Numbers as Ideas & Decoration in Art


I Saw the Figure 5 in in Gold

By Charles Demuth c. 1929

Luckily, there are as many tastes in art as there are individuals. Some people enjoy more abstract ideas and symbols in their art and others like straight forward images with no extra fuss.

The image on the left is titled “I Saw the Figure Five in Gold.” The artist Charles Demuth created this painting between 1924 and 1929 in a style called Cubist Realism. What I like about this piece is the shape of the five and the color. I’ve got to admit that any time I’m painting a fairly large number I think of this work of art so it is, indeed, an influence on my own art.

According to historians Demuth was honoring his friend William Carlos Williams, a poet writing during the same time Demuth was creating art. “I Saw the Figure Five . . .” is an illustration of ideas contained in Williams’ poem “The Great Figure” describing the experience of seeing a red fire engine with the number five painted on it racing through the streets of New York City on the way to a fire. Abstract art is an illustration of ideas more than actually straightforward images of a subject. The five symbolizes the fire engine instead of Demuth having painted an actual red fire engine with a five on the front.

I like numbers in art because a number is a picture symbol. More than a single alphabet letter, a single number actually does stand for a particular idea, the amount of something or the count of something. For instance the letter “h” doesn’t really stand for anything other than the letter itself or the sound of the letter. “H” has to be added to several other letters before a meaning tends to emerge. The symbol “5” on the other hand could be five of something, a number title for something, or number five in an order of things.

In my recent painting shown below titled “Counting on . . .” I used numbers to symbolize thoughts and as a decorative textural layer. People tend to count money, time and possessions. Sometimes counting is done just to pass time in solitude.

Counting on...

Numbers are used as meaningful symbols and as decoration in this mixed media collage/painting created by Dede Farrar, February 2014.

On the top of the painting the numbers go in sequence. In the bottom of the painting, the numbers are piled on top of each other. Are the piled numbers the result of a jumble of ideas or purely the decorative use of the shapes creating another textural layer? People often ask me, “What are those numbers for?” I don’t want to give them an answer. I would like viewers to assign their own meanings to the numbers. I like to try to insert a few unexpected ideas or images in my art works because I would like to viewers to be able to look and think and continue to come back to whatever piece to look and think and discover more.

Advertising and Fine Art

To this day, a debate continues whether illustration is actually art. If you’ve followed me on Art Works by Dede Farrar on Facebook you probably already know what side I am on. Go illustration!

I’m a huge fan of Art Nouveau which features many advertising posters. The heyday of Art Nouveau ran around 1890 to about 1915. During this time, art was making a change from highly detailed works to more simplification leading to abstraction.

Clinique Cheron by Theophile Steinlen created 1894.

Clinique Cheron by Theophile Steinlen created 1894.

The work on the left by artist Theophile Steinlen created 1894 advertises pet medicine. By 1894 pets are becoming more important to a growing middle class who can afford to feed and care for them. Still, in the 1890s, food was hard to come by for many regular people and so pet ownership was beyond the reach of people who struggled financially. Thankfully, most of us who love animals can afford to live with a few now days. Dog, cats, and fishes are part of my household.

Elements of Art Nouveau I really enjoy are the colors and the design. The figures in the posters are simplified. Framing devices are used like blocks of colors around the edges. Lettering is featured advertising a product or event. Images are clearly recognizable and most people consider them beautiful and pleasing to the eye.

To show how Art Nouveau influences my own work I’ve included my latest painting which is a

This painting will be entered in the Prairie Berry Winery Pumpkin Bog wine label contest. Created by Dede Farrar, M.F.A. February, 2014.

This painting will be entered in the Prairie Berry Winery Pumpkin Bog wine label contest. Created by Dede Farrar, M.F.A. February, 2014.

design for the Prairie Berry Winery Pumpkin Bog wine label contest. Bright colors, framing device of the dark blue around the edges, outlining shapes in fine black line, images of animal and plant recognizable but not overly detailed can be compared with Art Nouveau design. The rules of the contest prohibited me from adding lettering, but my next project will incorporate lettering.

So, I’m documenting current events happening in my own environment. One hundred years from now, if my paintings survive, they will tell a story of the local area. I like that idea. So I think advertising can be art. Today, most advertising art comes from photography and computer generated images, but there is still room for artists like me to contribute.

Ancient Art Features Plenty of Animal Art

Animal Art of Old

Ancient Libyan Rock Art

I’m new to blogging but not to art. I want to share a fresh look on art history by a person who likes to communicate with regular people who know they like art but can get a bit confused by it all. I’m going to break it down for you in “regular speak.”

I’ve got two art degrees but I’ve lived most of my life in rural Nebraska and South Dakota. Thus I’ve experienced two extremes: 1) people who know nothing about art and so far believe they are intimidated by art and 2) academic types who seem to like intimidating people who know little about art! Snark, snark.

My view is that art is for the people. After all, cave people started doing art. They wanted everyone to see it and know about it or they wouldn’t have created it. I doubt they tried to make it complicated. For instance, in the rock art shown above created anywhere from 12,000 B.C. to 100 B.C., the artist was telling people, “Look, I made a giraffe!! A giraffe! It looks like a giraffe!!” Plus the image was obviously a celebration of getting something to eat. No supermarkets in that time. The excitement of creating something people actually recognize and know without providing too much written explanation is there for the artist. It started with someone who could and wanted to make a giraffe, in this case celebrating not starving to death.

Art has become complex especially starting in the 20th century. I have my theories about this and you will hear about them in time. But lets keep it simple and just enjoy the pictures and the processes.

So here it is, my very first blog post. Man, I almost gave up before I got this far because computer geek, I am not. Easily frustrated. Working through that. Letting the cat, no forcing the damned cat, out of the bag so she can get petted a bit.