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  • ExtremesThe Power of Scale in Art
  • Kristine Somerville

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Thomas Doyle, Mire, mixed media, 80 × 24 × 24 inches, 2013.

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Vincent Bousserez, Plastic Life series, Reading, Waiting for the Rain.

As a child I had two dolls that I remember in some detail. One was a tall, lifelike doll with wavy brown hair, wide blue eyes, full cheeks, and pouty lips. At first, how to play with her confounded me. But then we settled into a formal, even reverential routine. I'd change her clothes and shoes, brush her hair, pose her in the middle of my room, and then sit across from her on the floor. Time slowed as I marveled at her in quiet [End Page 18]


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Vincent Bousserez, Plastic Life series, Comet's Peeping Tom.

contemplation, simply admiring this imposing three-foot-tall doll. The other doll I favored was three inches tall with a shock of electric yellow hair, oversized deep blue eyes, and tiny rouged lips. Our play was secretive and intimate. I carried her in my front jeans pocket and pulled her out at the dinner table to invent scenes of chaos for her: battling sharks in my soup bowl or scaling the treacherous peaks of mashed- potato [End Page 19]


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Ledelle Moe, Collapse V, installation view, concrete and steel, each piece approximately 10'H × 11'W × 12'L.

mountain. If anyone asked what I was doing, she would disappear back into my pocket. Rather than contemplation, the tiny doll inspired a sense of daydreaming about fantastical worlds.

Though I didn't understand why, each doll's size determined the way I played with her: big ideas versus miniature narratives. This dichotomy may influence the way some artists think of their work. Some create at the macro level, asking the viewer to think about big ideas: the universe, eternity, the essence of life. And some artists naturally focus on the micro details. Rather than all of human existence, they want to know about the individual. Through the particular, they find the universal. [End Page 20]


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Ledelle Moe, Collapse V, installation view, concrete and steel, each piece approximately 10'H × 11'W × 12'L.

The choreographer Twyla Tharp made similar discoveries in dance. In The Creative Habit, she discusses the concept of observational focal length "like that of a camera lens," which applies not only to photographers but to all artists. Some artists see the world close up, others at arm's length, and even others with a great panoramic sweep. Midcareer, Tharp became frustrated with the fact that she had shied away from storytelling in her choreography. She turned to Carl Kerényi's Dionysos for answers. The ancient Greeks had two words—zoe and bios—to explain competing natures in art. Zoe embodies life in general or an aggregate of lives. Bios characterizes a specific life with unique, distinctive experiences. [End Page 21]


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Thomas Doyle, Brace, mixed media, 8.5 inches high × 6.5 inches diameter, 2012.

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Thomas Doyle, Acceptable Losses, mixed media, 16 inches high × 13.5 inches diameter, 2008.

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Mia Pearlman, Alluvio, 2017, paper, plastic, sheeting, garbage bags, cardboard boxes, tree branches, foam, newspaper, India ink, paper clips, tacks, Brooklyn, New York.

Tharp applies these concepts to her choreographic heroes Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. On the one hand, she describes Balanchine as being the essence of zoe. The content of his ballet is "the essence of life not the details of living." Robbins, on the other hand, constructs an engaging narrative. He is a master of detail, using dance to tell the story of a group of specific characters in a unique place and time.

All art, as the ancient Greeks wisely observed, has a tendency toward certain alignments. In visual art, miniature pieces often convey particular narratives, drawing us into an unexpected yet precise reality...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 17-33
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-19
Open Access
No
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