Contrast is like those bad boys your mother warned you to stay away from but you just couldn't help yourself.
When you first encounter a picture, your eye is irresistibly drawn to the points of greatest contrast. Other parts of the picture-- the largest shape, the prettiest color, the darkest or lightest form-- may strive for your attention but there's something about contrast that always catches our eye first.
|In this painting by Motherwell, our eyes pass over the huge black shape and go right to the tiny corner with the contrast.|
|Milk contrasted against the shadows in N.C. Wyeth's lovely painting|
This doesn't mean that contrast is the best or the most important part of a picture. To the contrary, pictures contain many other fine, respectable elements. As your mother told you, once you get past first impressions you may learn to appreciate subtle details and other less glamorous virtues. All it takes is patience and time.
You can go on to enjoy a long, satisfying relationship with the less flashy components of a picture. But it seems that a mature relationship must wait its turn, until we get beyond our initial fascination with contrasts-- that rough, vulgar but sexy feature that first catches our eye.