The Most Simplified Form

The Most Simplified Form


        From observing newspapers and magazines featuring children’s paintings, we can see that a lot of works have a common feature: children's passion and patience to create amazing paintings. In addition to including all the characters, even trivial small details are carefully added. Unfortunately a picture is only so big. Crowding on too much content, shape, and color makes the whole picture cluttered, losing a sense of beauty.


Figure 1.

Joseph Louis Hippolyte Bellangé and Adrien Dauzats
Military Review Under the Empire (1810) (or Showing the Troops), 1862

Oil on Canvas, 1.01 x 1.61 m

Louvre Museum, Paris

This painting was created like it was taken by a camera; everything in frame is included in detail without thinking. A child would probably think that the choice is very creative. In fact, before the invention of the camera, a painter really had to perform the job of a camera. A painter’s job was to faithfully transfer what he or she saw onto canvas, for a person who was not present to witness the scene. Figure 1 describes a celebration, where we can see the busy parade procession. Whether it is the band, each person in the crowd’s expression, action, and clothing, the window and curtains of the building, the statues on the roof, or the clouds floating in the sky, everything is carefully portrayed and not a detail is spared.
But after several hundred years of change, people look at things in a very different perspective. Figure two is Monet's work, and we can describe the lively scene similarly. The whole street is full of houses, flags, and people. But Monet’s intention was to depict the "first impression;" the moment when you first enter a crowded festival or event, and on first glance, see the view as a whole and do not notice the individual details. You simply feel that there are many people, but you don't notice how all the hundreds or thousands of people look, how they are dressed, or what they are doing. So Monet employs this "generalization" method, using mostly simple blocks of red and blue to point out the number of countless flags. Notice that in depicting humans, he even used simple and intermittent lines, yet immediately, we can feel that the painted blobs are in the likeness of “humans.” Some details and descriptions are omitted; but because we are smart, with one glance, we can identify that there are many people, flags, and houses lined up. The scene is bustling and lively.



Figure 2.

Claude Monet
La Rue Montorgueil (Montorgueil Street), 1878

Paint on Canvas

Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Attempting to paint the whole street to explain the scenery, like a camera shot, would be much too chaotic. Therefore, a painter uses a modern, general, and simplified style to comprehend complex art. Every painter's effort is to rearrange the impressions in the scenery that everyone sees, and describe the contents using his or her own unique method of decryption. After all, if you want everything kept exactly the same, according to a perfect depiction, a camera would definitely do so better than people ever could.

Discover the important, core part from what you can see, and seize only the already simplified part. An example of this is Figure 3. Malevich’s “Aircraft Flight”; we can only see lines in the shape of a plane. The plane is rising up, and even without an explanation, we can tell it is flying up.



Figure 3.

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich (1878 - 1935, Soviet Union)
Airplane Flight, 1915

Paint on Canvas

Museum of Modern Art, New York

      This situation is very similar to working with high level mathematics fractions, simplifying 27/36, into 9/12, and then into 3/4. 3/4 cannot be further simplified. It is an artist's greatest possible achievement and extraordinary ability to find the simplest fraction in his own way. Famous painters often learn from young children.

     Figure four is a child’s painting of a "camel". Upon careful inspection, there is only a skeleton, no muscle, no fur or skin, and it looks like a chicken. This kind of ability is very high-level; with age comes increased complexity thinking about things. It becomes more difficult to see like a child, to discover the simplest and most direct path.