Reflections on frames and framing

Excerpts from the contemplations of a Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset

"A work of art is an imaginary island that floats surrounded by reality on all sides. In order for it to be produced, it is necessary that the aesthetic body remain isolated from the real world. We cannot, by merely walking one step at a time, pass from the ground upon which we tread to the ground that is painted. It takes more than that. The indecisive nature of the boundaries between the artistic and the living disturbs our sense of aesthetic pleasure. Hence the picture without a frame, confusedly blending the boundaries with the pragmatic, extra-artistic objects that surround it, loses all elegance and suggestion. What is needed is for that real wall to terminate quickly and abruptly, so that we may find ourselves suddenly and without hesitation in the unreal territory of the picture. An isolator is needed. And that isolator is the frame."

"The frame, then, has something of the window about it, just as the window is a lot like the frame. The painted canvases are portholes of ideality which are perforated in the mute reality of the walls. They are openings of illusion into which we can peer; thanks to the beneficent "window" the frame. On the other hand, a corner of the city or countryside, seen through the square outlines of the window seems to split off from reality and acquire a strange palpitation of the ideal. "

The Gilded Frame

Through the ages the gilded frame has proved its popularity. "The predominance of the gilded frame is due, perhaps, to the fact that metallic paint is the material that gives off the most reflections. A reflection is that note of color; of light, which contains no form in and of itself, but which is pure, shapeless color."

Thus, the gilded frame, with its bristling halo of sharp-edged radiance, inserts a ribbon of pure splendor between the painting and the real world. Its reflections, acting like excited little daggers, incessantly cut the lines that we unwittingly string up between the unreal painting and the surrounding reality."

Translated from the Spanish by Andrea L. Bell.

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