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How to analyse setting

Watch this to consider setting in Higher Art (and why Art School still sets the scene)

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Where in the world is your favourite place?

As an artist myself, I have often created artwork based on my favourite place, my favourite view, my favourite setting. This might consist of me working from real life with the view directly in front of me, or working from a photograph or working from memory....or a combination of all. Through this working method, the person viewing my work gains an insight into me.

One setting that means a great deal to me, is the setting of The Mackintosh Building at The Glasgow School of Art. Yes, it was an amazing example of Art Nouveau architecture - but it is what this setting symbolises to me is what I want to achieve within my portrayal of it. This setting symbolises the importance of me as a young Art student, standing at the base of those stairs about to begin my journey into the world of Art School. It was all I had ever dreamed of and I had made it.

So...when we view an artist’s portrayal of a setting, it is important we begin to consider the positioning of the does he or she make the viewer feel the importance of the setting, make them feel the significance of it. So let me set the scene…

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Shall we look into the complex mind of Vincent van Gogh? Café Terrace at Night, painted in 1888 one of three paintings that feature Van Gogh’s distinctive star-filled sky in Arles. Starry Night Over the Rhone and Starry Night complete the trilogy.

The painting captures the setting of a café that has an outdoor section that spills onto the street. The viewer can get a real sense of being an onlooker, like van Gogh would have been, sitting further away from everyone else in the café. We get this sense of isolation from the artist as he has painted empty tables directly in front of him, with busier tables further away.

The street is cobbled surrounding the café and people can be seen to be walking through or looking into the outdoor seating area. This creates a setting of a quaint French backstreet, where life is at a relatively slow pace. No-one looks to be rushing – van Gogh has captured a moment in time that is calm and relaxed.

The sky has been painted with exaggerated stars in the sky, and directly over the dark buildings in the background. This creates a setting of hope from the artist. He is almost identifying with the dark, ominous buildings that point upwards towards the sky where we see little glimmers of hope within the stars.

As the painting has been created using this one-point perspective, you get an idea of his positioning within the painting. He is showing his viewpoint and depiction of the setting, but not putting himself in there and placing objects far away from him (such as the tables and chairs and people.) Through his eyes, we can gain a sense of his own isolation as an onlooker within the setting, he is not part of the scene but perhaps, he longs to be....

Van Gogh has chosen his setting very carefully. By looking at it, analysing and thinking about it, we get a greater understanding of the painter and of the painting.

Well, what about your work?

If we looked at your work, what would it tell us about your world? Might it give a glimpse of the endless summer days where you found true happiness? …or perhaps a sense of the anxiety and confusion you feel in the chaos of a city in winter?

Think about the scene you set for the viewer. If you get it right, it will transport them and it will communicate to them in ways you never thought possible.

Make them travel.

This was thinkfour, thanks for watching.