Here’s a small, odd truth about cinema. If the large screen contains a smaller screen – a television, say, or a computer monitor – your eye will almost invariably be drawn towards it. It’s so dependable an effect that directors often use it to supply a kind of visual counterpoint for their main scene, but it’s also so effective that they have to be careful the viewer doesn’t become distracted and disappear down that embedded wormhole. Something similar can happen in a painting, though it’s far less potent. That might simply be because we’re dealing with a still image but also possibly because painters can decide precisely how clear the picture within the picture is going to be (not to mention the fact that they retain
Take this picture by Geoffrey Tibble, for instance, The Discussion, which includes what appears to be a page from a catalogue or an art magazine in the left foreground. It is, I assume, what’s being discussed, though there isn’t anything in the image that would make that indisputable. It doesn’t look like a very lively discussion at all, to be frank, though it’s possible that it has been caught at a moment when everyone present is thinking about something that’s just been said. And the available details for the picture, which was bought for the Government Art Collection in 1995 and now hangs in the British Embassy in Washington DC, aren’t exactly helpful. It was painted in 1948 but it appears to depict an Edwardian gathering, judging from the women’s clothes and the oil lamp on the cupboard in the background – so we can’t easily extrapolate from Tibble’s own artistic biography.
What is it that the man is looking
It could just be a suggestive place-holder I suppose, a squiggle of paint intended to represent the concept of a picture rather than a specific one. But I can’t help feeling that Tibble knew exactly what it
Tom Sutcliffe, Arts Broadcaster, Radio 4
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