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How to analyse viewpoint

Watch this to unpack different viewpoints in Higher Art (and why one plane journey changed everything)

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I was 14 when I first got to look out the window of a plane.

I saw my hometown for the first time from an aerial view. I was mesmerised. I had never been in this unique position to view the city I grew up in from above and it looked so different. The rows of housing schemes, the iconic football stadiums, the river...it all seemed so...small. A direct contrast to the big city vibe I was so comfortable in, growing up in, on a ground level viewpoint.

Art allows us to observe, from the viewpoint of the artist.

Some artists used this to great effect. Pablo Picasso loved to move around as he painted, sculpted and drew. As a result, his compositions were gloriously abstract collages of multiple viewpoints.

Let’s try looking at the world through the eyes of Picasso.

This is thinkfour.

Firstly, let’s get to grips with what we’re looking out for. Viewpoint is the position your eyes view the subject from. This can be ariel, side on and elevated, which is from below looking up. An artist’s viewpoint greatly impacts on how they draw basic forms such as cylinders in a still life context. When you are looking down on a cylinder shape such as a glass tumbler, you don’t see the sides and the top looks perfectly circular. If you look at the same form from a side on viewpoint, the top appears to be an oval and you see the sides.

Adopting an unusual viewpoint in an artwork can be a powerful way to create an exciting, dynamic and emotive composition. An interesting viewpoint can make us consider a familiar object or scene in a new way and can subtly convey the mood and message in an artwork.

Let’s look at how Picasso famously approached viewpoint in his paintings. Titled ‘Portrait of a Woman’, this is a wonderful example of multiple viewpoints represented in a painting.

Initially, we can gain a sense of him sitting directly in front of the woman, looking side on at the arrangement. We see her body as a flattened image, with her sitting slightly to the side.

But then we look at her face and we can see aspects of it that you wouldn’t get from just one viewpoint. It is a confused combination of viewpoints, which lets the viewer simultaneously appreciate her from a side on profile where we see the angle of her nose and her ear. But then we also gain a sense of her looking straight at us with one of her eyes, seemingly face on.

Consider the chair she is sitting on. We can see the tops of the chair back which suggests an elevated viewpoint, looking down. A suggestion of power perhaps?

One could argue that this working method leads to the creation of a fuller picture. Picasso is giving us multiple viewpoints of the woman, giving us, the viewer, a much broader sense of her angles....her stance.....her personality.

Consider the contrast when we look at Ritratto Femminile, painted by Abbey Alton in 1916. This is a classic oil painting with one viewpoint - side on. We know exactly where the painter was sitting and he has recreated her looking straight on. It is almost as if you are sitting in the room beside her, like an equal.

Which one do you prefer?

By controlling the viewpoint of your work, you control how the viewer sees the scene. You invite them into your world, to see through your eyes…to see how you see.

Likewise, when you look at artwork, the artist has chosen your viewpoint for you. They control it and the impact it has on your viewing experience.

Viewing Glasgow from above all those years ago fundamentally changed how I see the world. Although I probably didn’t know it back then, I was starting to learn about the incredible power of the artist.

This was thinkfour, thanks for watching.

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