The Frame Makes the Painting – The Importance of the Setting


As proven in the modern art movement, any object can pretend to be art if set within a clever framework. To give attention to the setting is important as the latter governs the way we appreciate and understand art.

Paintings have been framed ever since the portable image was invented, ie since imagery ceased being permanently fixed into or to the wall and become mobile, hung according to the whim of the owner. The frame was a natural substitute for the architectural background of the fresco or secco mural. It is definitely the frame that gives to painting its known window effect, inviting us to peep into a different reality. In fact it is such a natural accompaniment to painting that the sudden absence of framing cave in itself to modern painting an important and surprising new dimension. The frame greatly influences our perception of the art. A well chosen frame can revive a work that is intrinsically bland whereas a miss-match is capable of diluting a masterpiece. Let's say that the truth lies somewhere in between: the framing is not all-important but of sufficient consensus to be looked into more closely.

The painting is hemmed in by the frame, which inevitably has the potential of serving as gradient transition, enclosure or obstacle. The delimitation of space effectuated by the frame is read accepted by our natural tendency to simplify understanding or perception. No doubt this is the reason why the frame was happily dispensed by the modern iconoclast movement. Too often the frame leads us astray or calls for the attention itself.

The success of framing lies in its discretion. A frame well-chosen blends with the painting; it enhances, supports and serves the framed object and does not steal the show. Bear in mind that our perception of the seniority of a frame is relative to the epoch; even the most exuberant frames in history were seldom exaggerated; they just ideally framed exuberant paintings. In regard to the object, the frame should always be subdued in design and color.

Period framing is always to prefer and in most cases the one that was initially conceived to go with the art. If your painting has lost its original frame, or if the latter is in an irreparable state, look for period replacement and do not frame against the style. A dark painting takes a dark frame, a light painting a light frame. A large frame should be less elaborated in ornament than a thin frame. The color is best in some way assorted and will either reflect the basic tonal value or contrast with an appropriate counter-value. Ornament and exclusion is period dependent and should be considered in relation to the plastic contents of the painting.

This sounds all simple and evident and yet many paintings are literally obliterated by insensitive framing. As the frame is an inherent part of traditional painting, we should train ourselves to be better aware of its effects on the art it should serve.


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