart of the ship, and every angle it is viewed from, reveals the impossibility of the quest. I’d even place installation art into the box of attempts at unbroken composition.
Coloring Within The Lines
I no longer strive for mimicking nature. It is what it is. I accept the edge of the page with a whole heart. In doing so, I find I come much closer to nature than otherwise. The image exists within its own context, does not strive to be the shadow of another. If it gives a sense of expansive skies, or a light from outside the frame, then I’ve won. Enough said.