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In Art, Does Size Matter?

November 19, 2010

Can you guess the size of this painting?

Many times when I’m pleased with a small piece, I fantasize about scaling it way up and painting it or reproducing it with collage. It’s my natural tendency, an old habit.

It’s not unusual to hear artists suggest to other artists that this piece or that should be done really big, almost as if that would give it more physicality and presence and importance. But I’m not convinced that small works would always be improved by translating them to large scale.

I enjoy small works that have great space and presence. Small works that, were you to see just a picture of them, you might never guess their size.

For example, this one by David Novak:

Untitled – David Novak
2009, acrylic/polyethylene, 5″h x 5″w.

Or this one by Cheryl McClure:

Cat’Art 9 (grasses) – Cheryl McClure
12 x12″ acrylic
framed 16 x 16″

(Both of these artists are creators of wonderful abstract paintings, both large and small.)

Big, expansive works in a gallery or museum can take my breath away. I love the feeling of standing in front of a painting and getting swept up in it.

I love the feeling of expansiveness when creating a large scale painting.

I also love the intimacy of a work of art that I can hold in my hand, or hang in a small hallway so I can enjoy it every day when I walk by.

Does size matter to you?

27 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2010 6:00 pm

    Wow, Martha…. Thanks so much for featuring one of my pieces. You and David both do such fabulous work, I am very happy to be included in your post.

    • November 20, 2010 10:06 am

      Thanks Cheryl. I immediately thought of your work as a great example to show. I really love that little 12 x 12!

  2. November 19, 2010 7:03 pm

    Hi Martha,
    I’d guess that your painting is maybe 8 x 8 inches. But then it could be 4 x 4 in. or 12 x 12 in. Like you said…it’s difficult to tell sometimes.

    I love doing smaller works and for the impact that they impart. I’ve known collectors that only go for the smaller works and then there are collectors that encourage me to do larger works. Some folks just like walking into a room and being bowled over by a huge painting I suppose. I do prefer painting small works but when a large one is painted…I am pretty amazed at the ‘largeness’ of it all. 🙂

    Size matters in that I feel it depends on ones’s personal preferences and particular needs such as you said having a small hallway. Large areas can be filled up with several smaller paintings or one big HUGE one! Just depends on what is desired or needed.

    • November 19, 2010 7:51 pm

      I loved this question so much that I posted a similar question on my art blog and linked to this post as well. 🙂

      • November 20, 2010 10:05 am

        What fun, Itaya! Thanks for the link. Look for my comment on your post. 🙂

    • November 20, 2010 11:20 am

      Itaya, by the way . . . the first painting is 12 x 12. Could have been a lot of different sizes, I think!

  3. November 19, 2010 7:57 pm

    I think the size of the art can make a difference: Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Jackson Pollack’s Blue Poles comes quickly to mind, but like you say that can only become obvious by standing in front of them and feeling their presents. The Van Goghs I have seen look just fine whatever their size may be, so I agree with your perspective, although I prefer my abstract works big: bigger gives the paint more room to move.

    • November 20, 2010 9:54 am

      Scott, you’re so right. In fact, the smaller contemporary Pollock-style artists’ works couldn’t possibly have the same impact of Pollock’s huge canvases. Chuck Close’s works are better the bigger they are — just an example that comes to mind.

  4. November 19, 2010 8:30 pm

    Love love the work! Cheryl, David and yours Martha are just wonderful! Size matters to me only as determined by the feel and need of the painting, often a work calls for or rather screams to be large to be understood but often a small piece can whisper its meaning and it is hard to forget it. I love them both and I like medium sized too! I love them all!

    • November 20, 2010 9:41 am

      Thank you Cathy! Yeah, me too. I tend to agree with you that the image sometimes dictates the scale.

  5. Sandra permalink
    November 20, 2010 2:16 am

    Lovely works, all of them. When I started I was most comfortable with medium sized works. In class we kept being made to do large works and I didn’t have the ideas for large works. Am still most comfortable in the smaller to larger medium range although I now have a composition which needs a larger canvas than usual to develop. I’ve done a few small ones, in quite a different style from my usual.

    • November 20, 2010 9:38 am

      Sandra, if you ever want to experiment with a large canvas or sheet of paper, just remember that all you need are larger brushes! And maybe a step ladder if it’s really large. 🙂

  6. November 20, 2010 7:47 am

    Hi Martha – Size? I love them all I tell ya. Little is so lovely. Big is so powerful!

    I tend to work smaller. It’s about budget – I can produce more. Instead of making one, I can make many. It’s also about size of studio – smaller than most, I’m sure. Though – I have been pondering going larger lately. Move over spare bedroom – here I come!

    • November 20, 2010 9:36 am

      Jennifer, I like working small for all these reasons, plus the fact that they are accessible to more people because of their affordability and because you can usually find room for them.

      I have adequate space to work, but not unlimited storage space!

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