Saturday, February 19, 2011

Point of View

I had a serendipitous moment the other day. I was listening to a lecture on Paolo Ucello, a Renaissance artist, and the professor was discussing this painting, Sir John Hawkwood. The painting is meant to commemorate Hawkwood's military success in defending Florence, Italy, when he was a hired mercenary.

Anyway, the professor pointed out that the artist used TWO differing perspectives--two different points of view. Often writing teachers would have you believe that you can only use one POV in a novel, and that you must be consistent, but if Ucello had done that, this painting wouldn't work.

Why not?

Look at the bottom of the painting. The point of view is that of an observer--you--standing at the base of a towering statue. You can see the underside of the table, correct? If Ucello had remained in that point of view, all we should be able to see of Sir John Hawkwood would be the soles of his feet and his horse's belly! But no, we look at Sir John as if we are standing directly across from him, from a completely different perspective.

So that's why I never make a big deal out of POV purity--the book doesn't have to be all first person or all third person or whatever. The writer should choose what he or she needs to use, and be consistent with that pattern throughout the book. (Example: protagonist in first person, everyone else in third). It makes a better picture.

Caveat: Obviously, Ucello was a master of his craft, having mastered the principles of perception. So the writer who utilizes differing points of view had better have a firm grip on the principles of POV. :-)



Anonymous said...

Your caveat says it all. I am fiendishly trying to remember the name of the artist whose paintings were very geometrical and offered a myriad of POVs. To no avail. But, there, too, the deft hand is fully evident. Thanks for something new to ponder and be aware of in reading. Clyde

Michael said...

(@Clyde-- Does your fiendish musing lead to M.C. Escher, by chance?)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. But does anyone besides me feel a bit off balance looking at the painting? I feel as if the statue or me are falling. {Maybe it's just the vertigo I'm dancing with a lot during this allergy season!)

Clyde--is that painter Magritte? Or Escher? Both do some mind-bending images. I love one of Magritte's showing a horse and rider in the woods. Sometimes the pair is in front of trees, at other times behind, but behind the trees that are in front. Fascinating to check those out.

Thank, Angie. Always interesting.

Mary Kay

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Michael and Mary Kay (and Bill Mackie on FB) for the answer to my query. You all get A+ for the day! Yes, it was Escher whose name was eluding me. Clyde