Repetition counts among the most important elements in a successfully composed painting. Artists repeat various elements in a painting for a number of reasons. Some have to do with how the artist intends for the viewer to experience the piece, while others speak to the artist's temperament and thematic leanings.
An artist achieves repetition in a painting using a number of different elements. These include a shape that appears over and over in a piece. The artist can also use color or a visual motif to create repetition. The regular use of line or a particular object in a painting can also create repetition. An artist can use all of these elements or only a few, depending on what he is trying to achieve.
Repetition serves a number of purposes in a painting. It helps to create visual unity in piece, tying the individual elements together. It also assists the viewer's eye, moving it across the canvas. The artist can also use repetition to make a statement about something. Andy Warhol used repetition in many of his pieces to say something about mass production in society. Artist Gerald Cournoyer said that he employs repetition to create a trance-like state in the viewer.
Although repetition is common in paintings, the way that it manifests itself differs. Broadly speaking, an artist can use repetition in clear or subtle ways. Wassily Kandinsky's painting "Several Circles" represents a clear use of repetition. The subject of the piece is circles in varying sizes and colors. Artist Andrew Wyeth's paintings often employed more subtle repetition. In the painting "Christina's World," Wyeth repeats a hook form throughout the piece. The most obvious instance is the mowed field at the top of the painting near the buildings. Wyeth repeated a variation of the form on the figure in the foreground as well. The lines formed by the crook of Christina's elbow or leg suggest the same form, only in a smaller size and with a slight variation in the curve.
Repetition of a theme also occurs not only in terms of how an object is repeated in a single work, but also how the artist repeats a pattern in a number of paintings. Monet repeatedly painted objects, such as water lilies or haystacks. Through this repetition, he could more fully explore the subject in a number of different light conditions. According to the website Art + Culture, this is actually the key to creativity -- learning to see a subject in many different ways. Each artist sees a particular theme from her own viewpoint, and exploring the theme repeatedly shows her a different facet of the subject each time she paints it.
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