Why Do We Frame Artworks?

Problems arise when confronted with the task of presenting an artwork. Why do we frame artwork? Of course it is very functional, it protects the art, after all a frame is easier to replace than an original piece. It also solves many problems of how to attach a work on paper to the wall. Excluding these functional reasons, what visual benefits does it have? To understand why we frame a photograph, print or painting, we must understand the relationship between a 2D work and the wall itself and how a frame can direct the viewer’s attention from the wall and to the work.

For 2D work to live in marriage with the wall, one must recognize the wall’s presence and allow your work to interact with that. With the support of the wall even smaller pieces can achieve presence on it. A4 paper placed flat exactly on the same plane of the wall is overpowered by space but hanging it 5mm proud of the wall, allowing it to cast a shadow, gives more dominance and weight, the work becomes parallel with the plane of the wall rather than in the plane of the wall.

2D Works that are typically hung on the wall in an exhibition only have one viewpoint, as it is a singular surface. This gives the works complete control over what is presented on the surface and the angle at which their content can be apprehended. Work showing a scene or scenario can be inviting to explore and interact, acting as a window, a space for the mind, a passage into the imaginary world detached from gravity.

Almost all 2D work in one way or another is concerned with the surface of itself as it has an indefinite number of possibilities of colour, marks and shapes to represent the artist intensions. The purpose of this surface is to be viewed and interacted with, making visual relationships with the viewers. It is common for framed work to effectively act as a stage to view the work.

Framing a work sets a boundary between the artwork and the texture of the wall. This boundary very much encases the work, maintaining the context within itself and dismissing the environment in which the work is presented, creating an environment of its own within the frame, thus preventing or at least restricting any connection to external space. The frame gives the work an entirely internal relationship within itself so it exists only within the concept of its self and in reference to itself. This divide effectively isolates the work like an island on the wall.

As now the framed work is self sufficient within the environment of itself. It has decided the composition, colour and scale within the boundaries of the frame. Unlike a piece of paper stuck to the wall, the framed work does not need the presence of the wall to support the work. Now when hung, the wall becomes secondary to the framed work. Thus in theory a frame can be placed in any environment; gallery, office or home and it will succeed in having presence, acting as a window to view the art.

Text by Jacob Eaton, Artist and Exhibition Technician, Works in Print

All images © Works in Print

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