Thoughts on Empty Frames

I spend a lot of time thinking about empty frames.  I think there’s some central clue about how we relate to mirrors hidden in the puzzle of empty frames.

1942, Grande Galerie at the Louvre

1942, Grande Galerie at the Louvre

The puzzle, as I see it, is: why is an empty frame still a frame?  Why is it not just a decorative rectangle? To display an empty frame is to ask a philosophical question.  Empty frames somehow succeed in framing.  The frame holds its space, creating a space to look into, partitioned from the outside world, even when there’s nothing there.  Why isn’t an empty frame merely a rectangle?  Or rather, in what way is an empty frame not really empty?

In addition to being a decorative border for a work of art, the frame also creates a divide between the world of the artwork and the reality around it.  Why does this border still function when there’s no artwork to bring out the viewers imagination? How and why does a frame have the power to imply the ghost of an artwork that could have been?

A mirror frame is, in its own way, an “empty” frame.  There’s the reality of the room and, within the mirror frame, there’s that same reality, yet again.  Does the frame have the power to influence our imaginations to engage in the world of mirror as something seperate from and different than our own reality?  In fiction, like Alice in Wonderland, where the mirror serves as a portal, is the mirror really the portal?  Or is the frame the portal and in becoming so, the mirror ceases to exist at all?

I’m also interested in the question of empty frames as it relates to frame design.  Frame design for fine art is a rule-governed process.  Every aesthetic choice, detail and proportion is made for a reason and that reason is to act in harmonious balance with the work of art.  No choice is arbitrary.  When designing a mirror frame, however, there seem to be no rules.  Any aesthetic decision can be made for the pure interest of the frame’s beauty.  Is that true?  I wonder how do the aesthetic choices of color, proportion and details influence the viewers relationship with her own reflection?