Sunday, April 10, 2011

An ODE to CONTRAST (verse 3)

Artists have experimented for centuries with visual techniques for contrasting opposites.  However, it is difficult to think of an example which has benefited from so much enthusiastic experimentation as the contrast of something small, pretty and vulnerable with something big, mean and scary:

Let's see if we can tiptoe around some of the murky reasons people enjoy pictures of women in peril and focus instead on the interesting contrast at the heart of this popular genre.

 The pulp magazine covers of the 1930s and 40s merely continued a tradition that stretched back to medieval paintings of St. George & The Dragon (where a helpless virgin was chained to a rock, to be gobbled up by a fierce monster) or silent movies (where a helpless girl was tied to railroad tracks, to be run over by a fierce steam engine).  No mere gun or knife would do; it was the enormity of the disparity that makes these works successful.

As Frazetta shows us, sometimes it heightens the excitement and dread if the pretty girl lacks even a thin layer of clothing to shield her. 

But not every example uses nudity to heighten the contrast.  Some heighten the contrast employing  light vs. shadow, or vertical vs. supine compositions, or male lower class vs. female upper class.

Some artists believe they get more mileage from a threat that is a disembodied shadow, or by throwing a child into the mix:

Putting aside the politics of these scenarios, and regardless of whether the damsel is saved by a knight in shining armor or rescues herself, the contrast between these two extremes seems to capture the imagination.


Laurence John said...

something tells me the relationship depicted on the cover of Spicy Mystery is unlikely to succeed. the Demon Lover is almost certainly going to become frustrated with the physical limitations of such a size difference, while the damsel risks serious injury.

Amy June Bates said...

There has to be some sort conflict or contrast to have a story or in this case a narrative image. Traditionally melodrama is frowned upon, but I find melodrama in images fascinating. I kind of love it.
Ben Singer listed five qualities that make melodrama (though the subject matter might not contain all five)
1. pathos
2. overwrought emotion
3. moral polarization
4. non- classical narrative structure
5. sensationalism
Another source noted the difference between tragedy and comedy thus:
tragedy is conflict that comes from within (Hamlet)
melodrama is a conflict that happens to someone (lady tied to train tracks)

thanks again for the food for thought

अर्जुन said...

It would be interesting to contrast how illustrators have depicted men facing similar perils.

Nice to see that at ILLUSTRATION ART, G. Patrick Nelson and Oscar Frederick Schmidt rate the respect of a casual name drop.

Did that issue of Spicy Mystery drop before or after King Kong ,1933? (reminds me of a promo still)

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- love can conquer all.

Amy June Bates-- Good point. I think broad melodrama (what Robert Fawcett proudly called "vulagarity") is returning to favor in the writings of Michael Chabon and others, after years of unsatisfying micro-refinements in the arts. This is good news indeed for lowbrows like me.

अर्जुन wrote, "Nice to see that at ILLUSTRATION ART, G. Patrick Nelson and Oscar Frederick Schmidt rate the respect of a casual name drop."

Wow-- who are you, masked man?

T Arthur Smith said...

Schmidt signed is, but which one did the shadow hand? Was that Nelson, or did he do the book cover at the beginning?

अर्जुन said...


"Shadow hand" is by Nelson, signed with his monogram.