Speed begins by introducing the idea that mathematical proportions may lie behind the design principles of older artists. He says:
1. There appears to be no doubt that the ancient sculptors used some such system.
Speed doesn't mention which system, or which proportions, whether phi, pi, square root of 2, Vitruvian or what? I, for one, am skeptical, and would want to see proof beyond the superimposed diagrams; I'd need to see actual texts from the artists themselves that specifically discuss the question of which system they supposedly used. There's more in my series "Mythbusting the Golden Mean." Speed himself says that art probably shouldn't be reduced to a mathematical formula. Then he asks a key question:
2. The question we are interested to ask here is: are there particular sentiments connected with the different relations of quantities, their proportions, as we found there were in connection with different arrangements of lines and masses? Have abstract proportions any significance in art, as we found abstract line and mass arrangements had?
Speed answers his question in a simple way that makes sense. In his words: "unity makes for sublimity, while variety makes for the expression of life." Here I don't think he means "sublimity" from the point of view of Edmund Burke's concept of the sublime as apocalyptic or terrifying, but rather more as calmly reverential.
3. Nature seems to abhor equalities, never making two things alike or the same proportion if she can help it. All systems founded on equalities, as are so many modern systems of social reform, are man's work, the products of a machine-made age.
|Pepsi headquarters building, 1960|
I wonder what Speed would have thought of modern architecture, which made a virtue of even repetition of forms. Speed says, "although you often find repetitions of the same forms equidistant in architecture, it is seldom that equality of proportion is observable in the main distribution of the large masses."
Feel free to offer your comments on any of the points mentioned above, or other points I may have missed.
The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
3. Free online Archive.org edition.
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club on Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)
Overview of the blog series
Announcing the GJ Book Club
Chapter 1: Preface and Introduction
Chapter 2: Drawing
Chapter 3: Vision
Chapter 4: Line Drawing
Chapter 5: Mass Drawing
Chapter 6: Academic and Conventional
Chapter 7: The Study of Drawing
Chapter 8: Line Drawing, Practical
Chapter 9: Mass Drawing
Chapter 10: Rhythm
Chapter 11: Variety of Lines
Chapter 12: Curved Lines
Chapter 13: Variety of Mass
Chapter 14: Unity of Mass
Chapter 15: Balance
Chapter 16: Proportion
Chapter 17: Portrait Drawing
Chapter 18: Visual Memory
Chapter 19: Procedure
Chapter 20: Materials