You are in a popular and loud restaurant with an exuberant bar crowd and Bose speakers situated on the ceiling above your table. You lean forward to pick out the gist of a conversation. You employ all your senses, lip reading, anticipating words in the conversation, cupping your ears. The conversation becomes more valuable as you expend more effort. Paintings can offer a similar experience.
With anticipation and focus you can glean a sense of the painting’s direction, content, and effect. But with a painting, instead of leaning forward across the table you step back away from the subject. To penetrate a picture’s interfering noise and discover its unified content we need to step back to see the entirety of a painting. Almost always we first encounter a painting from a distance across a room at 10 or 20 feet. We don’t close our eyes and wait to open them until we are within a foot or two of a painting. We discover paintings at a distance and see them through interfering visual noise. Impressionists realized this. Before Impressionists, visitors to galleries assessed a painting by examining it with a magnifying glass. Impressionists asked the audience to step back and let the visual noise amalgamate into visual coherence. Opposite colors in patches created a visual hum when viewed from 10 or more 20 feet. Small patches neutralized each other.
Impressionists were not the first to realize how a viewer amalgamates the brushwork into believable content. DaVinci understood the obscuring effects of s’fumato and Rembrandt tugged on the sleeves of studio visitors pulling them back to have a longer view of his work. if visitors got too close he knew they would only see the brushstrokes and not the illusion.
I have added interfering noise to thicken the atmosphere and have the viewer puzzle out the image through the rain of noise. I have not gone far enough with my application noise. But, I want you to see how I proceeded with my experiments and demonstrate how much more engaging the texture and visual experience of the painting is when the noise is turned up. Turning up the interfering noise also obliges me to further simplify the image and the design. Contrary to your immediate reflex, adding confusion can enrich and clarify the effect. An entertaining set of guesses can more easily be made out of an ambiguous visual field than a one governed by sharp edged clarity. More space, motion, and vitality live beneath a veil of noise than with a set of clearly enumerated and outlined shapes. The ambiguity offered by a curtain of noise increases the range of possible interpretations. Noise increases participation just as leaning across the table in a boisterous restaurant.
In my first example observe that the image begins without the blanket of noise and in example 2 observe how adding noise creates a sensation of a more layered and textured space. The painting’s noise is not just created by adding more marks, it is also generated by blending and obscuring edges (by adding obscuring atmosphere or soft noise) to the territory at the back (top) of the image.
In the transition from example 3 to example 4 notice the additional noise created an illusion of greater distance by adding light shapes to the dark curtain at the top of the painting. The confusing blanket of marks added surface texture and dimension to the forward area (bottom) of the painting.
The noise can come in the form of added color or added color relationships. In example 5 the painting appears ambiguous but the color field has a monotonous and therefore quiet effect. In example 6 not only are more marks added (while some are subtracted) to the surface but the color harmony has been complicated by the introduction of higher contrast and complementary colors. These colors generate a more vibrant atmosphere and build a stronger sense of space because of their complementary push/pull effects.
My final examples show two different directions for useful pictorial noise. Example 7 presents a case for varieties of texture imitating some aspects of 3d materials such as curving long and stringy shapes overlaying short flat rounded shapes. Example 8 presents another variety of textures that are more tool-constrained. The range of marks here are limited to those of a 6 inch squeegee. Orientation, pressure, and dimension determine the vocabulary of marks here.