Painting Commentaries


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The verb 'temper' has its origins in the idea of mixing and modifying, stretching and restraining, altering, and bringing into proper proportion. It has some of these general meanings whether applied, for example, to the tempering of metal, the tempering of human emotions, or the tuning of musical instruments. In particular the last two of these are connected in the idea of temperament.

Temperament in we humans is some kind of balance between volatility and calm, and the balance of our dispositions or tendencies towards particular psychological states. Four or five hundred years ago or so, it was widely thought that such characteristics in us were determined by astrology. This is still thought, today, but not so widely.

Back then, the universe itself was thought to be structured on the ratios and proportions of musical harmony, and the way in which these ratios or proportions either fit together, or don't fit together, arithmetically, was a science in its own right. This was 'the science of music', as it was once studied at Oxford.

The whole question of number, harmony, music, the universe, and we humans, was richly philosophised by the ancient Greeks.

Every artist knows that in the essence of a painting is a balance, proportion, or temperament of geometry and color, in which nothing, really, has an absolute value, in isolation from the whole. The import and effect of everything is determined by its place in the whole, and by its relation to what else appears. No color, shape, or form, is ever an absolute in its own right, its qualities are affected as much by what is around it, as by what is inherent in itself.

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