Analysis of Balinese Painting

Turning now from the consideration of epistemology to a specific art style, we note first what is most general and most obvious.

With almost no exceptions, the behaviors called art or their products (also called art) have two characteristics: they require or exhibit skill, and they contain redundancy or pattern.

But those two characteristics are not separate: the skill is first in maintaining and then in modulating the redundancies.

The matter is perhaps most clear where the skill is that of the journeyman and the redundancy is of comparatively low order. For example, in the Balinese painting by Ida Bagus Djati Sura of the village of Batuan, 1937 and in almost all painting of the Batuan school, skill of a certain elementary but highly disciplined sort was exercised or practiced in the background of foliage. The redundancies to be achieved involve rather uniform and rhythmical repetition of leaf forms, but this redundancy is, so to speak, fragile. It would be broken or interrupted by smudges or irregularities of size or tone in the painting of the successive leaves.

When a Batuan artist looks at the work of another, one of the first things he examines is the technique of the leafy background. The leaves are first drawn, in free outline in pencil; then each outline is tightly redefined with pen and black ink. When this has been done for all the leaves, the artist begins to paint with brush and Chinese ink. Each leaf is covered with a pale wash. When these washes are dry, each leaf receives a smaller concentric wash and after this another still smaller, and so on. The final result is a leaf with an al-most white rim inside the inked outline, and successive steps of darker and darker color toward the center of the leaf.

A "good" picture has up to five or six such successive washes on every leaf. (This particular painting is not very "good" in this sense. The leaves are done in only three or four steps.)

The skill and the patterning so far discussed depend upon muscular rote and muscular accuracy—achieving the perhaps not negligible artistic level of a well-laid out field of turnips.

I was watching a very gifted American carpenter-architect at work on the woodwork of a house he had designed. I commented on the sureness and accuracy of each step. He said, "Oh, that. That's only like using a typewriter. You have to be able to do that without thinking."

But on top of this level of redundancy is another. The uniformity of the lower-level redundancy must be modulated to give higher orders of redundancy. The leaves in one area must be different from the leaves in another area, and these differences must be in some way mutually redundant: they must be part of a larger pattern.

Indeed, the function and necessity of the first-level control is precisely to make the second level possible. The perceiver of the work of art must receive information that the artist can paint a uniform area of leaves because without this information he will not be able to accept as significant the variations in that uniformity.

Only the violinist who can control the quality of his notes can use variations of that quality for musical purposes.

This principle is basic and accounts, I suggest, for the almost universal linkage in aesthetics between skill and pattern. The exceptions —e.g., the cult of natural landscapes, "found objects," inkblots, scattergrams, and the works of Jackson Pollock —seem to exemplify the same rule in reverse. In these cases, a larger patterning seems to propose the illusion that the details must have been controlled. Inter-mediate cases also occur: e.g., in Balinese carving, the natural grain of the wood is rather frequently used to suggest de-tails of the form or surface of the subject. In these cases, the skill lies not in the draftsmanship of the details, but in the artist's placement of his design within the three-dimensional structure of the wood. A special "effect" is achieved, not by the mere representationalism, but by the perceiver's partial awareness that a physical system other than that of draftsman-ship has contributed to determine his perception.

We now turn to more complex matters, still concentrating attention upon the most obvious and elementary.

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