ScapeFu016: Aquascaping Analysis and How it Can Improve Your Aquascape

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ScapeFu016: Aquascaping Analysis and How it Can Improve Your Aquascape

I was hoping not to be flying solo this week but due to technical difficulties (i.e., my fault), JJ and Juris were not able to make it. They will be back next week that promises to be a great show.

In this episode, I discuss the importance of thinking critically about aquascaping so that you can learn from others and improve your aquascaping. I call it aquascaping analysis.

Aquascaping News segment items: Interzoo! with Juris.

The big news is that next week Juris will be on to tell us all about Interzoo 2014. We’ll be playing his interview with famed professional aquascaper, George Farmer.

Juris came back from Interzoo with plenty of information and interviews with George, Dave Chow, Oliver Knott and Heiko Blessin. We’ll be bringing you all those interviews of the next few weeks. Stay tuned!!

Aquascaping Analysis

Aquascaping is a visual art just like painting. Just like visual arts, aquascaping can and should be critiqued in order to understand it, to judge quality and to deepen its appreciation.

Although like fine art, critique has a strong subjective component, there are common rules, patterns and forms that can provide an objective way of learning from and comparing aquascapes.

As many of you know, I’m in the habit of doing a monthly aquascape analysis where I try to learn from aquascapers that are much more talented than me by deconstructing their work.

Anyway, to make sure the analyses are in an organized and standardized fashion, I use a modified version of Feldman’s critical performance model for critiquing visual arts. There’s a book written by, you guessed it, Feldman, that goes into details on this and I’ll link to it in the show notes.

Feldman’s “Critical Performance” is a four-step process that involves description, formal analysis, interpretation, and evaluation. The steps in this process are so arranged in order to “defer judgment” and gather evidence as you proceed, so that you are able to make sound “interpretations” and “judgments.”

This is SO important to not only analyzing a work of art but also for learning from it. If you want to improve your aquascaping ability, you need to learn from others and understand what it is you need to improve on. Without a critical analysis, you simply “like it” without knowing why.

Description: This is a process of taking inventory, of noting what is immediately presented to the viewer (subject matter). At this stage you avoid, as much as possible, drawing inferences. This is a simple account of “what is there.” This is the type of account with which any reasonably observant person would agree. Description is an attempt “to find” what is objectively present in the art object.

Critical description involves:

  • Making an inventory of the names of the things we see in the art object (this becomes more difficult with respect to “non-objective” art objects in which one has to describe what one sees in terms of the elements of art [line, shape, form, texture, space]).
  • Performing a technical analysis or description of the way the art object seems to have been made. Critical description is a delaying process that helps you to “take in” and to defer interpretation and judgment until later in the process.

Formal Analysis: In the formal analysis, you endeavor to “go behind” the descriptive inventory to discover how the things that have been named are constituted and organized. This section focuses on the “language of art” and the way the “elements of art” (line, shape, form, texture, color, space) and the “principles of design” (unity, variety, balance, proportion, scale, dominance, subordination, rhythm) have been organized by the artist. In this step, you describe the relationships among the elements and principles. You move beyond “description” to the way the art object is perceived and organized.

Interpretation: This is a process through which the “meaning” of the art object is expressed. Through description and formal analysis of the art object, you will come to “discover” its meanings. You may also state the relevance of these meanings to your own life, or to the human situation in general.

You begin an interpretation by forming a “hypothesis.” A hypothesis is an idea or principle of organization which seems to relate the material of description and formal analysis meaningfully in order to arrive at the deeper level of “content” that the art object conveys. This step is an attempt to formulate a specific explanation and disclosure of meaning that will “fit” the evidence that was assembled through the first two steps.

In this step, I try to form a hypothesis of what style the aquascape is trying to achieve and why. Is there a deeper meaning to the aquascape? For example, transcendence or the hauntingly beautiful aspect of nature?

Evaluation: Evaluating an art object means giving it a rank in relationship to other works in its class. Evaluation is a way of deciding on the degree of artistic and aesthetic merit of the art object. Evaluating art moves beyond the simple “I like” or “I don’t like” statements. Within this step you can:

  • Compare the art object with historical models and relate it to the widest possible range of comparable works. Is this aquascape a good representation of an iwagumi style aquascape? How does it compare to popular examples?
  • Determine the relevance of “originality.” Here, you decide how the art object either conforms to or departs from other art objects in its class. Specifically, what is “original” and “compelling” about the art object. “Originality,” however, also must carry with it some substantive measure and not simply be “novelty for the sake of novelty.” There’s a great example of this in last year’s IAPLC where the aquascape gave the perspective of looking up tall trees.
  • Determine the relevance of technique. Since art is “making,” technical considerations are involved in evaluation. This involves determinations of the importance of craftsmanship, logic in the use of tools and materials, the proper use of tools, and the correspondence between the appearance and function of the art object. The question of “craftsmanship” and “anti-craftsmanship” often results in an elusive relationship in some modern and post-modern art objects. Here it is important to determine whether a particular technique supports or diminishes the overall impact and import of the art object.
  • For example, how sustainable is the aquascape long term? Was it merely done for the photo shoot but would not last long term?

Final Words: Criticism is “talk” and “writing” about fine arts. Contrary to the popular assumption, criticism is not simply my opinion versus your opinion. Critical writing and speaking must be based on sound evidence and criteria to which you can point for the support of your conclusions. It must be done with the utmost respect and with the objective to learn from what you are analyzing.

I think it’s critically important to establish this type of critical thinking, critical analysis, before beginning the process of learning to aquascape. This will allow you to learn what makes a good aquascape good and a great one great. In so doing, you will be able to look at your work and apply the principles you’ll learn from others.

From the Forums segment item:

Tweaking a layout til you’re OK with it by Viktor Lantos in UK Aquatic Plant Society Forums. Viktor uses photoshop before he tweaks his aquascape.

Focus on You segment items:

  • Jesse says episode 15 sounded 100x better! Thank you, Jesse!
  • Pedro wants to improve his aquascape but doesn’t know where to start. “Do I think about the shape first, then think about what plants would allow me to achieve that?”
  • Alex is about to give up because of hair algae. He wants some advice.
  • Stanley is confused about lighting. Is LED good for plants?

Next week on the ScapeFu Podcast, we focus on lighting for the planted aquarium! We are shinning the light on lighting! Ewwww! Terrible pun!

As usual, we’ll also have Aquascaping News, From the Forums and Focus on You segments.

If you liked this episode, please leave us a written five-star review in iTunes and mention us the next time you’re in the forums. We do no advertising so it’s the only way we have to spread the word about ScapeFu. It’s VERY much appreciated.

If you’d like to give us some feedback, you have choices:

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On behalf of JJ, Juris and myself, THANK YOU for listening. We are so glad you are a part of the ScapeFu Podcast. We hope you found it enlightening and entertaining.

Speak soon!

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