Framing. Have you ever noticed the frames that you see on artwork? Have you noticed that some are plain and simple, a single solid color, and some are elaborate or gilded or even larger than the painting itself? I’ve been making frames nonstop lately. Measuring, sawing, routing, sanding, glueing, more sanding, oiling, drilling- a lot of steps are required to make a nice wooden frame.

This week I chose to use pine wood. Normally I dye the pine to make it more interesting, or to match bettercarbon contrasting in action on a pine frame. This time, my husband came up with a new technique to give the frames a unique look. He calls it “carbon contrasting.” In less fancy words, he lightly torched the wood to highlight the natural wood patterns. It was a surprise success resulting in some stunning effects. The “carbon contrasted” frames fit very well to some of my paintings by complementing them and giving a completely different look than I had imagined. For others it simply wasn’t the right fit.

In planning all these steps, I make deliberate choices on how to frame my paintings. I look at the colors, my intended focus, the overall feel of the subject. I consider whether I want my frame to blend in or stand out, to clash or soothe. I also consider what materials I can get access to and if I, or anyone I know for that matter, have the necessary skill set to create a certain frame. I make choices to shape the experience of the viewer.

Did I mention there is lots of sanding? In the hours (and hours) of sanding, I had plenty of time to think about the concept of framing in our lives. What about the mental frames we construct? There are a lot of similar thoughts that go into framing our everyday lives. Think of it this way: A frame is a container. It’s a holding space. It allows an experience to happen, but it shapes that experience just by existing. In a psychological sense (in the words of George Lakoff) “frames are mental structures that shape the way we view the world.” It is how you choose to think about an issue or situation.

Here’s an example. There is an app- Life Clock– that works with a smart watch. It displays the time counting down to your expected death. The clock plays with the idea that there are many ways to represent our time on this earth. You can look at it as depressing and morbid, a constant reminder that time is running out. Or you can see it as a great message to live your life to the fullest. Some wearers reported that sitting in traffic made them feel very wasteful with their life. In a different frame of mind, they might have thought, “this is an hour of time when I am alone with my thoughts, when no one is making demands on me. I can think about the good things that happened today or I can listen to music completely uninterrupted.” Whether you mentally call this time “sitting in traffic” or “me time” can drastically change your reaction to the Life Clock app counting down.

So what’s my point? Why is this so important, you may ask?

In framing you increase the intensity. You call to attention things that normally would get lost by the myriad of stimulation coming in. Our reality is contextual. As Dr. Noam Shpancer asks, “which parts are relevant? Which are more important? What’s the background and what’s the foreground? The framing choices you make determine the boundaries, appearance, meaning, and value of your experience.”

And if the framing is determining a huge portion of our lives, we should really be more aware of the behind-the-scenes choices being pushed forward. We need to constantly ask ourselves- are we relying on the relative, the friend, the politician, the marketing company, or the demanding boss to focus our attention and determine something’s value? Or are we, ourselves, choosing how we mentally and emotionally respond to issues and situations? Do we realize what kind of choices are we making?

My point is, take a look at the frame you’re using. See the frame for what it is- a construct, a way of focusing on different aspects of your situation. Only then can you be aware of the choices you are making (or that are being made for you). If you are unhappy with what you “see,” you can then begin to reframe your experience to shift your perspective and truly enjoy your life.

This shift, or reframing, is as important as framing. Continual reframing allows you to understand things from many perspectives. You can look at something analytically, holistically, artistically, spiritually, even magically. The possibilities are endless. There are so many different ways of looking at what we perceive as reality. Reframing helps us to increase our flexibility, imagination, and appreciation.

In the end, it comes down to being aware of the frame. As an artist, how I choose to frame an artwork guides a person’s focus to details I think are important. As a human being, how I choose my mental framework guides how I appreciate my life experience and how I decide what is important. There is always a choice, and there is always a chance to tear it down and build again.


Marla Bender

Framing: In Art and Life

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