Design: the parts and the whole — chapter 17 – content

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CONTENT

 

Line, space, value, shape, mass, texture, and color are the elements of design. Unity, variety, balance, emphasis, rhythm, proportion and scale are the principles of design. When an individual has gained an understanding of these elements and principles he/she is ready to design – to create art. The question is what is to be created? What content are the elements and principles going to convey? The answer to this will vary greatly depending on what field of design or art the person decides to pursue. Will it be in a field in which content is often prescribed by client or supervisor as it is in many areas of commercial art?  Or will the individual choose the fine arts where content is more often the choice of the artist? This is a difficult decision for many people, involving weighing many factors outside as well as inside the world of art and design. Whichever the choice, the question of content is of great importance. Even if the content of the work is assigned, it is still your skill and talent either alone or in collaboration that will make the content communicate to others.

 

COMMUNICATION

 

Visual art is a form of communication. It is an exchange of information, a message, a conveyance of something. At its most insular level this communication can be the artist with only him or herself, an interior dialogue. But in most cases the artist is communicating with an audience, be it only friends or family or 100 million people on network television. The content of a work of art is the communication – the message, the substance, the information being passed. The act of receiving this information can be broken down into three categories; seeing, feeling, and thinking. These experiences can also be described as visual (seeing), emotional (feeling), and intellectual (thinking) (Canaday 59). In the act of visual communication many times all three of these experiences take place, but sometimes one of three is dominant to varying degrees.

 

VISUAL (SEEING)

 

This obvious experience takes place when an individual looks at a work of art. As mentioned earlier in this book, our minds try to identify what we see by matching the perceived image with information in our memory. In the case of realistic artwork this is readily accomplished and the mind can relax; we understand what we see. This natural desire to identify goes a long way in explaining the layman’s preference for realism and the equation of “good art” with how well illusions are created. This kind of seeing is primarily a recognizing that satisfies the viewer’s preconceptions and experiences. This approach to art is nothing unique to modern times. In the 11th Century Chinese literati painter Su Shih wrote “If anyone discusses painting in terms of formal likeness, his understanding is nearly that of a child.” Su Shih was one of scholar/painters who had taken painting to more intellectual and emotional levels rather than focusing on the surface visual qualities of painting.

EMOTIONAL (FEELING)

 

A second experience that can result from the communication of a work of art is an emotional response. This is usually tied to an accompanying visual experience of recognition. The emotional response to visual art is very commonly pursued by artists. To reach another person’s emotions and elicit a response is a relatively easy task, thanks to the power of visual stimulus – what we called isomorphic correspondence in our Gestalt study. A skilled designer knows how to use color, value, line, shape, symbols and the rest of the tools of the trade to manipulate emotions. It is emotional responses that are the goals of much advertising. Love, lust (yes, there is a big difference), happiness, thrills, safety, friendship, even fear and hate are used to capture the consumer’s attention. Emotional approaches are effective not just because they capture attention but also because they are more likely to be remembered, sometimes on a subconscious emotional level. The breakthrough AT&T “Reach Out And Touch Someone” campaign took the advertising world by storm. These television and follow-up print ads were based on warm family interaction that portrayed deep emotional family relationships. They truly triggered responses to the point of tears among some viewers. This appeal to deep feeling, especially involving family relationships, to sell products and services has been used over and over to promote everything from stockbrokers to breakfast cereals to hamburgers.

Appeal to the emotions in the fine arts started on the cave walls and hasn’t stopped since. In the early 20th century a style called Expressionism arose in Germany after World War I. Artists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner created frightening, rough, crude images of the desolate life in post-war Europe. In the 1980’s Germany gave rise to Neo-Expressionism, in which the same bold raw expressive qualities were dominant. The style spread across Europe and the United States creating battalions of Neo-Expressionists, some with interesting approaches to the style and others with questionable mastery of design, technique, and content.

 

INTELLECTUAL (THINKING)

 

The third experience a work of art can stimulate is intellectual; it can make you think. This thinking experience is many times tied to a visual and emotional reaction as well. The intellectual activity may be quite simple, such as the contemplation of the beauty of nature; or it may be an extremely difficult problem, such as the meaning of life. When viewing a Thomas Cole landscape from the 19th century we can admire the panoramic vista and possibly think about the changes in the American landscape over the past several centuries. We can intellectualize about nature and ecology using the Cole as a stimulus. On the other hand, an installation by the German artist Joseph Beuys is considerably more intellectually demanding. Imagine a large gallery space totally surrounded by huge, thick rolls of felt reaching to the ceiling. In the center of the insulated space sits a grand piano; on the piano lays a small-unused blackboard and a clinical thermometer. Beuys has created an environment for thought. A space for the viewer to form associations from the situation and objects. The piano, a symbol of some of our greatest cultural achievements, sits in a silenced space. The blank blackboard gives no information. The thermometer waits to measure the extent of the illness. Beuys has arranged these objects and structured their relationships so the viewer becomes the creative thinker; the viewer actually becomes the artist. Beuys and artists like him are often labeled conceptual artists because the art is about concepts, ideas, and thinking, not about objects or products.

Beuys work is also a good example of a problem with intellectual art – it is not easy on the viewer. Art that requires thought, intellectual process, risks being rejected. Many average viewers confronted by a Beuys installation, are going to be perplexed, bored, or even offended.  As a society, people have not been taught to look at art and think. They have learned to look at art and see and feel but not think. To a large extent this is a problem of education. Some people would argue that art-for-art-sake is an intellectual experience, one that requires more thinking than simply seeing. I believe that people who enjoy modern, minimal art have simply been educated to see differently. Education is a primary vehicle for opening people to a broader understanding and enjoyment of art on all three levels of experiencing art – seeing, feeling, and thinking.

Most works of art blend the visual, emotional, and intellectual to suit the needs of the content, communication, and audience. The audience is a primary consideration in many cases. Who are you communicating to? Why are you communicating? What kind of mixture of ideas, emotions, and visual recognition will best suit the artist’s needs? These are concerns in content.

 

RESPONSIBILITY

 

The responsibilities of designers and artists are rarely discussed in the artworld. No one wants to sound preachy, stuffy, or old-fashioned. But responsibility is part of being a human being, and artists fit that description. We have responsibilities to ourselves and to others. Responsibility falls squarely into the world of art and design because it is a realm of communication; it is involved in other people’s lives.

A few examples might help to illustrate the problems involved in this complex area. In the subjective area of art, responsibility is even more subjective. As you consider my examples, remember that they reflect my personal opinions.

First, an example in the commercial art world, political advertising. Half-truths are also half-lies and political advertising is increasingly full of them. Negative advertising has become the power tool of political campaigns. Issues, debates, and factual information are ignored and rejected in favor of thirty-second jabs on television that leave an emotional imprint on the viewer. The result is that we choose our leaders on the basis of emotion and misinformation – the winner often being the one who has the most money to spread this mental smoke and pollution. A classic example was in the 1988 presidential campaign. The Bush (George the First) organization launched an attack against Dukakis with a series of ads claiming that, in essence, Dukakis would release violent prisoners who would rape and kill you – the famous Willy Horton ads. The information was based on half-truths, and much of the same things could have been said about Bush, but in the cold quick world of politics, it didn’t matter. The message of fear was clearly communicated in very well designed effective ads. Some analysts saw these ads as the turning point of the campaign. Did these distorted ads change the course of history? What, for better or worse, would the United Stated be like today if Dukakis had been elected? Are the designers to blame? Yes. Certainly they were taking orders from the idea people, but it was the designers that made it work. It can be said if they hadn’t done it someone else would have. That is the same logic used by Nazi guards at World War II concentration camps. It is a matter of responsibility, a matter of ethics and personal standards that affect the entire society.

The 1990’s saw many politicians attempt to not use negative ads but the result was that many gave up and used negative ads when the campaign became difficult or they themselves were attacked. A new and common approach is to not have the candidate run the ads but organizations that are in support of the candidate run negative ads against their opponent and the candidate claims innocence.

A very interesting development in this problem happened in the 2002 Governor’s Republican primary race in South Dakota. The two leading contenders got into a slamming negative ad campaign and spent millions trying to defame one another. When it came time for the election the Republican voters of the state rejected both of them and selected a third candidate who had been running a quiet issue-oriented campaign. It was a sign that the voting public had had enough.

In the fine art world, the controversy over the work of Robert Mapplethorpe has layers of questions about responsibility and rights. Mapplethorpe was a well-known American photographer who died in 1988 from AIDS. A traveling retrospective of his work, partially funded by the National Endowment of the Arts, became one of the most controversial exhibitions in the history of this country. The retrospective contained a small group of homoerotic photographs. These images created a national debate on censorship and public funding of art that raged for years.  The debate was ferocious in the U.S. Congress where legislation was passed that required artists to sign a pledge if they received public money. The following year counter-legislation was passed that did away with the pledge. Questions of responsibility begin with Mapplethorpe himself. Should the artist have produced and displayed these images that many considered offensive (to be honest, I’m no prude, and I found them disturbing). The answer is, yes. The artist had the right as a citizen of this country to produce whatever art he wished as long as he inflicted no harm on anyone.  The fact that I or anyone else found them disturbing or offensive has no relation to the artist’s basic rights.  Should have the curator of the exhibition included the controversial works. Yes, these pieces were an part of the artist’s work and were necessary for a retrospective presentation of the artist. Should have taxpayer money been used to partially fund the exhibition? Yes, Mapplethorpe’s overall work achieved an importance and quality deserving support. Should anyone be able to view Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic images? No, children and those individuals who would find the work offensive should be protected from seeing the work. This was accomplished at all showings by posting announcements of content. Most exhibitors also displayed the controversial pieces in cases or rooms that the viewer needed to make a special effort to see. In my opinion Mapplethorpe had the right to produce the work, the exhibitors had the right to show the work, and people who might be offended had the right to not see the work.

While I do not believe in censorship, I do strongly believe that designers and artists need to be more responsible for what they are producing or helping to produce. The content is their responsibility. How their work impacts the public is their responsibility. In most cases they will not be held accountable to laws or even standards. The only accountability is to their own sense of personal and social standards and ethics.  They – we – you – me – need to decide what our ethical (good and bad, moral obligations) standards should be. The artist and designer plays an essential role in our society and will continue to do so throughout the 21st century. The power of visual communication has the potential to be a positive force or a negative force in this new century, as it always has in the past. It will depend on those who control and produce the content.

Design: the parts and the whole — chapter 16 – mass and 3D design

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

MASS & 3D DESIGN


MASS

 

Shape exists in two-dimensions, height and width.  Mass exists in three-dimensions, height, width and depth. Mass can be understood as a three-dimensional extension of shape, as a cube (mass) is the three-dimensional equivalent of a square (shape).

Mass is sometimes used as a synonymous term for form. Form is a word that has an abundance of meanings in the artworld. The following are some of the meanings applied to form; 1. the underlying structure of composition in a work; 2. the shape or outline of something; 3. the essence of a work of art – its medium or mode of expression; 4. the substance of something, as in “solid or liquid form” (Bevlin 411); 5. the arbitrary organization or inventive arrangement of all the visual elements according to principles that will develop organic unity in the total work of art: the total organization or a work of art (Ocvirk et al., 282); 6. the shape or structure of a thing as opposed to its matter or substance. In the arts, the term is used broadly as a synonym for design or pattern making – and includes all aspects of composition, organization, and structure (Myers 373). While there is some general consensus that form can refer to the structure of a composition, there is also a wide variety of sometimes contrasting uses. Because of this conflict I choose to rarely use the term to avoid confusion. I prefer the term mass when referring to three-dimensional qualities and term composition when referring to the structure of a work.

An illusion of mass can be created on a two- dimensional surface through means of shading and perspective as we have discussed in previous chapters. Actual mass is not an illusion; it is real. Our bodies are actual masses that exist in three-dimensional space. Mass can be experienced beyond visual sensations into the realm of tactile experience; mass can be felt as well as seen. To tacitly confront a mass confirms its reality. To touch something assures us that our sight is correct. It not only confirms the sight but adds information to the experience that cannot be gained by sight. Babies are constantly using their tactile sense to explore masses. They instinctively know that more knowledge of an object can be gained by touching it than by just seeing it (they often want to taste it as well). Unfortunately this inclination for logical information gathering is usually slapped or scolded out of the child by parents concerned for the child’s safety or the safety of knickknacks. However there are still ways in which tactile recognition of mass continues to function in human experience. In our culture the handshake is a traditional form of greeting or confirming an agreement. The physical contact of the two masses of the hands is an assurance of the reality of the situation and the two parties. It is also an assurance that one party isn’t going to punch the other – although the “power” handshake does seem to be a reminder that one individual could overpower the other if he/she wished. A step beyond the handshake is the hug. In this interaction of masses the contact is considerably more intimate. The pressing of one body against another is a confirmation not only of reality but also of an affection toward the entity that the other mass encompasses. We could continue our human mass interaction analysis to the kiss and beyond but I’m hoping for a PG rating when this book is made into a movie. My point is that with the element of mass both visual and tactile information can be communicated.

TYPES OF MASS

 

The same basic categories that were applied to shape can be applied to mass. Geometric mass basics are the cube, pyramid, and sphere. Important variations on these basic geometric masses are the cone (a triangle rotated on its axis) and the cylinder ( a rectangle or square rotated on its bisector). Geometric masses have basic visual qualities that can be generalized: a square is said to be stable and restful; a sphere – satisfying, mobile and continuing; a pyramid – enduring, solid, and stable; a cone – thrusting and unpredictable; a cylinder – utilitarian, a container for things (Bevlin 60-62).

Naturalistic and especially idealistic mass abound in the world of sculpture. The human figure is a favorite subject. The earlier discussed idealized figures of ancient Greece were the inspiration of Michelangelo’s famous sculptural works of the Italian Renaissance. But Michelangelo’s work did not simply mimic the idealism of the Greeks. His idealism created a personalized tension and power very different than the serene figures of classical Greece. In fact, he went so far in his expressive idealism to sometimes reach the point of abstraction by intentionally distorting proportions. In the Baroque period the great sculptor and architect Bernini took the idealized human mass in a different direction. Bernini’s marble figures look as if they have been carved of soap or wax – they seem so fluid and effortless. In mood they are among some of the most dramatic ever created. They function as three-dimensional equivalents to Caravaggio’s stage-illuminated painted figures. Bernini managed to capture ecstasy or determination with the skill of today’s expressive filmmakers.

In the later 20th century some remarkable examples of naturalistic mass were produced. The human figure was again the subject of John De Andrea and Duane Hansen, who produced some works of unnerving naturalism. De Andrea’s attractive nude figures, cast from life, airbrush painted, and hair implanted, can embarrass the more modest gallery guest. They are so remarkably life-like that one can feel more like a voyeur than a viewer when in their presence. Duane Hansen uses the same modern technology to produce his very everyday people. He also uses real clothing and many times adds actual objects for visual support such as shopping carts, suitcases, chairs, etc. While Hansen’s work is not embarrassing, it can still be very unsettling and thought provoking. When common objects, this time common people, become works of art and we look at them as closely as we do art, they become a new learning experience.

Abstract masses are ones that have natural subjects as the inspiration but that have been altered to suit the need of the artist. One of my favorite abstract masses takes us back again to Paleolithic times. Woman of Willendorf, as historians have called it, was produced sometime  around 30,000 BC. Four and a half inches in height, it projects a powerful image and gives an abundance of information. The huge breasts and hips suggest a very fertile female capable of success in the dangerous function of childbirth upon which the very existence of the tribe or clan depended. A surprise in the sculpture is the elaborate hair style, showing a strong interest in personal appearance and body decoration, qualities that most people don’t associate with early humans. It is speculated that this small sculpture may have been a charm, possibly something to be held during childbirth to help ensure a successful outcome. This again suggests the tactile potential of mass.

In the 1930’s French-American sculptor Gaston Lachaise created sculptures of women with a powerful fertile quality that embody some of the same qualities of the “Venus” but this time on a very different scale, usually over life-size.  Lachaise’s bulging women also strangely foreshadow the female body building craze of fifty years later. From “Venus” to today there is a multifaceted line of abstracted mass in the world of sculpture. Through history these abstractions usually followed cultural traditions that slowly evolved and changed. In the 20th century abstract mass in Western culture was given over to personal adaptation. The individual artist rather than cultural tradition determined the direction and degree of abstraction. A master of abstract mass was English sculptor Henry Moore. His varied abstract masses occupy their space with such gravity and beauty that they seem to have always been in existence. His use of negative space, which often moves through as well as around the work, had a strong influence on many sculptors.

Non-objective masses are masses that do not suggest any natural mass. In sculpture the use of non-objective mass is a relatively modern innovation, but the power of non-objective mass has a very long history. One of the most stupendous examples goes back about 5,000 years. The great pyramids of ancient Egypt are stunning examples of non-objective (and geometric) mass. They can be considered architectural because of their function as tombs, but in reality that was a minor function in terms of structural necessity. The huge masses were built as an expression of power, spirituality, and importance far beyond a pile of rocks over a grave.

Henry Moore’s work often left the realm of abstraction and became non-objective, even though it still had organic qualities. Mass that is non-objective but still captures a sense of life is sometimes called biomorphic mass. Jean Arp’s swelling masses are prime examples of biomorphic mass; they seem to pulse with life and the marble appears to warm if touched. Japanese- American Isamu Noguchi is, in my opinion, a genius of non- objective mass. His work is the embodiment of integrity. His deep awareness and respect for his materials leads to sculptures of near magical beauty and dignity. Using non-objective mass, Noguchi has the power to express qualities, and to evoke feelings in the receptive viewer that would be impossible with a recognizable subject.

 

PRODUCTION OF MASS

 

Materials for producing mass range from the traditional wood, stone, glass, clay, and bronze to more recent materials such as plastics and modern metals. Every material has its own characteristics and requires knowledge, skills and experience to produce the desired results. The designer needs to be familiar with the various strong and weak points of materials to make the right decisions. A sculpture requiring small, delicate projectiles might not be well suited for stone carving; instead, cast metal or plastic might be a better choice.

There are four primary technical methods for producing mass. Each has its advantages and disadvantages:

 

1. Subtraction: In this process the artist removes material to create the final product. Commonly a block of wood or stone is carved. This may involve the age-old process of the artist with chisel and hammer.  But with modern technology, more often it involves a wide variety of mechanized tools including power chisels, saws, grinders, sanders, and polishers. The marks made by the tools of the process can be smoothed and hidden, or the artist can utilize them as part of the surface quality.

 

2. Manipulation: This process is commonly called modeling. Clay and wax are the two dominant materials of manipulation techniques. Because they are pliable, the artist can shape and change them at will. The material can be applied piece by piece, or the artist can start with a larger mass and carve away some parts while adding to others. A wide variety of tools can be used to manipulate the surface; sticks, wires, water (in the case of clay), and heat (in the case of wax) can all shape the material to the desired mass. Many times the most important tools in manipulation are the human fingers themselves. The pliable material shaped and formed by the artist’s hands creates a very personalized production technique, and sometimes the physical hand markings are left as visible evidence of the artist’s involvement in the process.

 

3. Addition: Addition involves the joining of materials. This can involve pliable materials or rigid material or both. The process can involve gluing, welding, soldering, stapling, bolting, screwing, nailing, riveting, wiring, binding, or tying.  The materials can be a varied as the joining processes: wood, metal, concrete, plastics, fabrics, plaster, found objects, and many others. The addition process is limited only by the imagination of the artist.

 

4. Substitution: A common term for this process is casting (Ocvirk et al., 188-89). There are a multitude of variations on this process, each adapted to certain materials and desired outcomes. In most cases there are a series of basic phases – (a) an original model/mass is produced using the manipulation process, usually in wax or clay; (b) a mold, usually plaster or ceramic, is made from the original; (c) the original modeled work is removed from the mold leaving a negative cavity of the original; (d) a liquid which will solidify – bronze, iron, aluminum, plastic, plaster, or others is poured into the mold; (e) after the liquid material has solidified, the mold is removed; (f) there is usually much work to be done on the cast mass, such as sanding, grinding, and polishing. With its complex methods we might assume that casting is a relatively modern technique, but that is not the case. Substitution methods date to very early human cultures who cast copper, bronze and iron.  This is where the terms “Bronze Age” and “Iron Age” originate. The stimulus for the development of this technology was not the arts; the stimulus was primarily the production of weapons.

These four main categories of mass production do not always exist independently; they are sometimes combined to fit the designer’s needs.

 

MASSES THAT MOVE

 

Our general conception of mass is a static material that stays in one place. Yet nature provides many examples of dynamic mass. The billows of visible moisture we call clouds provide a wonderful variety of masses in a state of constant transformation as temperature and air currents move them about. These usually passive and tranquil masses can transform into the most terrifying and destructive of nature’s masses, the tornado. Another of nature’s moving masses, the wave, has this same dualistic quality. From gentle ripples in a pond to fifty foot tidal waves, this mass of moving water has a tremendous range of physical and expressive qualities.

We are one of nature’s masses that move. This a fact that certainly hasn’t been overlooked in the arts. Dance is an area of human expression that may be the earliest of all arts. The potential of using the body to express emotions and ideas has been found in nearly every culture: tribal dance, social dance, religious dance, aerobic dance, ballet, modern dance, and on and on.

Another artistically important aspect of the human body as a mass is the drive of humans to decorate their bodies. Again, this goes back to the earliest of pre-historic human times. Evidence of people painting their bodies with colored clays is one of the earliest documented acts of art. There has not been a break in the tradition since then. When body decoration is discussed many people automatically think of African scarification, or Melanesian tattooing, or Native American face and body painting, all of which are fascinating examples. Body decoration is also very much a part of our culture as well. The female use of make-up is nothing less than body painting . The recent tattooing fad is leaving innumerable and many times poorly designed images permanently affixed to the skin of our youth. The use of jewelry by both sexes is body decoration, as is hair styling. So is the entire concept of fashion clothing. We are very involved in body decoration. It performs numerous functions beyond warmth and protection: attracting sexual partners, declaring social standing, giving personal satisfaction, stimulating areas of the economy.

 

MASS AND THE “BIG PICTURE”

 

Mass in art immediately brings to mind sculpture, but that is only one of many kinds of mass in the larger world of art. Architecture, furniture design, glasswork, metal work, ceramics, fiber art, and the extremely varied world of commercial product design are all areas in which mass is a primary element. A glance around your immediate environment will probably expose a multitude of designed objects: chairs, tables, lights, clocks, radios, televisions, cups , and so on. All were designed by someone – for better or worse. A dominant designed mass in our culture is the automobile. This transportation vehicle has gone through a bewildering number of design changes in a relatively short time. The changes have been made for functional, decorative, and marketing reasons. The boxy original design of the Model T Ford went through a long and varied streamlining trend, reaching a peak of smooth air-swept lines in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Then in the 1970’s the process reversed itself and designs started to take on more angular, boxy lines again.  This was partially caused by some manufacturers attempting to imitate the German luxury car, the Mercedes Benz. In 1986 Ford introduced its new Taurus line. This extremely streamlined design reversed the trend dramatically back to streamlining. The reversal was so complete that the Mercedes actually started to look like the Ford. In the mid 1990’s Ford once again took a chance and super-streamlined the new Taurus. The result was an echo of the 1980’s with most manufacturers scrambling to imitate the design. Now in the early 21st Century we are beginning to see more angularity returning to auto design.

Because it functions in a three-dimensional world, mass is involved in every aspect of our lives. After all, we are masses ourselves.  Many people in our culture, obsessed with this reality, compulsively try to find and maintain what they consider the ideal mass for the human body. The widespread growth in popularity of body building during the 1980’s was a symbolic phenomenon for the decade: drive to shape the human body into masses of mostly non-functional muscles to conform to a strange, distorted sense of beauty. Such narcissistic (me first – and maybe only me) behavior dominated the decade in social, political, and economic arenas.

Another preoccupation with the human mass is the concern for thinness and dieting. While there are very good health reasons for maintaining a sensible weight, many people seem preoccupied with looking “right” as dictated by the advertising and entertainment industries. As a result, people who are obese because of genetic differences in their metabolism are often cruelly ostracized and ridiculed in our society. Another serious result of the media-enforced drive for irrational thinness is the far too common eating disorders found in teenage and college-age women.

THREE-DIMENSIONAL DESIGN

Much of the information studied thus far in this text concerning the elements and principles of two-dimensional design apply equally to three-dimensional design. But there is a very important, transforming addition in the conversion to the third-dimension — depth.

 

DEGREES OF THREE-DIMENSIONS

Three-dimensional design many times suggests full sculptural mass, objects “in the round.” But in actuality there are many degrees of three-dimensions.  These degrees range from low relief to works that completely surround us.  Three-dimensional work can be grouped into the following categories:

 

RELIEF

In this type of design the three-dimensional masses are raised from a flat background. Some scholars believe the earliest relief carvings were produced when humans noticed protrusions and bulges on stone walls that reminded them of animals. They then used their tools to expand the illusion and make the images even more visible. It may have been a kind of very early enhanced “found art.”

The shallowest type of relief that creates a subtle breaking of the third dimension is called low relief or bas-relief. There are many varying levels of low relief but it generally signifies a relief that still has a considerable look of flatness. Some of the most accomplished low relief sculptures date back to the ancient kingdoms of Egypt and Assyria. The relief were used to document the traditions, ceremonies and power of the ruling class and above all to record the bloody wars that made them wealthy empires.

From low relief the degree of three-dimensions continues to grow until it reaches high relief where the masses are nearly in the round but are still attached to a flat base. During the Italian Renaissance tremendously skillful relief sculpture was produced that many times incorporated the entire range of relief from very low, subtle relief to suggest distance, to very high relief with some figures projecting nearly to the full round. The massive bronze doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Bapistery in Florence are an outstanding example of the fluidity this technique can produce. An example of medium to high relief would be the mind-boggling Hindu Temples of India where the entire exterior and interior surfaces are covered with carved imagery of gods, goddesses, demons, and animals representing aspects of the symbolically rich Hindu religion.

 

ONE-SIDED WORKS

This type of three-dimensional work is not confined to a flat ground, but is still designed to be seen from one side only. One-sided works are often called frontal works. The masses may be created in the full round, but due to the way they are presented, they can be seen only from one direction.  The great pediment sculpture from the temples of ancient Greece fit into this category. Carved fully in the round, they were designed to fit in the strange squat triangle of the pediment to be seen only from the front and from ground level. A more contemporary example can be found in some of the assemblage work of Edward Kienholz. His often disturbing configurations of objects from everyday life, cast figures, and photographs are sometimes presented in such a way as to be seen only from one direction.

 

THE FULL ROUND

When an artist designs in the full round, the work is produced to be seen and experienced from all possible angles. This is a challenging problem in that the shifting relations of mass and space must be considered from every position around the work. This gives sculpture in the round the quality of adding sequence and time to the experience of viewing the piece. To fully appreciate the work the viewer needs to move around the mass or masses studying the relations of the elements and their changing visual impact.

The history of art abounds with wonderful examples of this type of design and a work that is one of my favorites is Rodin’s The Burgers of Calais. Moving around this work is a true aesthetic experience of mass, space, texture, and emotion — an experience that cannot even be guessed at through viewing two-dimensional reproductions of the sculpture.

 

WALK-THROUGH WORK

In this type of three-dimensional design the viewer is actually surrounded by the work. The viewer is in and is a part of the three-dimensional environment created by the artist or designer. Installation artists of late 20th century have created gallery situations where the viewer became part of the design. Jonathan Borofsky produced environments that included wall paintings, sculpture, and games and activities for the viewer to participate in. His works utilized floors, ceilings wall, and all the spaces in between. In a more traditional sense architecture and interior design are the essence of creating walk-through three-dimensional space. They create the three-dimensional spaces in which we live, work and play. (Zelanski & Fisher II, 11-18)

 

 

 

 

THREE-DIMENSIONAL SPACE

 

Three-dimensional space brings us out of the world of height, width and illusion and into the world of actual space, space of physical realities: height and width, but now also physical depth. This is the space in which we as human beings exist. As three-dimensional creatures we move through this trio of dimensions as our environment. In designing, the addition of depth creates not simply one more factor to consider but the necessity of thinking three-dimensionally. In creating a sculpture or any other object of three dimensions, the mind must always think all the way around the object, from all angles, considering the mass, texture, and space. As in two-dimensional design, the concepts of positive and negative space apply equally in the world in three dimensions. The positive masses of an object carve out negative spaces around the object. A major difference with the added dimension is that boundaries for the negative space (such as the paper edges in 2-D) do not usually exist in the third dimension. A second difference is that the negative spaces change as the viewer moves around the object; from each new viewing position a new relationship exists between negative spaces and positive masses. A master of the use of negative space was the twentieth century metal sculptor David Smith. Many of his works use negative space as a dominant element, and viewers are given tremendous variety as they move around the sculptures. Smith’s works in the full round could be considered existing in open space as there are no perimeters around the masses of the work; they carve out delineated spaces that then merge with the open space around them. A sculpture that consciously works to produce delineated (negative) spaces that are interesting in shape and that undergo continual transformation as the viewer moves around the mass, can be a very enjoyable part of the aesthetic experience. The mobiles of Alexander Calder are fine examples of open space being carved into interesting delineated shapes that not only change when the viewer moves but also change when air currents of the room move them.

Confined space is a very different three-dimensional space from open space. The confined space to be designed is set within clearly defined boundaries and does not continue into the surroundings of the sculpture. The scale of the confined space can vary greatly, from the entire interior space of a gallery, such as in the Borofsky example cited earlier, to the inside of a 13″ X 9″ X 4″ box as designed by Joseph Cornell. Cornell, mentioned earlier in the text in relation to unity and variety, was an artist who created very personal space within the small confined areas of his wooden boxes.  His perplexing but deftly designed three-dimensional spaces are masterful arrangement of the elements of design.

(Zelanski & Fisher II, 104-5)

 

LINE IN THREE-DIMENSIONAL DESIGN

We are inclined to think of line two-dimensionally, as a stoke on a piece of paper or a canvas, but line is active throughout the three-dimensional world as well. This is especially evident in nature where blades of grass, branches of bushes, and trunks and roots of trees all create an infinite variety of changes in three-dimensional line. In our man-made environments electrical and telephone poles and lines,  fences, and cables form a grid of three-dimensional lines connecting and confining our lives.  Lines have been used in three-dimensional design and sculpture in a tremendous variety of applications. Lines are very often functional masses. Many tools are linear masses shaped to perform a specific task: scissors to cut, pliers to hold, screwdrivers to turn, and so on. The natural linear qualities of wood, many times reflected in the products we make from it, can be seen in the lines of a chair, the supports of a table, or the linear skeleton of most wood-frame architecture.

Many artists have utilized linear masses in their work but none more playfully than the recently mentioned Alexander Calder. His wire sculpture of the circus world is a delightful interplay line and space, drawing with wire lines in the three-dimensional world of open space. An extremely different use of three-dimensional line is the massive, heavy of line in Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. This 1500′ long, 15′ wide spiral of rock and earth extends into the Great Salt Lake of Utah (Zelanski & Fisher II, 119-22).

The quality of line reviewed in our two-dimensional study of line is equally relevant in three-dimensions. A smooth copper wire has distinctly different quality than a piece of sisal rope. The artist and designer uses both the physical textual qualities in making creative applications of the material. Lines with mass can be applied jagged, smoothly, at angles, or in rhythms to create expressive and aesthetic impact.

 

TEXTURE AND THREE-DIMENSIONAL DESIGN

When working with texture in three-dimensional design the designer is working with actual texture — the real surface of the materials.  The tactile surface quality of the three-dimensional world is one of its most intriguing design possibilities. A knowledge of materials and their textural potential puts at the designer’s disposal means to produce both tremendous variety and cohesive unity.

Three-dimensional textures can be grouped into three categories: natural textures, worked textures and illusions of textures. Natural textures are the texture of materials as they are found, the natural texture of the stone, the bark on the surface of the wood, the textural quality of the feathers, the bone, the shells or the skin. Natural texture occurs when tactile surfaces are used for their original unaltered textural qualities. Worked textures are produced when a material is taken and manipulated or changed in textural qualities to suit the needs of the designer. This manipulation can be produced by carving, hammering, grinding, polishing, weaving, or other means.  Working a texture is meant to transform a texture to one more functional for the design (Zelanski & Fischer II, 135-40).  Illusions of textures are produced by taking a material and transforming its texture to appear to be something it is not; making marble have the texture of flesh, making clay appear to be leather, or making plastic feel like wood. Three-dimensional illusions of textures have long been utilized in creating naturalistic or idealistic sculptural works. With new the technologies and materials of the 20th century, illusions of  textures can be startling and very deceptive.

 

COLOR & VALUE

IN THREE DIMENSIONAL DESIGN

 

As in two-dimensional design, color and value in three-dimensional design are totally dependent on light. We see an object or environment only because of the light reflected from its surface. The value, lightness or darkness, of a surface has new variables in three-dimensional design due to the fact that the light is not striking the surface evenly.  The angles, curves, recessed areas, and other volumetric factors of a mass creates shadows and areas of light and dark that don’t necessarily relate to the color or texture of an object but how the light falls across the mass. The importance to an artist of the interplay of light and mass is sensitively described by the great sculptor, Barbara Hepworth:

 

The importance of light in relation to form will always interest me. In sculpture it seems to be an extension of sterognostic sensibility, and through it I feel it ought to be possible to induce those evocative responses that seem to be part of primeval life, and which are a vital necessity to a full apprehension of space and volume.  There is an inside and an outside to every form. When they are in special accord, as for instance a nut in its shell or when a child is in the womb, or in the structure of shells or crystals, or when one senses the architecture of the bones of the human figure, then I am most drawn to the effect of light. Every shadow cast by the sun from an ever-varying angle reveals the harmony of the inside and outside. Light gives full play to our tactile perceptions through the experience of our eyes, and the vitality of forms is revealed by the interplay between space and volume.

 

As Hepworth suggests, a sculpture that is placed outdoors will be seen under a tremendous variety of light qualities. Exposed to full sunlight that be in a perpetual state of change throughout the day and through each season as the sun’s position shifts in the sky.  Changes and variations in cloud cover along with other atmospheric conditions will vary the intensity and even color of the light falling on the sculpture. Natural outdoor light creates a variable lighting condition which is beyond the control of the artist but which enlarges the experience for the perceptive viewer. Artificial lighting in an indoor situation gives the artist or whoever is controlling the lighting great control over how the work will be seen by the viewer. The mood of the sculpture can be dramatically altered by position and intensity of light on the surfaces. Volumes can be enhanced or flattened by the same factors. Tension can be created and soothing washes of light can soften. The importance of the control of light on a three-dimensional design should not be underestimated.

The color concepts discussed in the previous chapter are equally applicable in the third dimension. In addition we can consider the concepts of natural and applied color. Natural color is the natural color quality of the materials chosen by the artist or designer. The natural color of the marble, the clay, the wood, or the plaster are properties that a designer might specifically select for their color qualities and work diligently to preserve and enhance as an integral part of the design. Applied color on the other hand, is color that covers or alters the natural color of the materials being used. Color may be applied over an original color for many reasons: to enhance or produce an illusion, to produce expressive qualities, to give the mass more visual strength, to decorate, to create a contrast to the surroundings of the mass, or to create areas of emphasis on the mass itself (Zelanski & Fisher 168-170).

 

THE PRINCIPLES OF ORGANIZATION AND

THREE DIMENSIONAL DESIGN

 

Again, the principles of design — unity, variety, balance, emphasis, rhythm, proportion and scale — apply equally with the addition of the third dimension. The added dimension of depth adds infinite possibilities with the new variable of actual texture to create both emphasis and variety and unifying patterns and rhythms. The physical reality of mass adds the real interplay of light over the volumes of the structure. All the elements and principles of design create a dance of composition in three dimensions as they did in two dimensions only with more depth.

 

 

 

PROJECT #23: BOX SCULPTURE / CONFINED SPACE

 

materials: 1″ X 6″ pine, foamboard, (supplied by materials fee) Elmer’s glue, found objects,  acrylic paint.

 

objective: to create a painted assemblage of found objects within a confined space with carefully  arranged elements and principles of design. The assemblage is to be your personal interpretation of the assigned theme.

 

procedure:

1. Cut the pine into two 14″ and two 10″ lengths, assemble into a box, and attach the 11 1/2″ X 14″ foamboard  back.

 

2. Collect a variety of interestingly shaped objects that relate to the theme and will interestingly break up the interior space of the box.

 

3. Arrange the objects in the box taking into account all the basic considerations of design such as balance, unity and variety, emphasis and proportion.

 

4. Use the acrylic paint to help unify the composition with a color scheme that works with the theme or  direction of the work. Paint the objects and box  interior and exterior before gluing the objects in the box.

 

5. Place your name legibly on the bottom outer edge of the box.

 

6. We will assemble all our boxes together to form one large sculpture for public display.

 

PROJECT 24: TYPES OF MASS

 

materials: air dry clay,  2″ X 4″ wood, sandpaper (supplied by the materials fee), acrylic paint, brushes, etc.

 

objective: to create four progressive sculptures using the same subject as inspiration: one naturalistic, one semi-abstract, one very abstract, and one non-objective.

 

procedure:

1. Decide on a subject. It must be something that you can acquire as an actual three-dimensional model to work from: part of a person, an interestingly shaped  vegetable, a natural object that is recognizable (not an already produced sculpture – no working from photos). It also needs  to be a mass you can construct with the clay with a minimal armature. It should be a mass that has interesting 3D qualities form all angles.

 

2. With the clay sculpt as naturalistic as possible a reproduction of your object. Apply as much accurate detail as possible; use any small sticks or improvised  tools you wish to help detail and texture the clay.

 

3. Decide on a direction of abstraction for your natural mass. It could be geometric, rounded, simplified, distorted, or any other direction you wish. It is to be an  abstraction and not a metamorphosis. The second  sculpture should have a semi-abstract appearance — you should be able to easily know what the natural mass  source was. The third sculpture is to take the abstract  direction even further. The original subject should still be a bit discernible. The fourth sculpture takes  the abstraction direction to such a degree that the sculpture is non-objective — the subject matter of the original work should no longer be visible.

 

4. Let the clay dry (we will do the wire sculpture while it is drying). Then paint all four sculptures with acrylic paint. Consider having your color abstract along with your mass.

 

5. Label the bottom or side of the bases with your name.

 

 

PROJECT #25: WIRE SCULPTURE / LINE IN SPACE

 

materials: flexible wire, 2″ X 6″ pine, sand paper, white spray paint, (provided by your materials fee) acrylic paint, brushes, etc.

 

 

 

 

objective: to create a sculptural mass of wire depicting human or animal mass.

 

procedure:

1. Decide on a subject matter — it may be human or animal subject matter; it may be a part of human anatomy. Animals may defined broadly to include insect and sea life. The subject should be one that will shape the space interestingly from all directions.

 

2. Design your sculpture to take full advantage of open space, creating and carving interesting negative space.  Also consider the mass / space relationship from all  angles.

 

3. The sculpture may not exceed 12″ in any direction.

 

4. Drill holes in the areas of the wood base where the wire will be anchored. Turn, twist, and spiral the wire into masses to create the volume of the subject you have chosen.

 

5. Spray the completed wire sculpture with white spray paint (use the spray booth), then paint sculpture with acrylic paint – enhancing the subject and the linear quality of the work with your choice of color. Paint the wood base.

 

6. Place your name on the side or bottom of the base.

 

 

PROJECT #26: FINAL PROJECT (two options)

option #1: GAME DESIGN

 

materials: optional to suit your needs and acrylic paint

 

objective: to combine the concepts of chapters 15 & 16 in a game design

 

procedure:

1. Review chapters 15 & 16, brainstorm ideas of how some of the concepts could be combined into a game format. You need not use all the concepts of both chapters but  you must use numerous ideas from both. The project must  have advanced color concepts and it must have some  three-dimensional components. Make lists of ideas. Draw  thumbnail sketches. Make quick  mock-ups of ideas to see how they will work.  Experiment.

 

2. The game may be focused toward children or adults. It should be designed with a specific age group in mind.

 

3. Any materials may be employed that are needed to develop your idea. All color work is to be done with acrylic paint.

 

4. The game format could be a kind of board game with 3D elements, a piece type game (like dominos), a building  game (like legos with a goal),  a puzzle like game  (like a rubic cube), or some other type, but it must be a game.

 

5. All elements of the game must be very well crafted by yourself and design considerations must extend to all components of  the game.

 

6. All game components must be presented in a well suited and prepared container.

 

7. The game must be titled and accompanied by a typed or word processed list of directions, rules, and  regulation on how to play the game.  These directions  must clear and easy to understand and with very few typos, spelling, and grammar errors.

 

  1. 8.    Each student will set up their game and present it to the class and explain the game directions.

 

 

Option #2: THE DELUXE COMBO

 

Materials: to suit your needs & acrylic paint

 

Objective: to combine the concepts of chapters 15 and 16 into a creative painted sculpture (with box, wire, and clay elements)

 

1.The box element may be single or multiple. Attachments may be on the  outside as well as the inside. The wire and clay elements may be as     dominant or recessive as the student wishes. Other mixed media may be added as well. All elements and surfaces must be painted with acrylic  paint.

 

2. The size of the finished sculpture is up to the student (remember, the  larger the more expensive)

 

3. The content of the sculpture may be thematic, storytelling, naturalistic, ealistic, abstract, or non-objective (remember, do not let the content of  the sculpture override the design of the work)

 

4. The project must clearly express the majority of concepts in both   chapters 15 &16. The student will write a statement explaining the relationship of the chapters’ concepts to the sculpture.

 

5. The student will present the piece to the class, read their statement,  and answer questions on design and content

 

Design: the parts and the whole — chapter 15 – color concepts

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

COLOR CONCEPTS

 

The range of color concepts seems as infinite as the range of color itself. This chapter attempts to explore some of the capabilities and joy of color.

 

COLOR SCHEMES

 

Deciding what colors to use in solving a problem or fulfilling a need is a common situation designers and artists encounter. Their decision in these situations involves considerations of color schemes: ways of arranging colors to create different visual impacts.

Achromatic Color Scheme: This is a confused label for a color scheme as achromatic means no color. This scheme uses only white, black and grays.

Monochromatic Color Scheme: This scheme uses only one color plus black, white, and grays and all the possibilities of tints, tones, and shades that can be mixed with that one color. A large range in value contrast is possible, but no color contrast can be produced.

Analogous Color Scheme: A scheme that consists of three to four colors that are adjacent (next to one another) on the color wheel, such as red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow or blue-violet, blue, blue-green, and green. The close relationship of analogous colors provides a mild contrast of color.

Triad Color Scheme: This is an arrangement of colors that form an equilateral triangle on the color wheel: red, yellow, and blue; orange, green, and violet; red-violet, yellow-orange, and blue-green; blue-violet, red-orange, and yellow-green. These schemes have a variety of color contrast potentials with the primary triad, red, yellow, and blue being the strongest and most popular.

Complementary Color Scheme: This scheme uses colors that are directly opposite on the color wheel: red and green, orange and blue, yellow and violet, red-violet and yellow-green, red-orange and blue-green, yellow-orange and blue-violet. These schemes provide maximum color contrast. These colors are as different from one another as possible. A variation on a complementary scheme is called a split complement. In this scheme a color is used and the two colors on both sides of its complement on the color wheel. An example would be red with blue-green and yellow-green.

Polychrome Color Scheme: Poly means many. This is a scheme using many, usually unrelated colors. It can be used create a loud, clashing contrasting affect.

High Intensity Scheme: This scheme uses all or almost all the colors at a high intensity level, bright and concentrated.

Low Intensity Scheme: The colors in this scheme have been considerably altered by value or complement mixtures to create colors of low intensity.

Both high and low intensity schemes can be combined with any of the other color schemes (except achromatic). All schemes can utilize white, gray, and black by themselves or mixed with the colors. This adds vastly to expand possibilities of value and intensity range.

COLOR AND PSYCHOLOGY

 

Warm colors and cool colors seem at first like strangely tactile terms to apply to something as visual as color. But it takes no design education to know which colors fit into which categories. Reds, oranges, and yellows are automatically thought of as warm colors due to their association with fire, heat, and the sun. Blue and green are considered cool due to their association with water, sky and trees. Violet is also sometimes considered cool but not always. Basic color temperature is an important consideration in design. Warm colors are seen as visually active while cool colors can be generalized as passive.

There are many general associations that the artist can consider when dealing with color; here a few:

RED – warmth, power, attraction, love, hate, war, vigor, action, Eros, brutality

ORANGE – receptivity, warmth, pride, joy, happiness, cheerfulness, liveliness, excitement, autumn

YELLOW – luminosity, brightness, youth, vivacity, cowardice, caution, warmth, joy, deceit, treachery, action, summer

GREEN – hope, quiet, compliance, softness, tranquility, concentration, jealousy, coolness, freshness, growth, life

BLUE – depth, relaxation, maturity, quiet, cold, wetness, repose, depression, clarity, coolness, transparency

VIOLET – power, spirituality, melancholia, mysticism, dignify, importance, celibacy, priggishness (Sidelinger 74 -85)

Even from these few associations it is obvious that there is no “absolute” association for any color. But there are some general trends in how people react to color, and a designer must be aware of this potential.

People readily respond to color in an associative way but they also respond to color in ways they may not be consciously aware. Interior and environmental design can use color to its advantage in many ways. In the designing of interiors for schools, factories, and office buildings, brighter, warm colors are often preferred because they promote activity and alertness, while cooler, dull colors are more sedating. Another positive economic aspect of warm, bright colors is that they allow lower heating levels in the environments while cool-colored spaces need more heat to keep people comfortable.

A German study showed another side of environmental color on school children. They found that yellow, yellow- orange, and light blue environments had a positive intellectual impact on children. Their IQ scores increased 12 points in these warm, light environments as compared to white, brown, and black interior spaces. The children were also more cheerful and sociable when surrounded by the brighter colors. A coarser use of color psychology was instigated by the famous Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne (the “Gipper”) who had the home locker room for his team painted bright red to keep them fired up and agitated while the visiting team’s locker room was painted a tranquil blue-green in an attempt to sedate them. It should be remembered that for effective use of color in environments careful research needs to be done not only of color qualities but also the group of people to be using the space. Subtle color changes can change the impact color has on people (Zelanski and Fisher 30-1).

 

Another aspect of our response to color is cultural. Our use of color in our expressive language says a great deal about how we relate to color: I’ve got the blues, I’m in a black mood, I saw red, you yellow dog, I’m green with envy, I told a white lie, and so on. Red means “stop” and green means “go”; yes, it does to us, but it surely wouldn’t to most Chinese. Black is our color of mourning but in India the mourning color is white; in Turkey it’s violet; in Ethiopia, brown; and yellow in Burma (Lauer 255). This wide range in color symbolism applies to many other areas as well. Cultural color symbolism is an important consideration, especially for the growing number of artists and designers working cross-culturally.

Expressive color has mental, physical, and cultural dimensions. Tied to these are very personal aspects of color meaning. Every individual has a personal backlog of experiences with color. Color can sometimes be associated with events and incidents in our lives that we are no longer consciously aware of but that can still evoke strong emotional responses: the color of a favorite childhood toy, the crib color of infancy, the color of a much loved blanket, the color of a much hated closet in which a child was confined.

The painting of Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko are often pointed out as examples of expressive color at its purest. I remember as a student viewing reproductions and slides of his work. I basically understood how the concept of expressive color applied to the painting, but I also thought the work was rather boring. Some years later I was fortunate enough to see a large showing of Rothko’s paintings at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. His large canvases of stained and rubbed veils of color hung on the walls but seemed to move back and forth due to the push and pull of the color fields. Standing in front of a large orange and yellow canvas I felt consumed by the color and warmth; it was an uplifting experience. Standing in front of one of Rothko’s somber black and violet fields of rich layered color sent chills through my body.  This exhibition convinced me of the expressive potential of color.

 

COLOR INTERACTION

 

The study of color interaction is the analysis of optical effects that colors have on each other and our eyes. Colors are rarely seen in isolation. They are always seen with other colors next to or around them, this concept recalls the project done in the value chapter where the small inside square of the value scale remained constant in value but appeared to become lighter or darker because of the value around it; we termed this value interaction. This same phenomenon is constantly taking place with color. We see colors in relation to other colors; they constantly interact.

An optical event called successive contrast is one of the more perplexing color interactions.  Successive contrast takes place when you stare at a color for some time, about forty-five seconds, and then shift your eyes to a white surface. The result is that you seem to see a ghost image of the same subject but the color you see is the complement of the original color. If you stare at the shape of a red apple for a minute and then shift your eyes to a white surface you will see the shape of a green or blue-green apple. It is speculated that this occurs because in staring at the red apple you have tired the red receptors in your eyes, then when the eyes are shifted to a white surface which contains the entire spectrum of light, your tired eyes cannot receive the wavelengths producing red, and instead only see those from the opposite end of the spectrum which produce the complement, green. This visual phenomenon is also called after-image.

Simultaneous contrast is another unusual color interaction. Complementary (or any strongly contrasting colors) that are placed side by side will intensify each other along the edge where they make contact. Many times if you stare at these edges they appear to become brighter and almost glow.  This effect has been often used by designers and artists to heighten color contrast and intensify edges.

An artist whose name is synonymous with the study of color interaction is Joseph Albers. Born in Germany, he was a student and later a teacher at the famous design school, the Bauhaus. Albers left Germany in the mid 1930’s as fascism came into power. He, like so many other European artists, came to the United States. He eventually became chairman of the design department at Yale University and had a tremendous impact on color in American art. He did extensive color research and applied it to his own painting, of which the most famous series is titled Homage to the Square. Albers studied how it was possible, through color interaction, to make one color appear as two, how to make three colors appear as two, and how to make two different colors appear to be the same. This kind of manipulation was possible through careful study and understanding of color properties. As an example, if you place a small square of red-violet on a background of violet the red-violet appears redder than it did on a white surface. The same square of red-violet placed on a red background will appear more violet than when it is on white and much more violet than when it is on the violet background. The reasons for this apparent change is color interaction. The red background enhances and exaggerates the violet in the red-violet while diminishing the red qualities in the red-violet due to the amount of red that the background itself is reflecting to the eye. The same procedure happens on the violet background, only this time the red is enhanced. This rather wordy explanation is an example of simple color interaction. The same type of interaction can take place with more complex variables. An important factor to remember when working with color interaction is that value interaction is also taking place and can also affect the colors being involved.

The concept of color interaction is a window to the much larger concept of how nothing exists in isolation. Everything is affecting and being affected by everything else. This principle is basis of much scientific, psychological, and spiritual thinking.

 

LOCAL, OPTICAL, AND ARBITRARY COLOR

 

Local color is the color of an object in neutral white light. It is the color that we “know” an object to be: oranges are orange, grass is green, lemons are yellow, and so on. But in reality the orange that we see might not simply be the color orange. Because of the type of light under which we see the orange it might appear more yellow or redder or even more green than just orange.  Or the color of the orange might be affected by an apple setting next to it with some of the red of the apple being reflected on the surface of the orange. These color changes and subtleties caused by light and environment are called optical color (Lauer 251).  Knowledge of local color can certainly be of assistance to a designer, and knowledge of optical color can open up new and exciting possibilities.  Being able to discern subtle color changes on a surface and then translate those qualities into the color scheme of your work can be of considerable use in creating variety, emphasis and unity in a composition. Examples of optical color abound in the history of Western painting, with high points in the Baroque, Romantic, and Impressionistic periods.

Arbitrary color diverges from both local and optical color. Arbitrary color is subjective. This choice of color doesn’t follow optics or nature but usually the personal needs and desires of the artist. The source of the color choices might be emotional, symbolic, formal, traditional, or aesthetic.  The artist uses color apart from the associations that we may be familiar with in our observations. Many small-scale societies, such as the Australian Aborigines, used color for symbolic and expressive purposes defined by a traditional aesthetic that existed for thousands of years. In the late nineteenth century European artists such as Gauguin and Van Gogh began using arbitrary color for personal expression and opened the door for the divergent forms of expressionism that developed in the twentieth century with a profusion of arbitrary color. Color became a tool for pure expression rather than illusion.

 

COLOR AND COMPOSITION

 

Color  has many impacts on a composition that go beyond interactions and emotions. The first is that of the spatial effects of color. Warm, high-intensity colors such as yellow and orange appear larger than equal sized areas of cool, low-intensity colors such as some blues or violets. The brighter, lighter colors appear to “spread” and appear to be larger. This expansion of color not only affects the size of the color but also its placement, as warm colors appear to advance toward the viewer in space while cool colors appear to recede.  These spatial tendencies may be enhanced or diminished by other spatial devices the artist employs in the composition.  Interior designers can use cooler colors to make a small room appear larger, or high ceiling can appear lower with the use of warm colors. In landscape painting cool colors can be used to enhance the aerial perspective and give a greater sense of depth (Zelanski & Fisher I, 37-8). Hans Hoffman was a non-objective painter whose canvases were often a powerful interplay of color and space. His rectangles and blocks of color would recede and advance in a dance of shape, space, and color. While color often dominates our visual experience in a composition, many times the value properties of the color are also major factors in enhancing color’s spatial effects.

Color can also play a large role in creating a sense of balance in a composition. Generally high-intensity colors carry more visual weight than low-intensity colors. A small area of bright red can balance a large area of blue-gray. Color can also be used as a factor balancing other elements within a composition, especially value. A composition that has a heavy use of dark values on one side may be balanced on the other side with an area of intense color.

Color also has the power to create either dramatic or subtle areas of emphasis within a composition. In a work dominated by low-intensity color or by achromatic areas, a splash of a pure hue immediately grabs the viewer’s attention. This device is used a great deal in advertising design. Color emphasis doesn’t always have to be loud and obvious. It can also be subtle and quiet with accents of color creating rhythms and visual movement in a composition.

The dominant principles of design, unity and variety, are often structured into a composition through the use of color. Color used to create repetition and similarity can weave unity through the work; and conversely, through contrast of hue and value, color can give the composition the variety needed for interest and emphasis.

COLOR PALETTES

 

When using the phrase “color palette,” we are not referring to a surface for mixing colors, rather we are speaking of a favorite set of colors used by an artist, designer, group, or even period of art. The following are some common color palettes:

 

1. Basic Palette – a palette generally consisting of the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue; and the  secondary colors: green, violet, and orange; with the  addition of white and black.

 

2. Earth Palette – a palette consisting of only earth pigments. These are colors that come from the earth:  sienna, ochre, umber, black and white. A strict  earth palette has no blue, although occasionally an ultramarine blue is added.

 

3. Basic Palette Plus Earth Colors – a palette combining the colors of the basic palette with some or all the earth colors.

 

4. Monochromatic Palette – one pigment plus white and    black, allowing an infinite range of tints, tones,  shades and grays.

 

5. Warm Palette – a palette consisting of colors that would be categorized as warm – reds, oranges, yellows

 

6. Cool Palette – a palette consisting of colors that would be categorized as cool – blues, greens, and  violets.

 

7. Extended Palette – a palette allowing any number of    colors that the artist might choose, usually far  exceeding the basic palette and based on personal  preferences.

 

8. Limited Palette – a palette restricted to a very small number of colors, many times only two or three colors; such as cadmium orange and thalo blue, or  cadmium yellow, acra crimson, and black. This is also a  kind of personal palette selected for personal  expressive purposes. (Myers 318)

 

Many artists and designers adopt various palettes to fit their immediate needs and projects. Other artists come to develop very specific palettes that are identifiable as “theirs.” Most artists’ palettes evolve as their styles evolve, slowly modifying as they make transitions in their work but usually with some cohesion that remains a unifying thread.

 

COLOR SUMMARY

 

The uses of color are limitless. The following are a few: color has the power to get the viewers attention; color can evoke emotional responses in the viewer; color can communicate cultural information; color can help organize visual information in ways the brain can better group and understand; color can guide the viewer to certain points and places in a composition; color can create illusions of depth; color an either emphasis or camouflage items; color can be a vehicle for personal expression; color can be tool to create illusions of  reality or non-reality; and color can enhance the value of items.

Color is an integral part of our lives in both the natural and man-made aspects of the world. Nature designs complex uses of color into the many levels of organic and inorganic systems. Human beings, as part of nature’s design, continue to use color for their needs and enjoyment.

 

COLOR AND THE “BIG PICTURE”

 

Color is such an important part of  our visual experience that it permeates all areas of our lives. I find it fascinating that it is also an important part of other creatures’ lives as well, such as the insects mentioned earlier. The relationship between insects and flowers has long been an interest of scientists and poets. The colorful petals of the flower encompass its reproductive organs like the circles of a bulls-eye, beckoning insects to partake in its nectar and pollinate the plant in the process. Research has confirmed the obvious — that insects can see color. Bees have color vision that can see into the ultra-violet range but cannot see the red wavelengths that we can see (Barth 88). This raises the interesting question of what a bee sees when it looks at a meadow of flowers eliminating the reds and adding the ultra-violet; undoubtedly quite a different view than we see. Another question is how all those red flowers become pollinated. A partial answer is that there are plenty of birds with red vision and there are some red-vision insects as well (Barth 113).

The rainbow, the essence of light and color, can be studied using the analytical segmentation of physics, but it can also be looked at in a more poetic context. In the book of Genesis, after the flood, God placed the rainbow in the sky stretching between heaven and earth saying: “This is a token of the covenant which I make between me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations” Gen. 12-14 (Hope and Walsh 40).

An aspect of color in the big picture that can be one of pride or shame is the color of people — race.  White, black, brown, yellow, and red are often the colors that people are categorized into. To the observant eye this is very poor color classification. White people are very rarely white; they are pink, tan, variations of ivory and low intensity, light-valued hues, but they are rarely white. The same applies to black; while there are a few people in this category that have very dark valued skin, most people called black fit within a tremendous variety of browns with rich subtle variations and color qualities. Probably the most inaccurate of all the color labels is “red” to designate Native Americans, but it seems in keeping with Columbus’ mistakenly labeling them Indians and then Europeans extending the mistaken label to all the indigenous peoples of two continents. Variations in skin color are real but there are hundreds of subtle color and value qualities ultimately caused by the adaptation of people of varying regions of the world to their climates. The basis of light skin is unpigmented skin cells; dark skin is a result of melanin in the skin cells stimulated by exposure to ultraviolet light; reddish skin results from blood vessels being more visible under and in the skin; and yellowish skin is caused by a slightly thicker skin that masks the red blood vessels (Hope and Walsh 258). These differences in skin color have been the basis for thousands of years of massive and vicious racial separation, subjugation, slavery, and genocide.

I feel one of the strangest social rituals in our current society is the widespread practice of tanning, which has its largest following in young European Americans (“whites”). Consciously risking skin cancer, these people attempt to darken their skin colors — some to extreme levels. The obvious reason is fashion and the belief that it increases their sexual appeal. The result: an apparent attempt to simulate the skin color of those people in our society who are discriminated against because of the darker color of their skin.

 

 

 

PROJECT #16: COLOR SCHEMES

 

materials: acrylic paint set, brushes, water container, palette, palette knife, pencil,  ruler, black marker, illustration board 10″ X  30.”

 

objective: To apply six different color schemes to the same subject and develop them with a consistent intensity theme.

 

procedure:

1. Lightly pencil a 1″ boarder on the illustration board.

 

2. Draw a long vertical section of the still-life set up in class with light contour line. Let the image run off  the space and suggest considerable implied space.

 

3. Divide the long drawing into six 4 1/4″ X 8″ rectangles with 1/2″ between. Erase all the drawing that is in the 1/2″ divider spaces.

 

4. Develop the top box in an achromatic color scheme; the second box in a monochromatic color scheme; the third box, analogous; the fourth, triad; the fifth, complementary; the sixth, polychrome.

 

5. You need not attempt to create an illusion of volume or texture (though you may if you wish). The areas created  by the contour line may be painted in flat color.

 

6. Each color scheme should have a wide range in value.

 

7. All color schemes should have an overall consistent intensity level. All should have a high, medium, or low  intensity color use.

 

8. If needed you may paint your borders gray or white.

 

9. Label each color scheme appropriately. In the bottom lower border label the project Color Schemes and your name.

 

 

PROJECT #17: EXPRESSIVE COLOR

 

materials: Same as project #16, except two pieces of illustration board 10″ X 12.”

 

objective: To develop a study of a black and white photograph twice, with expressive color qualities as  opposite as possible.

 

procedure:

1. Go to the library and research in photography books and magazines until you find an interesting black and white photograph by one of the following artists that you would enjoy using for this project: Brett Weston, Edward Weston, Dorthea Lange, Edward Steichen, Robert Mapplethorpe (no S&M), Charles Sheeler, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Henri Carier-Bresson, Lee Friedlander, Bill Brandt, Imogen Cunningham, Alfred Stieglitz, Margaret Bourke-White, Aaron Siskind, Andre Kertesz, Walker Evans, Edward Curtis, Nadar, Arnold Newman, Alfred Eisenstadt, Paul Strand, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, or Irving Penn. The image you decide to work form should be a least 8” X 10.”

 

2. Put a 1″ border on both 10″ by 12″ boards.

 

3. With tracing paper, trace an 8″ X 10″ section of the photograph. Trace all contour lines.

 

4. With pencil carbon technique (rub graphite on the back of the tracing paper) transfer the line drawing to both  the illustration boards.

 

5. Develop the two paintings using expressive colors that  are as contrasting as possible. Remember that while color has inherent expressive associations, value and intensity are equally powerful tools to work with.

 

6. If needed you may paint the borders gray or white.

 

7. Label both boards in the lower front border Expressive Color – A Study after a B/W photo by (whoever did your study from) and  your name.

 

 

PROJECT #18: COLOR INTERACTION

 

materials: Color-aid paper (provided), rubber cement, scissors, exacto knife, ruler, tagboard 8″ X  16.”

 

objective: Using color-aid paper to construct three-color interaction examples. The first will make three  colors appear as four, the second will make  three colors appear as two, and the final  will make four colors appear as three.

 

procedure:

1.Put a 1″ border on the tag board. Divide the inside space into three

4″ X 6″ rectangles with 1″ between.

 

2. Spread out the color-aid paper you have chosen and analyze it in terms of color interaction.  What colors  do you have that might affect others? Test your ideas. Work on one exercise at a time, keeping color  properties in mind. How is color change being affected by hue, value and intensity? What are the color properties of each of your colors?

 

3. In each of the three rectangles glue down two    background colors (3″ X 4″ each). On top of these  backgrounds glue a small color shape (3/4″ X 1″ each)  that achieves the desired color changes.  Also glue a  piece of the same top color on the white tag board so  we can see its actual color (on the third example glue  small squares of each of the top colors on the white  tag board).

 

4. Label the project on the front lower border Color    Interaction and your name. Label each exercise, as  well, 3 colors as 4, 3 colors as 2, 4 colors as 3.

 

 

PROJECT #19: LOCAL, OPTICAL, & ARBITRARY COLOR

 

materials: same as project #16, illustration board 12″ X 28.”

 

objective: to paint the same still life of fruit three different ways: first, with local color;  second, with optical color; and third, with  arbitrary color.

 

procedure:

1. Lay out the illustration board with three 8″ X 10″ rectangles, each  with 1″ borders.

 

2. In the top rectangle, do a contour line drawing of the class still life. Then trace the drawing and transfer it to the other two rectangles.

 

3. Develop the top rectangle with local color. Paint the shapes of the fruit and the background in the colors that you know them to be. Paint them in the flat local color.

 

4. Develop the second rectangle with optical color. Look very carefully at each object for reflected color and light effects on the surfaces. Exaggerate these optical  effects with your paint.

 

5. Develop the final rectangle with arbitrary color. Choose your colors for the shapes and background based  on personal expression rather than natural or optical  qualities — be a wild as you wish with the color but  maintain the original shapes.

 

6. You may paint your borders gray or white if needed.

 

7. On the back or lower border label the project Local, Optical, and Arbitrary Color and your name.

 

 

PROJECT 20: COLOR REPORT

 

materials: basic writing materials.

 

objective: to apply the color concepts of this chapter to a 19th or 20th century  painter of your choice.

 

procedure:

1. Write a report on an internationally recognized 19th or 20th century painter, one whom you admire. It should  be an artist who uses a great deal of color in his or her work. You should be able to find an abundance of high quality book reproductions of the artist’s work (not prints from the Internet).

 

2. Divide the report into six sections, one for each of the categories: Color schemes, psychological and  expressive color, color interaction, local-optical-  arbitrary color, color and composition, and color palettes.  Each section should explain  in detail how the artist’s work relates to the  concepts. Some of these concepts may relate very  closely to the artist of your choice; other concepts  may not have a great deal to do with the artist’s work.  Choose an artist whose work exemplifies most of the  concepts in the chapter. Some of the report may be  based on library research but most of the report will  be your own personal analysis.  Most of the concepts  are not going to be obviously explained in information  that has been written about the artist.  You are going  to have apply your understanding of the concept to the  artist’s work and formulate your own opinion. In  writing about the artist’s work you may generalize  about the entire body of the artist’s work, analyze a  period of the artist’s work, discuss specific works, or  do some of all of the above.

 

4. All areas of the report using written sources (books and magazines) must acknowledge those sources using footnoting or the Works Cited procedure (as used in this text). This citing includes all direct quotes and all information that you summarize from other sources.

 

5. One color photocopy of the artist’s work must be included with the report as a supportive visual. It should be a work you discuss in the report.  The report is to be word processed in 12 point Times New Roman font and put in a clear plastic folder with a title page that includes the project title, your artist’s name, and your name.

 

6. The report will be evaluated on how well you cover each of the color concepts in relation to your artist, writing skills, format & presentation, and source acknowledgement.

PROJECT #21: STYLISTIC USE OF COLOR

 

materials: same as project #16, but with 20” X 24″ hardboard (furnished by materials fee)

 

objective: to create a still-life in the style of the 19th or 20th century  painter you have chosen to write  your color report on.

 

procedure:

1. Carefully review the color concepts of the chapter and how you applied them to the painter of your report.  Decide how you could this artist application of color to interpret the still life set up in class. You may improvise  on the still life to make it work within the style of your  artist (cubist, surreal, impressionist, romantic, expressionist, etc.) Your end product must still be recognizable as the still life from class.

 

2. Prepare and prime the hardboard as demonstrated in class, then sketch the composition with pencil and execute the painting with acrylics. All the surface area must be painted.

 

3. Be very careful to use your hues, intensities, and values as your artist would – refer to you copy of the report. Try to emulate the painting style of your artist to the best of your current abilities.

 

4. With acrylic, label on the front of the painting In the Style of    ___________________(your artist’s name) and your name.

 

 

Design: the parts and the whole — chapter 14 – proportion and scale

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

PROPORTION & SCALE

 

Proportion and scale both refer to size; large, small, and everything in between. As with so many design terms these words are used in a variety of ways. To create some distinction, I prefer to use proportion to refer to size relation within a composition, and scale to refer to size in comparison to a constant, often the human body (Bevlin 148).

 

SCALE

 

The scale of a work of art itself is of major importance. For our comparison of what is large and what is small we could use almost anything. Everything could be compared to a dandelion flower; its of quite a constant size, so everything could be gauged in scale from that. But we actually gauge most of our scale comparisons to the human body. This can make scale quite a personal principle, as scale to a person 4′ 10″ tall and weighing 98 pounds will be quite different from a person 6′ 10″ and weighing 300 pounds.

When dealing with the actual scale of art, textbook illustration and projected slides are a very inadequate way to understand scale. Nearly always you are seeing an altered sense of scale. To see the Paleolithic stone carving, Woman of Willendorf, 4 1/2″ tall, projected across the lecture hall to a seven-foot height is a tremendous distortion. Likewise to see the great pyramids of Egypt in a three-inch photograph can in no way convey the awesome scale of the masses. The scale difference doesn’t have to be this dramatic to still be very important. I can remember the shock of my first museum viewing of a large painting by Caravaggio after having seen textbook reproductions and slide images of the same work.  The power of the larger-than-life figures could in no way be conveyed in reproductions.

Many small-scale works of art have a personal quality. They are meant to be viewed by a single person at a time, establishing a one-to-one relationship with the art and therefore the artist. Such works can create an intimate experience. Most of the works of Paul Klee have this quality. Often less than twelve inches wide, they are like jewels that invite you to study and enjoy them as a personal encounter. Other small-scale works overwhelm the viewer with the detail and skill involved in the execution on a small scale. Persian and Indian miniatures are fine examples with their luxuriant color, detail, precision and patterns. The viewer marvels at the tremendous control of brush and paint to create the smallest feature. Small-scale three-dimensional works can be very intriguing, again, many times due to the craftsmanship. In the 1970’s American Charles Simonds created sculpture that was often found on the streets of New York City’s ghettos. He would create tiny masonry dwellings, some crumbling, in the actual crumbling brick walls along street and alleys. These fragments of diminutive deteriorating culture set into an actually deteriorating community were extremely thought provoking works.

Large-scale art is often very attention demanding and rarely has the intimate quality that small-scale works can evoke. A large scale can overpower viewers, making them feel small. This effect has been utilized for millennia by religion and government. The tremendous Gothic cathedrals of the middle ages had the scale to overpower and uplift at the same time. Michelangelo’s great painting, Last Judgment, 44′ X 48,’ was said to have sent the church hierarchy trembling to their knees when it was unveiled. The architecture on Capital Hill in Washington DC exudes importance and power through repeated enormous scale.

A contemporary artist who works on a scale that would be admired by the ancient Egyptians is Hungarian-born, Christo. In his temporary projects he has wrapped buildings, put a curtain across a valley, built a nylon fence 18′ tall and 24 1/2 miles long, and surrounded eleven islands with 6 1/2 million square feet of pink plastic skirts. On the surface these sound like absurd exercises in scale, but, in fact, they are usually fascinating projects in terms of people, process and product. To fully appreciate the work requires a study of the documentation, preferably the films that have been made to show the entire process of his major undertakings.

The scale that a work is to be produced in is a serious consideration for a designer. Sometimes the scale is dictated by the purpose of the design. In most cases a chair is going to be made in a scale that is proportional to the human figure. At other times scale might be determined by budget. Working at large scale is expensive in nearly all media. Even considerations like storage and transportation enter into scale considerations. Does the artist have space to store large-scale works? Can the artist transport or afford to hire transportation for large-scale work? Ideally the artist should be able to make scale decisions on the aesthetic and expressive criteria of what will best suit the needs of the concept. Unfortunately, fiscal reality doesn’t always permit this.

 

PROPORTION

 

It is human size that we compare other objects in our environment to, and the human body is a common consideration in proportion, the size differences within a composition.  Beginning drawing students soon realize that the body has certain basic proportions that must be mastered if the figures being drawn are to give an illusion of reality.  The trick is to get the proportion correct, the head the right size compared to the shoulders, the shoulders to the arms, the arms to the chest, the chest to the hips, the hips to the legs, the legs to the feet, and so on. As students mature in their skill, they realize that it is differences in proportion that make us individuals: a bigger nose, a shorter distance between the eyes, a higher forehead, narrower shoulders, broader hips, longer legs, bigger feet. Differences in proportion make us the physically unique creatures we are.

Proportion was a primary concern to a culture that had a major impact on the evolution of Western art: the classical Greeks. Their concern for proportion was expressed in what is called the golden mean. Aristotle explained the concept philosophically as the virtue that is the median between two vices, a concept with striking similarity to the Confucian “middle path” that was evolving at about the same time on the other side of the world.  Mathematically the Greeks called the concept the golden section, which could be expressed in the formula a:b = b:(a+b). (Bevlin 148).

This mathematical ratio was used in the floor plan for the most famous of Greek temples, the Parthenon. The golden section was just the beginning of the architects’ incredible planning in an attempt to create perfect proportions – perfect size relations within the structure. To achieve visual perfection the architects made a series of remarkable optical refinements in the construction. Some of these are: the temple platform is gently curved down from the center, the columns all slope inward, the columns bulge outward slightly two-fifths the way up the shaft, the entablature slants slightly inward, the columns appear to be regularly placed but the three at each corner are closer than the rest, and the center columns of the front and back are wider apart than those down the sides (Honour & Fleming 109). These remarkable physical variations in the structure were calculated to make the Parthenon appear perfectly proportioned and thus to compensate for our optical distortions. This immaculate attention to visual perception rather than simply mathematical formulas show the sensitivity and awareness of the Greek designers.

Another long-used device for establishing proportion in a composition is the grid. A grid is a system that divides a space using horizontal and vertical compartments. Usually this division is of equal spaces. The equal division of space gives the designer a standard by which to compare sizes and placement. Standardized grid sheets (or video grids) for layout are used by all commercial publications. This gives a controlled format the designer can plan in and around. Fine artists have also found many uses for the grid. In addition to structuring compositions, grids have been used for centuries to enlarge artwork. As an example, a preliminary drawing may have a one-inch grid drawn on it. If the artist wants to enlarge that drawing to a wall mural she/he can draw a one-foot grid on the wall and easily transfer the drawing maintaining the same proportion that is in the preliminary drawing. This would be a 1:12 ratio but the artist can create whatever ratio is needed to achieve the desired enlargement. Many contemporary artists have used grids as the basis of their work. Victor Vaserely, considered an Op (optical) artist, uses grids extensively in his work, commonly distorting the grids to create unusual optical effects.

Proportion and scale, when used to create harmonious size relations in a composition, can be considered design principles of unity; they help tie the work together. Proportion and scale can also be principles of variety if the designer decides to create conflicts of size within the work. A master at proportion and scale conflict was Belgian artist Rene Magritte. He created illusions of tremendously perplexing size relationships. Sometimes this confusion would be created in very simple ways – an apple would fill an entire room interior, a comb would be as large as a bed, a glass would be six feet tall, a bar of soap would be as large a wheelbarrow. Through his illusion of scale confusion Magritte makes us look at objects in entirely new ways.

Historically, artists have created scale distortions for very different reasons. In ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia their proud depiction of conquest, carnage, and pillage often show their rulers at least double the size of all other humans depicted. This use of scale to show importance was carried into the Christian tradition with many depiction of Christ and the Virgin during the Middle Ages, showing them as physically much larger than other people in the same composition.

 

PROPORTION AND SCALE IN THE BIG PICTURE

The concepts of big and small have probably always fascinated people. Literature is full of examples. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels has a super giant among a tiny population. Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland has Alice bouncing all around in scale, from normal to huge, to tiny, and back to normal. An interesting aspect of both these novels is that most people see them as children’s books, while the authors used scale in both as a tool for social commentary intended for adults.

In the 20th century, film has repeatedly used scale distortion to make points or simply amuse people. King Kong, The Incredible Voyage, and Honey, I Shrunk (and Blew Up) the Kids, and Jurassic Park (I-XX)are just a few films indicative of how fascinated people are with scale changes, especially when closely related to human scale.

Big and small are common factors in value judgments. A simplistic view is that bigger is better – bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger boats, bigger vacations, bigger TV’s, bigger stereos. Much of the “American Dream” has been based on the premise if something is larger, it is more satisfying and prestigious. Following this thinking we have ended up with big business, big government, big medicine, big insurance, big pollution, big garbage, and big problems. In 1973 German-British economist E. F. Schumacher wrote a book titled Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. One of Schumacher’s main points is that the scale of the economy has gotten out of hand and no longer relates to individual human scale. He encourages human scale technology that enables people globally to better their standard of living without destroying their environments. He advocates a decentralization to smaller units of economic activity that relate directly to people in local situations where individuals can be a meaningful part of the decision-making process. Schumacher’s philosophy of promoting the small scale as desirable is a difficult task after a centuries of the bigger-is-better attitude. But it is possible that a return to human scale is necessary to create a more equitable and sustainable state of human existence.

 

 

 

 

Project 13: Design Principles Book

 

Materials: 8” X 50” piece of white Stonehenge paper, two pieces of cover paper, two pieces of cover liner paper (these papers will be supplied), OPTIONS: graphite, black paper, magazine clippings, acrylic paint, brush & black ink (you may use as many different media as you like)

 

Objective: – to finely craft an accordian book with six useable pages

  1. to create six compositions using the same 6 to 8 shapes on each page. The shapes may be natural, idealized, abstract, geometric, non-objective, or a combination. The shapes may be created with any of the media mentioned above, but must be exactly the same size in each composition (use templates or tracings to maintain consistency). The shapes may touch each other and the edge of the composition but may not overlap in any circumstance. Use a ¾” border on all six compositions
  2. in your six compositions you must clearly and creatively illustrate the following design concepts:
    1. unity (extreme)
    2. variety (chaos)
    3. balance of unity and variety ( middle path)
    4. symmetrical composition
    5. asymmetrical composition
    6. emphasis by color
    7. emphasis by value
    8. emphasis by illusionary texture
    9. rhythmic movement
  3. secondary objectives encompass our semester of study: strong line quality and pattern where relevant, interesting positive and negative space throughout, strong value range, use of some Gestalt concepts, use of types of shape, interesting color mixing & use

 

Procedure:

  1. fold the 8” X 50” Stonehenge paper as demonstrated in class to form the eight paged book (two pages used for front & back cover)
  2. do a series of thumbnail sketches of your six compositions – plan how each of the design principles will be clearly illustrated in the compositions. One composition may show multiple concepts (i.e. symmetrical may also be extreme unity, etc.) – may be horizontal or vertical format – stay consistent throughout. Lightly line out a 3/4 “ border on all six compositions.
  3. begin your designs in any order you wish – you might plan a sequence that would work well when you page through the book. Cover the unused paper and completed designs as you work on compositions (care must be taken to keep the work clean and well crafted).
  4. when you have completed all six designs and are sure you have successfully and creatively illustrated all the concepts produce your finished front and back covers as demonstrated in class. Take your time and be careful.
  5. label the front cover with Design Principles Book and your name. You may create a computer generated label you can glue onto the cover (use heavy paper), paint the labeling on the cover, or ransom-note collage the label. You may also create an image that relates to your book for the cover and omit the label.
  6. create a typed list of how the principle concepts relate to each of your designs – make a list for each design 1-6. (put your name and project title at the top)

 

Design: the parts and the whole — chapter 13 – emphasis and rhythm

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

EMPHASIS & RHYTHM

EMPHASIS

While balance is usually a unifying principle of design, emphasis is a principle of variety. Emphasis is an attempt to draw the viewer to a specific place or places in a composition. Areas of emphasis are often called focal points.

In most design situations the artist wants to bring the viewer’s attention to certain areas in the composition.  The primary way to create this emphasis is by contrast. The artist pulls the viewer to the desired section by making that section different from the surrounding area. This can be done in a composition that is predominantly gray by making the focal points black or white – using, that is, the contrast of value. Value is a very common contrast used to create areas of emphasis but there are many others. The following are a few: bright to dull, warm to cool, complement to analogous, color to achromatic, hard edge to soft edge, detail to plain, fuzzy to sharp, smooth to rough, solid to fragmented, organic to inorganic, random to organized, singular to plural, horizontal to vertical, convex to concave, and so on (Myers 105). It is important to remember that it is not simply dominance that creates an area of emphasis, it is uniqueness – the difference that the focal point has to all that is going on around it. In a large rough surface it is a smooth area that will catch the viewer’s eye; in a field of geometric shapes it is the organic shape that will capture the attention. The ability of contrast and uniqueness to catch the eye plays a very important role in advertising design, where the objective goes beyond simply creating a focal point within a composition. The designer must also make the ad itself the focal point among many other ads competing for the viewer’s attention. This is true whether the ad is placed in a newspaper or a magazine or in a cluster of thirty-second or fifteen-second spots on television.  Uniqueness and contrast are what makes an ad stand out and capture the audience’s attention even if sandwiched in with the barrage of advertising that constantly bombard us.

Countless artists work with contrast to create areas of interest, one of my favorites is Rembrandt.  He used classic light-dark contrast to draw the viewer to and almost into the work. His shapes and colors are often composed with the value to pull the viewer through the composition very directly but still not harshly – a gentle but clear guidance to the heart of the work.

Another way to create areas of emphasis is through placement. If a shape or color is isolated, it attracts attention. An isolated single apple will catch your eyes before a cluster of apples in the same composition. Another way to use placement to gain attention is through the use of diagonals. Diagonal movement through lines and shapes can direct the viewer’s eyes to places that become areas of emphasis. A famous example of this is found in Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. The one-point perspective in the room interior creates diagonal lines that would meet if projected directly at Christ’s head. The diagonal lines pull your eyes to that point. But Leonardo doesn’t stop there, he also creates the strongest value contrast in the composition with Christ’s head against the light sky in the window behind him. And to further clinch the focal point he isolates Christ in the center of the composition by clustering the disciples in groups of three on either side of Christ with the disciples all forming curving twisting shapes in contrast to the central, solid, triangular shape of Christ. All this sounds a bit heavy-handed but the results certainly are not. The carefully structured composition creates a scene of great stability and reverence.

There may be times when the designer does not wish to create obvious areas of emphasis, letting the viewer roam through the composition. This can be effective but it can also be dangerous in that what might seem intriguingly open-ended to some will seem chaotic or boring to others who need more guidance.

There might be times when no focal points are part of the design requirements as in the case of fabric or wallpaper design. Or it can be that the lack of focal points is part of the conceptual basis of the work, as in the case of some of Andy Warhol’s work of the 1960’s. Warhol (or rather Warhol’s factory) created pieces in which one canvas displayed one hundred soup cans or hundreds of dollar bills, dozens of the same image of Marilyn Monroe or an electric chair. These compositions had no definite focal point, just the same image produced over and over.  The work served as an expression of the mass consumer society where soup cans, Hollywood stars, or executions were all part of the consumption cycle, to be used in quantity.

The repetition of Warhol’s consumer goods brings us to our next principle of design.

RHYTHM

Here we return firmly to a unifying principle of design.  Rhythm can tie a composition together. Rhythm is repetition in a composition, most commonly repetition of shape or line. Rhythm can be very obvious as in the case of a pattern, or very subtle, almost invisible, as in the common Renaissance use of triangular grouping of figures.

Rhythms are sometimes created by the process of production.  Brushstrokes, chisel marks, stitches, fiber in weaving, lines in hatching, all are part of the process that form rhythms that the designer may enhance or hide.

Rhythms within a composition can be very reassuring to the viewer. The predictability of rhythm often produces a soothing effect, like the waves on the ocean or the gentle wind-formed dunes on the desert. But also like the waves of the ocean, rhythms can be harsh and disturbing. They can be jagged, even threatening, depending on how the designer uses them.  Another kind of rhythm can be found in the religious texts illuminated by the Irish monks of the eighth century C.E. (Common Era). They created elaborate rhythmic designs that interlaced with mind-boggling intricacy. The power of the illuminations was not just detail and skill but also how well the complexity, control and beauty reflected their reverence of the Gospels. Just as rhythmic and complex as the Irish illuminations are Jackson Pollack’s abstract expressionist paintings of the 1950’s.  But in these works the expressive impact is not control, clarity, and detail, but a wild abandon of emotion and frustration. But even in this expressive explosion of rhythms there is planning and structure.

EMPHASIS AND RHYTHM AND THE BIG PICTURE

Emphasis in nature is an interesting occurrence. It happens by chance, by natural process, often with stunning visual results: the single tree on a vast prairie landscape, the red bird in the green foliage, the black sheep in a herd of white sheep. These natural points of emphasis can leave lasting impressions.

Rhythm permeates nature. It forms the soul of natural structure. Growth patterns and cycles are rhythms. Blades of grass, trunks of trees, clouds, mountains, hills; all repeat their rhythms to form a natural harmony.

We are creatures of both natural and unnatural rhythms. The beat of our hearts, the pattern of our respiration indicate we are alive.  We search for and impose structures of rhythm to try to measure and predict nature. The calendar, our timepieces, and our personal schedules are all attempts to put our lives in a kind of rhythm. Our search for rhythm is a connection with the rhythm of nature. The more connected we are to the actual flow of nature’s rhythms, the more comfortable we feel. The farther we get from a rhythmic connection to life, the more estranged both physically and mentally we are from a natural harmony with life.

Design: the parts and the whole — chapter 12 – balance

CHAPTER TWELVE

BALANCE

 

In most cases balance in design is an expression of unity. Balance, a comfortable distribution of visual components, is an attempt to imitate the natural balance of which we are part.

We are physically capable of balance and that enables us to walk erect. We search for equilibrium.  We are a balanced mass.  Our mind looks for balance in a composition. It searches for a match with what it is used to seeing in everyday experience. If the mind doesn’t find an approximate match in its memory, it can have a disturbing experience.

The balance in a work of art is, as we should expect by now, a balance of the visual elements.

 

 

BALANCE OF LINE, SHAPE, AND SPACE

The balance of these elements can usually be placed in two large categories: symmetrical or formal balance and asymmetrical or informal balance. Each of these main categories has subdivisions.

Symmetrical or formal balance is a composition in which a line can be drawn down the middle and the two sides will be the same. If the two sides are mirror images of one another the balance can be called bilateral. If the two sides are very similar but have some differences in size or placement, the balance can be called near symmetry. Bilateral symmetry is often associated with architecture. Greek temples, Gothic churches, and many government buildings are symmetrical in design. The bilateral qualities of these structures evoke a sense of stability and predictability that the designers and their clients want to reflect on the institutions that the structures house.

Symmetry has long been associated with religious art on many levels. Religious architecture, sculpture, painting, mosaics, and stained glass all are commonly symmetrical in balance. This tendency transcends cultures as well – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, all use formal balance in some aspects of their artistic expression. The stability, permanence, seriousness, and comfort that symmetry can suggest fits very well with what religion wants to communicate to its followers.

Radial balance occurs when all elements radiate or circle out from the center of the composition. It can be considered a form of symmetrical balance as if divided in half, the two sides are the same. Radial balance has the quality of creating a central focal point and drawing the viewer to the center. This type of structure is commonly found in nature – flowers, shell structures, snowflakes, and crystal formations are all radial. It is also found in architecture, being the basis of the dome; and in engineering as well with wheels being classical radial balance.

One more variation on symmetrical balance is called crystallographic balance, which is an elaborate way of saying all-over pattern. In this type of balance the distribution of the elements is in a consistent repetition, creating a pattern. Usually there is no focal point, only a continued flow across the surface. This is a common balance for fabric design and wallpaper patterns, which do not want areas of emphasis (Lauer 77).

Asymmetrical or informal balance is an off-center balance of the elements in a composition. The major elements may be balanced in any irregular placement the artist wishes to achieve the desired results. Many times this is still a very structured and careful balance even though the shapes are different on both sides of the composition, the visual weight is still relatively equally distributed throughout. But this does not have to be the case. Asymmetrical balance can be quite startling and appear to some viewers as off-balance. This kind of balance can be called radical asymmetry. Classic examples of this use of shape and space can be found in some Chinese and Japanese sumi-e (black ink) painting. There is a tradition in Oriental painting of respect for and ample use of the void. Empty space is very important to the artist, in some cases more important than the space that is filled. A large piece of paper may have only a few bamboo branches protruding from one side and a small calligraphic poem over it. The rest of the paper is left open and this open space is the most important part of the painting – the importance of the void, the quiet, contemplation, the importance of what is not said or shown. This respect for negative space and use of radical asymmetry had an influence on some artists of the 20th century. The fine work of American realist Andrew Wyeth shows many examples of this influence along with its natural companion – implied space. A very different use of the same concepts can be seen in the work of Spanish abstract surrealist Joan Miro. His use of radical asymmetry created wonderful compositions of perplexing shapes and dancing lines, many times in voids of intense color.

Asymmetrical or informal balance is the balance most often found in nature. In a scenic view the visual elements are most often in asymmetrical placements with off-center but equally distributed visual arrangements. The term “informal” itself suggests a more natural, relaxed balance.

 

BALANCE OF VALUE, COLOR, AND TEXTURE

 

Values, colors, and textures are often closely tied to the shape and space of a composition, and they often work with the balance created by shape. But value, color, and texture can be powerful balancing elements either by themselves or tied to other elements. They can dramatically or subtly affect the overall visual weight in the composition.

The balance of value is the balance between light and dark. Normally dark values have more visual weight than light values. A large area of light gray can be balanced by a small area of black.

The balance of color can also be primarily a balancing of light and dark with the dark values carrying more weight. In the area of color-intensity balancing, brighter colors usually have more visual weight than dull colors. A very common balance is of color temperature. Warm and cool colors are often used in compositions as balancing factors. Warm colors usually carry more visual weight than cool colors. This is seen in compositions where small areas of intense red, orange, or yellow balance large areas of lower intensity blues or greens.

The balance of texture pits smooth against rough, and as might be expected, rough has more visual weight than smooth. Men’s facial hair fashions are a case in point. A mustache creates a rough linear contrast to the smooth facial skin. Different sizes and shapes of mustaches can take on such visual weight that they come to dominate the entire face, even though the facial skin has considerably more surface area.

The design of gardens for European and Chinese aristocrats provides an interesting contrast in balance and cultural preferences. European formal gardens are highly symmetrical, usually bilateral. The bushes and trees of the balanced organizations are trimmed and molded to create geometric masses that are painstakingly cared for and shaped to make them fit into very unnatural configurations. The Chinese gardens are the opposite. Asymmetry is the overriding principle. Boulders, smaller rocks, pebbles, bushes, moss, flowers and trees are carefully put into asymmetrical balanced compositions that try to create a idealized imitation of natural arrangements with the random quality found in a pristine corner of nature. Plants are not manipulated to fit unnatural forms but are allowed to express their innate qualities, including dead leaves or branches. Rocks and boulders are composed to emulate mountain ranges or islands in the sea on a miniature scale.

This polar approach to garden design reflects a very different preference in balance and also a very different attitude toward nature. The Western formal garden’s tendency to bend, straighten, and manipulate nature is an expression of the attitude that nature is material waiting for our use or abuse. The Eastern reverence for nature as reflected in their gardens shows a respect and the long-held belief that humans are simply one facet of nature.

 

BALANCE AND THE BIG PICTURE

 

Balance of power, balance of trade, balance of payments, balance of ingredients, balance of benefits – we are constantly striving for balance. Many systems of ethics, morals, philosophy, and religion strive to establish a balance in our behavior. Confucianism is one such system that relies heavily on the principle of balance. Confucius was a Chinese teacher who lived in approximately the 5th century BC. Myth and ritual grew up around the teacher in later centuries, but his basic teachings formed the educational core required of every educated Chinese for thousands of years. At the center of Confucian teaching is the concept of the “Middle Path.” Moderation in both conduct and opinion is considered the hallmark of the truly educated person; extremes are always to be avoided. Good lies between two extremes – “To exceed is as bad as to not reach,” said Confucius.

Emotionally balanced or mentally unbalanced are ways of describing mental health. These expressions have always been fitting ways to describe outward demeanor, but now contemporary medicine has shown that the balance description is also an accurate physical description. Some mental illnesses are caused or partially caused  by chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances can sometimes be mediated by medication that may help to stimulate a better balance. The growing understanding of the chemistry and balances in the brain is one way that science shows the unity of the head and the body. The health of the two cannot be separated, as they are linked – it seems rather obvious. Wholistic medicine is the study of the balance and unity of the many systems of the body and its relationship to its surroundings.

The balance of the systems of nature has become an area of intense study and concern in recent decades. It has been recognized that human activity has reached the point where it is causing some major imbalances in natural systems that have always been assumed unalterable.  The industrialized nations’ massive energy consumption and the resulting emissions into the atmosphere have combined with the elimination of the tropical rain forests to cause atmospheric imbalances. These changes threaten the planet with global temperature changes that could cause catastrophic results worldwide. Combine this with toxic and nuclear waste problems, the depletion of topsoil, and the dwindling water tables, and you have some real balance problems. Many people around the world are becoming aware that each one of us is a part of the natural system and is dependent on it – we must work with the balance, not against it.  One of the most interesting theories about the balanced relationship of the world’s systems, elaborated by James Lovelock, is called the Gaia theory. Lovelock believes that the earth itself is a living entity, and all its systems are parts that form a whole, just as the systems of our bodies form each of us as a single living entity. This tantalizing theory has scientific merit and is being seriously considered by scientists and philosophers alike. An unnerving aspect of the theory is that the living entity of the earth really doesn’t need human beings. If we imbalance our environment so badly that it is no longer habitable for us, the earth will adapt and evolve systems without us!

 

 

 

Design: the parts and the whole — chapter 11 – unity and variety

CHAPTER ELEVEN

UNITY & VARIETY

 

This study of design up to this point has focused on the elements of design: the components that make up our visual experience. We shall now turn our attention to the principles of design: how these elements are organized in a composition. The study of the elements is the study of the parts; the study of the principles is the study of the whole. Most of the visual principles we have already touched on in our projects focused on the elements. The objective now will be to direct our attention to the principles.

The basic principles of design are unity, variety, balance, emphasis, rhythm, proportion, and scale. These principles are not simply art and design concepts but dominant ideas in many aspects of life. They are such underlying organizational components that we usually simply take them for granted. Medical doctors work with the balances that make our bodies function; the rhythms of our respiration, our blood circulation, our life cycle; they study the unity of good health and the abnormal variety of illness. Farmers decide on the proportion of crops they will plant; they work with the rhythms of nature in the planting, care, and harvesting of their crops; they carefully and sometimes vainly try to balance the cost of their production with the price of the products they produce. Taxi drivers work within the rhythms of traffic at various times of the day; they cope with the variety of passengers they pick up; they understand and work with or around the unity and variety of traffic laws.  Examples can be applied to all walks of life. These principles are ways of describing our experience. That the same principles are the basis for organizing visual art and design is only natural. After all, art and design is also a way of describing our experience; art is a reflection of, expression of, and a window on life.

Unity and variety are the two dominant principles of design. The other principles can be seen as sub-categories of these two primary forces. Unity and variety are inseparable principles. They are like light and dark, you cannot discern what is light unless you have something darker to contrast it to; or like good and bad, how can the individual know what is good unless there is bad to compare? Unity and variety exist in all visual experience and do so in an infinite number of mixtures of the two concepts. Unity is order, regularity, oneness, wholeness, synthesis, merger, joining.  Variety is contrast, diversity, difference , dissimilarity, nonconformity. They are opposites – polarities, but polarities that are joined like the two sides of the same coin.  The designer’s decision is how to wed the two ideas in a composition.  Both principles are necessary to make the design visually functional. Unity provides the order and structure necessary to make the composition acceptable to look at. But if the composition is overly unified, ordered, structured, or regular, it can be boring. Variety provides contrast and diversity, the irregularity needed to capture the viewer’s interest. But if the composition is a mass of variety, it can be a chaos incapable of communicating information.  The artist must take these two powerful principles and balance them to suit her/his needs. Sometimes a composition might be intentionally chaotic to make a point; at other times the design might be extremely unified to create a certain mood.  Most of the time the balance is somewhere between the extremes.

 

CREATING UNITY

 

Unity can be perceived as a dominant force in human activities as poetically expressed by Abraham Joshua Heschel:

 

The vision of the unbroken ray above the water, the craving for unity and coherence, is the predominant feature of a mature mind.  All science, all philosophy, all art are a  search after it.  But unity is a task, and  not a condition. The world lies in strife, in  discord, in divergence. Unity is beyond, not within reality. We all crave it. We are all  animated by a passionate will to endure; and  to endure means to be one. (102-3)

Many of the world’s religions have at their core a deep sense of unity and none more so than Buddhism. The contemporary Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, gives the following interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching on the interrelationship between all things:

 

Take, for example, this leaf in my hand. Earth, water, heat, seed, tree, clouds, sun, time, space – all these elements  have enabled this leaf to come to existence. If just one of  these elements was missing, the leaf could not exist. All  beings, organic and inorganic, rely on the law of dependent  co-arising.  The source of one thing is all things. Please consider this carefully. Don’t you see that this leaf I am now holding in my hand is only here thanks to the interpenetration of all the phenomena in the universe, including your own awareness? (169)

 

The depth of meaning that a spiritual understanding of unity can have to an individual comes from Tagore:

 

When a man’s life rescued from distractions finds its unity in the soul, then the consciousness of the infinite becomes at once direct and natural to it as the light is to the flame. All the conflicts and contradictions of life are reconciled; knowledge, love, and action harmonized; pleasure and pain become one in beauty, enjoyment and renunciation equal in goodness; the breach between the finite and the infinite fills with love …. While yet we have not attained the internal harmony and wholeness of our being, our life remains a life of habits, The world still appears to us as a machine, to be mastered where it is useful, to be guarded against where it is dangerous, and never to be known in its full fellowship with us, alike in its physical nature and its spiritual life and beauty. (Tagore, S, 43-44)

 

In creating unity within a composition the designer has a powerful ally in our basic perceptual tendencies. The mind wants to understand what it sees. It naturally tries to take the parts seen and make a whole that is comprehensible.  This tendency was studied in the shape chapter when looking at the Gestalt concepts of proximity, similarity, continuity, closure, equilibrium, assimilation, and irradiation. These are ways that the brain tries to create unity in a visual experience. Designers can use these concepts to their advantage.

A major unifying device in many works of art is repetition. One of the most basic ways to unify a composition is to repeat a shape, color, texture, or line. This repetition can be extreme, forming patterns; or very subtle, with the repetition being difficult to see without careful analysis. Unifying repetition is often expressed in the way the artist creates balance and/or rhythm in the composition. These two principles will be discussed in more detail in later chapters.

Harmony is a term often used in connection with unity, but harmony differs somewhat in that it usually means a pleasing relation of the elements. A unified relation of the elements doesn’t necessarily have to be pleasing.

 

CREATING VARIETY

 

 

The substance of variety is contrast – light to dark, bright to dull, warm to cool, rough to smooth, large to small, straight to curved, etc. Through variety the artist breaks the monotony that unity can create. Variety can be a quiet variation on a theme – the small change in shape, a step up or down the value scale, an analogous change in color. Or variety can be dramatic, a clashing break with unity – a complementary color, an alien shape, a total change in value.

 

BALANCING UNITY AND VARIETY

 

The designer must make the decision of where the balance between unity and variety will take place. This decision will be based on what the desired communication or expression is to be.

In the world of advertising design unity plays an important role. The designer needs to communicate the sales message clearly and quickly. The organization of the visual elements must be structured so the consumer easily understands and hopefully remembers the message. A demanding composition with a great deal of variety is usually not the way to do this – clutter is the enemy of the advertising designer.

In the fine arts the artist can take more liberties. If the artist wishes she/he can challenge the viewer with variety and complexity. The box assemblies of Joseph Cornell are wonderful examples of this. With marbles, glasses, pipes, magazine and book clippings and many other found objects, Cornell created compositions with a perplexing variety of shapes, materials and textures. But he organized these diverse elements with almost magical placement, value and color manipulation to assemble them into unquestionable wholes. Other fine artists strive for compositions that rely heavily on unity. Piet Mondrian sought to create order and stability in his grids of black and white with primary color accents. The purity, clarity and unity of his compositions he hoped would help to create the same qualities in European society after World War I.

Artists sometimes change the way they balance unity and variety. This is hard to see in the usually isolated examples of artist’s work seen in reproductions and museum collections. A dramatic example of change can be seen in the work of Frank Stella. In the 1960’s Stella was on the forefront of the minimalist-color field movement, creating large canvases of simple geometric shape with a near absolute unity in composition. In the 1970’s Stella made an about-face in terms of unity and variety. He maintained his non-objective subject but introduced a tremendous variety in shape , texture, and line. Huge arabesque shapes projected out from the wall with glitter and expressive patterns and lines covering their surfaces, creating jumbled reliefs.

The designer or artist can set a mood, a tension, a peacefulness, a chaos, depending on how unity and variety are balanced in a composition. It is important to remember that when average viewers look at a work, they automatically want to see a whole; they want enough unity that their minds can put the parts together to form an understandable unit.  Some artists might want to challenge this, others might want to work with it.

 

UNITY AND VARIETY AND THE BIG PICTURE

 

In many ways unity and variety are the big picture. Science, business, medicine, agriculture, religion, philosophy, politics, economics, literature, music, all have unity and variety as primary organizational principles.

In a novel the unity is woven into the plot through characters and themes, but the novel can become boring unless there are subplots, surprises, new characters or other devices to give variety to the story. Kurt Vonnegut is a master novelist when it comes to variety. He laces a multitude of subplots and fascinating information into the major plot of his story.  Sometimes you feel you have been lost in a subplot when he ingeniously brings you back to the main theme. Garrison Keillor, a great radio storyteller, has the same skill in his wonderfully rambling tales of Minnesota small town life.

In music the rhythm, melody and beat keep a sense of unity running through the composition. But in that unity is the need for variety, for contrast, variation, even dissonance. Modernism pushed both ends of unity and variety in music as it has in visual art.  Philip Glass is a modern composer that has been classified as a minimalist.  As with minimalist painters, minimalist composers use a small number of elements in tremendously unified compositions. Glass used very spare note combinations and repeated them to the point of nearly hypnotizing the listener. When he created even a small variation in the notes it became a major change to the listener as she/he had been so sensitized to the sound. At the other end of the modern spectrum of unity and variety in music is John Cage. Cage’s work was based on variety and many times chance variety. He prepared pianos by inserting a variety of materials in the piano strings; he composed works using chance systems; he produced a work of silence where the sound produced by the audience in the music hall was the music as they waited for something to happen.

If one accepts the “Big Bang” theory, the universe was created from chaos. There is now a new science developing called the science of chaos. This new area of study claims that chaos still plays a major role in the structure of the universe. Through much of the evolution of modern science it has been assumed that scientists would continue to uncover and understand the underlying unity and structure of the universe and all it contains. Most intellectuals believed that eventually all would be understood and explained in scientific data and formula; the ultimate unity of the system would be made clear. It was a process of reductionism, of studying the parts to finally understand the whole. The new science of chaos suggests that this might not be possible – that all phenomenon might not fit into categories of unity to be understood by examining parts. Chaos theorists view randomness, complexity, and variety in nature as demanding the study of the whole in order to gain an understanding of the universe. They seem to be suggesting that our life doesn’t consist of order or chaos, unity or variety. It consists of order and chaos, unity and variety.

The principles of unity and variety can also be helpful  in understanding the sometimes confusing and even absurd world of politics and economics. The 20th century was a dramatic duel of unity-order and variety-freedom in the economic arena. Theoretical communism claimed that an ordered society could be created in which all members would be equal. This would be accomplished through communal ownership of the means of production. The society would distribute the production to the people according to their needs and the people would contribute to the society according to their abilities. It would be a unified utopia. In Russia, China, Eastern Europe and other nations, the chaos of various wars and the repression of the majority of the population led to a variety of attempts at these ideals. Unfortunately, in all cases the structure of this order was imposed by an authoritarian elite rather than a democratic process. An order was imposed on the economy that controlled the production, cost, and distribution of goods; it controlled where people worked, where they lived, how much they earned, and even tried to control what they thought so they would fit better within the established order. The order failed first on the economic level, because the variables, the variety, within an economy are too complex and unpredictable for a central control. They also failed on a social level in that the people could not productively function with the lack of variety that the system imposed. Now nearly all these authoritarian socialist nations have collapsed. Some are plunged directly into capitalism, others tried easing their economies into a market system while expanding democratic freedoms to their citizens.

In the United States the dominant economic principle has not been unity but variety – freedom. Business has been free (for the  most part) to control the production, cost and distribution of goods.  The society has been structured on consumption and is dependent on a non-stop flow of supply and demand. This system has evolved to give some of us a huge variety of material goods and services. But the system is a basically an impersonal one. It doesn’t regard human factors other than a flow consumption for its own self-preservation. This leaves a considerable number of people out of the benefits living at poverty level or near poverty level, trying to crawl up the consumer ladder while being constantly prodded on by the steady stream of advertising stimulus. Some nations have tried different balances of order and freedom. Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Finland and New Zealand are nations that have tried blends of unity and variety that offer more equality (unity/control) while still maintaining a democratic structure (variety/freedom).

Unity and variety are such dominant principles in our world that the artist and designer can learn a great deal by using the concepts to observe the big picture and then bringing that understanding back to be used in visual art.