Inspired by David Pye Part 5 – Diversity
It is a masterly demonstration of the principle of diversity:
small elements barely at the threshold of recognition are capable of intensifying
the character of the larger forms which underlie them.
In my previous essay, I made the point that art is about taking risks and that not taking risks implies not creating art. In this essay, I am introducing another one of Pye’s terms: diversity. My goal is to explain why diversity is one of the most important components of a work of art.
David Pye’s Concept Of Diversity
Diversity is a catch-all term used to convey qualities such as variety, uniqueness, and subtlety in a work of art. Diversity is a fundamental artistic concept and one of the most important visual aspects of art. It is what makes each work of art unique. There are a million different ways to create diversity. How diversity is implemented is what creates the style of a specific artist.
David Pye places a lot of importance on the concept of diversity because he believes that diversity is the number one source of interest in a work of art. Placing diversity as the primary source of interest seems to contradict Pye’s statement that Design proposes and workmanship disposes which places design at the origin of the work of art. However, there is no discrepancy in Pye’s theory of artistic creation. Design is at the origin of the creation of the work of art. Diversity is at the origin of the artistic interest of the piece.
When talking about design, Pye is referring to the artist creating the work. For the artist, Design is the first thing on their mind. When talking about diversity, Pye is referring to the audience’s enjoying the work of art. For the audience, diversity is the most important aspect. Pye is talking about two different stages of the creation of a work of art. When the artist considers the design, the piece is not created yet. When the audience views the work and experiences its diversity, the piece is completed. Creating the design is the first stage. Enjoying diversity is the last stage.
How Diversity Comes About
In free workmanship, the flat surface is not quite flat, but shows a faint pattern of tool marks.
The effect of such approximations is to contribute very much to the aesthetic quality of workmanship which I shall call diversity.
For Pye, the approximation is what leads to diversity. Approximation, in regards to creating a work of art, means not being absolutely certain what the outcome will be. It means that the work of art will not be similar to the original subject, or to the original design. It also means that the artist is working towards an undefined result.
Approximation is related to the workmanship of risk. When the artist uses the workmanship of risk, the outcome is uncertain. Similarly, when an artist approaches the creation of a work of art with approximation, the outcome is also uncertain.
When using an approximation approach, different attempts are made. For example, a sketch is always an approximation because it is an attempt to give form to an idea and to create a visual representation of a concept. A sketch shows hesitation regarding where each line is placed. When sketching, the artist draws faint lines while searching for the exact contour of an object, and then reinforces specific lines with darker sketch lines once the contour has been found. For this reason, sketches have many different pencil lines, each line being an attempt to approximate the form the artist has in mind. Drawing multiple lines is part of the sketching process. Because each pencil line is slightly different, the combination of lines brings diversity to the work. Sketches are used when items are handmade, with workmanship of risk approach. The outcome is uncertain and the multiplicity of lines echoes the multiplicity of possible results.
By comparison, a blueprint shows no hesitation. Unlike a sketch, a blueprint uses a single pencil line to define the contour of an object. Blueprints are used in a production environment, with workmanship of certainty approach. The outcome is certain and the single line shows to the craftsman the exact shape of the final object. If there were more than one line, the craftsman would not know what the item looks like and the manufacturing would be inefficient.
Diversity is achieved by searching, not by being certain. It enlivens the quality of an object by offering the viewer the opportunity to focus on both the general shape of the object and the details of its production.
Two Types Of Diversity
Pye considers two different types of diversity: diversity between several pieces and diversity within one piece.
Diversity between several pieces is present when several pieces are based on the same design, but each piece interprets the design in different ways. There is diversity in how each piece was made. The subject or the designs are the same, but the different pieces demonstrate significant differences between them. In this instance diversity extends the aesthetic experience beyond the viewing of a single piece and invites the viewer to compare the different pieces and aesthetically evaluate their differences.
In woodworking, diversity between several pieces means that if the artist makes two different wooden bowls, of the same size and shape, they will be different because the tools used will leave different marks in each of them. They will be similar in shape but different in regards to the tool marks.
In painting, an example of diversity between several pieces can be a series of paintings that, even though they are of the same subject, exhibit differences in regards to how this subject is represented. The subject is the same, the composition is the same, and the light is the same, but the paintings are different. They are not copies of each other; they are different depictions of the same scene. Seen together, they demonstrate a diversity of interpretations of the same subject.
When observing diversity, the distance the work is viewed from has to be considered because viewing distance affects how we perceive diversity. To enjoy diversity between several pieces, the work of art must be seen from a distance. When looking at a series of three 30×40 photographs, for example, the viewer needs to be at least 15 feet away to see all three pieces at the same time.
Example of diversity among different pieces.
The same photograph was processed with three different color palettes, creating diversity between the three renderings of this photograph.
Diversity within a single piece is present in works of art in which different areas of the piece show different marks of the artist’s hand. There is diversity in how the piece was made. In this instance diversity extends the aesthetic experience beyond the viewing of the whole piece, to the smallest scale that the eye can distinguish.
This diversity can be found in the workmanship, or in the marks left by the tools the artist used. In woodworking, to continue the bowls example I mentioned above, if a single bowl is made, then the diversity can be in the different tool marks made during the fabrication of the bowl. There will be a diversity of marks made by using different tools, or by using a single tool in different ways, or by using a combination of both. This is something unique to handmade items because when machines are used this diversity does not exist.
Diversity within a single piece enlivens the quality of the object’s surface, offering the eye the opportunity to focus on the minute details of the object’s surface.
To enjoy the diversity present in a single piece the viewer needs to be close to the object, a foot or two away from the piece at the most. Not too close and not too far. It is at this intermediate distance that the details of the craftsmanship, the marks of the maker’s hand, are best seen.
Example of diversity within a single photograph.
The diversity in this image is created by the use of several color palettes in different areas of the image. The combination of greys, reds, and blues creates a color-based diversity.
A Third Type Of Diversity
To the two types of diversity presented by Pye, I want to add a third type. This third type of diversity is related to the diversity within one piece but it is based on subject matter, not on tool marks or facture. This third type can be present regardless of the medium used. It can be found in woodwork, photographs, paintings, sketches or other artistic mediums.
This third type of diversity has to do with the nature of the subject, as well as with the relationships between different subjects featured in the same piece. Let’s take for example a rock in a pond. The rough surface of the rock will contrast with the smooth surface of the pond, creating a diversity of textures. This diversity is not coming from the tool marks, the painting style, or the tonalities of the piece. It is coming from the relationship between the elements in the scene.
Yucca Stalk on Mottled Sand
Example of subject matter diversity within a single piece.
In this photograph the mottled texture of the sand contrasts with the sharp texture of the yucca stalk, creating a diversity based on the subject matter. In addition, the blue color of the shaded sand contrasts with the orange color of the yucca pods, creating a second, color-based diversity.
Diversity By Hand and By Machine
Diversity can be created when using a machine if the machine is hand-operated, meaning controlled by an artist or a craftsman, not automated and running by itself. When a machine is hand-operated the operator, the artist, or the craftsperson, can make changes either from piece to piece or in a single piece. This introduces diversity between one item to the next or within one item. If the machine is automated it does what it is programmed to do, which is the same thing over and over again, time after time. In that case there is no diversity, either from one item to the next or within a single item.
Diversity In Painting
Diversity takes different aspects depending on the medium being used. In sketching, which I discussed earlier, diversity is created with pencil lines: how thin or thick, light or dark, straight or wavy, the lines in the drawing are.
In painting, diversity is called facture. Facture is the term used to describe the unique aspects of an artist’s technique. An artist’s facture is part of their personal style. Facture is expressed through the type of brushstrokes used by the artist and his layout of paint, thin or thick, for example.
Diversity within a single painting can be created by depicting the subject with different types of facture. For example, some areas can be painted with a thick layer of paint, and other areas with a thin layer. Or some areas can have visible brushstrokes while other areas are painted with a smooth surface.
Monument Valley Snowstorm
The second example of subject matter diversity within a single piece.
Here the smooth quality of the snow contrasts with the rough texture of the rock.
Diversity In Photography
In photography, diversity can be created during all three stages of image creation: composition, processing and printing. These can be used for the creation of diversity within a single piece. They can also be used to create diversity among several pieces by using a specific technique several different ways with the same photograph. Doing so will result in the creation of multiple versions of the same image, each with a different type of composition, processing, or printing variation. These variations can be combined, offering a virtually endless number of possibilities.
Composition diversity can be created by taking different compositions of the same scene. It can also be created by placing contrasting elements in a single photograph using the third type of diversity.
Diversity can be created by using different processing techniques within the same images. The goal is to create different digital alterations of the original capture through filtering, texturing, warping, and distorting effects.
Printing Diversity of Tonalities Or Color Palettes
In black and white photography, diversity can be created by varying the range of tonalities of an image during printing. In color photography diversity can be created by varying both tonalities and colors during printing.
Too much regularity and precision generate monotony. By using diversity artists fight monotony with variations. Diversity is a prerogative of the artist who has the freedom to make artistic changes both within a single piece and between several pieces.
Machines cannot create diversity because they are unable to introduce variations. Making artistic changes is therefore impossible if an item is made by a machine because machines have no artistic sense. They can reproduce things perfectly but they are unable to judge the artistic quality of what they produce and even less introduce artistic variations from one piece to the next during a production run. In fact, if a variation is introduced during a production run it is called an accident. In a production setting accidents are unwanted because they waste time and money and result in the production of pieces that must be discarded because they depart from the standards set by the factory. The irony is that while accidents are negative events in mechanical production because they are counterproductive, in art accidents are positive events because they lead to diversity. Happy accidents are a reality in art.
The diversity of textures is the main source of interest of this image.
Without this texturing, it would be a commonplace photograph.
Finding the intention for the presence of diversity in a work of art can be challenging. Is the diversity present in the work intentional or accidental? Is it the outcome of artistic expression or of poor workmanship? Is diversity a mistake or is it the outcome of artistic decisions? Is it deliberate or is it caused by lack of skills? For example, in photography, is visible noise, exaggerated grain, lack of depth of field or unsharp images due to lack of technical knowledge or is it the outcome of deliberate artistic choices? Deciding what is the cause is not always easy. Experience and artistic discrimination skills can help us decide if this is the outcome of artistic skills or of technical mistakes. Knowing the artist’s career and their previous work is also helpful. For example, unsharp images are not a mistake if an artist is known for creating blurry images.
The reason why photographers love old, weathered, rusted, or worn-out subjects is because they offer endless opportunities for diversity. By comparison, new things offer no possibilities for diversity whatsoever. The photographs we take of them may demonstrate the sharpness of our lenses and the quality of our technique, but they cannot demonstrate diversity. These photographs can document the look of machine-made, mass-produced items, but they cannot document the mark of a human touch.
Pye valued the workmanship of risk for its ability to create diversity. In fact, he saw creating diversity as the main reason for using the workmanship of risk. The workmanship of certainty cannot produce diversity. Using the workmanship of certainty makes sense from an economical perspective. Using the workmanship of risk makes sense from an artistic perspective. Work created with the workmanship of risk cannot compete on the basis of price with work created with the workmanship of certainty. Work created with the workmanship of risk is more difficult to produce and therefore carries a higher price tag. However, this is not a problem because the economic reality of art is dramatically different from the economic reality of mass-produced items. Art does not need to be produced in quantity or be competitively priced to be successful.
The price of diversity is the risk of failure. Failure of pleasing the audience because the work is controversial or cutting edge. Failure to be financially successful because the work is overpriced or does not address the right market. However, as we saw in my previous essay, art is a risk, therefore the risk of failure is always present in the creation of art. Risk is the price to pay for making art, not just for creating diversity. Not taking a risk is not making art.
When talking about diversity, the artist’s facture takes precedence over the artist’s subject. We enjoy facture first and subject second. This means that art is first about the artist and second about the subject. For example, in Van Gogh’s paintings, it is Van Gogh’s interpretation of his subject which is fascinating. We love his work because of the way he interpreted landscapes, houses, people, sunflowers, and other subjects in a unique and daring way. If he had depicted these subjects in a banal and commonplace manner, we would not pay much attention to his paintings. His sunflowers would have been regular sunflowers, not sunflowers blessed by Van Gogh’s talent and vision. His olive trees would have been regular olive trees, not olive trees memorable because of Van Gogh’s brushstrokes. We love Van Gogh’s facture far more than we love sunflowers. In fact, I believe that many have not paid much attention to sunflowers until they saw Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers. Only then did they awaken to their beauty, a beauty revealed by the artist’s depiction of sunflowers.
The same can be said about the diversity created by other masters. Ansel Adam’s Hernandez is fascinating because of the way it was composed, developed and printed by Adams. Without Adams’ input, Hernandez is a place along a busy highway that no one stops at, except photographers looking for the location where a famous photograph was created. Unfortunately, there is nothing there to justify taking a photograph, even less one that will make someone famous. Hernandez is not Monument Valley. Anyone can take a memorable photograph of Monument Valley because the location is so impressive. However, the only impressive photograph of Hernandez is the one created by Adams. No one else was able to create a majestic image of this location.
Pye called diversity the “salt and pepper” of free workmanship. Indeed, diversity spices the work. Diversity is found in works of art that demonstrate the presence of the artist through the marks left by his hand. Only these works say something about both the subject of the image and the artist who created it. It is the presence of diversity that makes a work of art interesting. It is the lack of it that makes a work of art boring.
About Alain Briot
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops with my wife Natalie, and offer Mastery Tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing, business, and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography, and How Photographs are Sold. My books are available in eBook format on my website . Free samples are available so you can see the contents of these books for yourself.
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Studying fine art photography with Alain and Natalie Briot
If you enjoyed this essay, you will enjoy attending a workshop with us. I lead workshops with my wife Natalie to the most photogenic locations in the US Southwest. Our workshops focus on the artistic aspects of photography. While we do teach technique, we do so for the purpose of creating artistic photographs. Our goal is to help you create photographs that you will be proud of and that will be unique to you. The locations we photograph include Navajoland, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion, the Grand Canyon, and many others. Our workshop listing is available at this link.