Repetition and variation. The combination of those two actions is the key to a full life. Repetition and variation working together is also the key to a great work of art.
That was the most profound bit of information I took from high school. I learned a lot in school, I am not saying that I didn’t learn other important aspects about life and learning and art, because I did. But I learned about the significance of repetition and variation from my most favorite art teacher ever, Mr. George Benedict. While recognized in music and poetry for eons, it could be argued that Buddhists showcased repetition and variation in their mandalas as early as the ninth century (Lamp, 2018), or perhaps it was the Italian Renaissance painters who were the first to utilize repetition and variation to create their masterpieces (Williams, 2016), but it was Mr. Benedict who brought meaning to those words to me and hundreds of his students in central New York.
Artists often use repeated patterns to create interesting designs and for a variety of effects. Pattern and other repetitions can work to form a unified composition and provide stability in a piece of art. Variation adds interest to the work, with size, color or with the introduction of new images or techniques. Remembering to include repetition and variation is a sound motto to maintain in a composition as well as in life, since
repetition helps creates unity and order, while variation helps create interest.
I still remember the dark classroom from the early 1980’s, illuminated with spotlights around the room, the smell of oil paints and turpentine, and many miscellaneous props, animal skulls, photographs and mirrors to prompt creativity. The room was not comfortable for everyone, but it was my favorite classroom, and in that room I was able to be a painter. Many other students benefited from Mr. Benedict’s five decades of enthusiasm and direction in his classroom; and after high school many of his students, like me, let their creativity direct their futures (Tashkovski, 2014).
Even after I had graduated and he had retired, I would go for long walks with him, go out to eat, and attend figure drawing classes in his basement, yet always he was “Mister” Benedict, my high school teacher who encouraged me and challenged me and believed in me. His direction included using dramatic shadows, thick and thin lines, play on color – repeating and then slightly or dramatically altering the brush stroke or pencil line. And in life, our routines are the repetitions we maintain for order and stability, while spontaneity, dramatics and risk taking keep our lives exciting with variation.
If not for Mr. Benedict, would I have gone on to study art? Probably, because I have always loved to art and my family was very supportive of my creative and artistic endeavors. But what about now, as I am working to get my teaching license and master’s in art education? I think Mr. Benedict, who passed in 2010, would be delighted to know that repetition and variation are still influencing my life and art.
Lamp, L. (2018.) Design in Art: Repetition, Pattern and Rhythm. Retrieved from https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/design-in-art-repetition-pattern-and-rhythm
Tashkovski, K. (2014.) Go To Your Happy Place, Ms. Tash. Retrieved from https://karentash.com
Williams, R. (2016). Repetition, Variation, and the Idea of Art in Renaissance Italy. Retrieved from: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/6075×227