2. In two-dimensional art this organization is often
called Composition, but the more inclusive term,
applicable to all kinds of art, is Design.
The task of making the decisions involved in
designing a work of art could be paralyzing were it
not for certain guidelines.
These guidelines are usually known as the Principles
3. All of us have some built-in sense of what looks
right and wrong, or what “works” or doesn’t. Often
these choices are often discussed in regards to
In the context of art, taste describes how some
people make visual selections.
What we really mean by “good taste,” oftentimes, is
that some people have a better grasp of the principles
of design and how to apply them in everyday
4. The principles of design are most often identified as:
-Unity and Variety
-Emphasis and Subordination
-Proportion and Scale
5. These principles codify, or explain systematically,
our sense of “rightness”and help show why certain
designs work better than others.
For an artist they are guidelines for making effective
For the viewer they can offer greater insight into a
work of art.
6. Any work of art, regardless of its form or culture in
which it was made, can be discussed in terms of the
principles of design because they are integral to all
8. -Unity is a sense of oneness, of things belonging
together and making up a coherent whole.
-Variety is difference, which provides interest.
(We discuss them together because the two generally
coexist in a work of art.)
For most works of art, the artist strives to find just the right
point on the spectrum —the point at which there is sufficient
visual unity by sufficient variety.
17. Visual weight refers to the
apparent “heaviness” or
“lightness” of the forms in a
composition, as gauged by
how insistently it draws our
eyes to it. When visual
weight is equally distributed
to either side of a felt or
implied center of gravity, we
feel that the composition is
18. With Symmetrical Balance, the implied center of
gravity is the vertical axis, an imaginary line drawn
down the center of the composition.
Forms on either side of the axis correspond to one
another in size, shape, and placement.
Sometimes the symmetry is so perfect that the two
sides of a composition are mirror images of one
another. More often the correspondence is very close
but not exact—a situation sometimes called relieved
25. But if a piece of artwork seems to be balanced, it is because
the visual weights in the two halves are very similar.
What looks “heavy” and what looks “light”?
The only possible answer is, that depends.
We do not perceive absolutes but relationships.
26. The heaviness or lightness of any form varies
depending on its size in relation to other sizes around
it, its color in relation to other colors around it, and
its placement in the composition in relation to the
placement of other forms there.
27. 1. A large form is visually heavier than a
2. A dark-value form is visually heavier than a
light-value form of the same size.
3. A textured form is visually heavier than a
smooth form of the same size.
4. A complex form is visually heavier than a
simple form of the same size.
5. Two or more small forms can balance a
6. A smaller dark form can balance a larger
28. Of course… those are just a few of the possibilities.
You then may be asking, “how in the heck does an
artist actually go about balancing a composition?”
The answer is unsatisfactory but true: The
composition is balanced when it looks balanced.
(An understanding of visual weights can help the artist achieve balance or
see what is wrong when balance is off, but there is no exact science.)
33. Balance encourages our active participation in
looking. By using balance to lead our eyes around a
work, artists structure our experience of it.
As an important aspect of form, balance also helps
communicate a mood or meaning.
35. Emphasis and Subordination are complementary
Emphasis means that our attention is drawn more to
certain parts of a composition than others.
If the emphasis is on a relatively small, clearly
defined area, we call this a Focal Point.
36. Subordination means that certain areas of the
composition are purposefully made less visually
interesting, so that the areas of emphasis stand out.
41. Both scale and proportion have to do with size.
Scale means size in relation to a standard or
“normal” size. Normal size is the size we expect
something to be.
Scale is often related to the size of an average
human as it is something that we can all relate to.
42. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Jan Bruggen, Plantoir (2001)
Stainless steel, aluminum. Fiber-reinforced plastic, painted with polyurethane enamel
44. Proportion refers to the size relationships between
parts of a whole, or between two or more items
perceived as a unit.
45. For example: the
proportions of each
section of each of the
body in this painting are
The breast in the top
section are in the correct
proportion to the size of
the neck and arm
openings; the navel in the
middle section is in the
correct proportion to the
overall size of the belly.
48. The use of scale to indicate
relative importance is called
Proportionately, the king’s head takes up a
full third of his total height. “Great Head” is
one of the terms used in praise of the king,
who is felt to rule his subjects as the head.
These ideas have then been manifested
through the use of proportion.
51. A proportion ratio that has fascinated
artists and architects since the ancient
Greeks is known as the Golden Section.
A golden section divides a length into
two unequal segments in such a way that
the smaller segment has the same ratio to
the larger segment as the larger whole
segment has to the whole.
52. French architect Le Corbusier
related the golden section to human
proportions in a tool he called the
Modular and is based on two
overlapping golden sections.