Further to the discussion of scale: in historic art the brushstroke was scaled to the figure or object represented. That makes total sense—small strokes for small figures, big ones for larger. To scale the brushstroke to the size of the support is a modern idea, and the mediating term is the artist’s body, which can be taken as roughly equivalent to the body of the viewer. Small artist’s brushes might be described as finger size; bigger ones, such as house painting brushes, palm size. Even De Kooning’s famous two-foot brush was not much wider than a palm, if that. So the key to scale has always been the human body, and the more modern, emphatic concept of scale is anchored to the real bodies of gallery goers. But that is not absolutely new; historically there has always been a significant difference between pictures that include life size or over life size figures and those that don’t, although perhaps not much has been made of it. Any picture that is smaller than life size invites us into a realm of the imagination, a place apart from the world we are physically in. That’s why vast landscapes can be rendered in a space of inches, as in Turner’s book plates and vignettes for example.
I’ve always loved this kind of thing, but never liked looking at it in a gallery. Standing up and walking around is not the best way to receive work that is meant to be seen sitting down while turning the pages of a book. The same applies to photography. Life size works can be encountered bodily; anything smaller is a dream world. A lot remains to be said about the book as a site for art—with reference to recent posts on this blog, modern art wants to work across the disconnect between interior and bodily scale, and either eliminate it or make it more vivid.