Visual Analysis: Choose one of the following works from the textbook and write a 500-750 words or 2 to 3 page paper that analyzes the work by discussing how the principles of design are used in it. For a thorough discussion be sure to include what you’ve learned about the visual elements. To begin, you might make a list of the principles of design and explain how each is used in the work you’ve chosen, then work up your list into essay form.
fig. #8-17, p. 163; Las Meninas by D. Velázquez 1656
fig. #4-25, p. 74; The Death of Socrates by J.L. David 1784
fig. #7-15, p.145; No. 29,1950 by J. Pollock 1950
Repetition and Rhythm
Although the idea of repetition may at first sound boring, it can actually be a dynamic element in a work of art. In two- or three-dimensional art repetition of design elements is a frequently used principle that activates and articulates the surface. In performance arts, such as music, dance, and theatre, repetition is a presentation, or re-presentation (representation), of the themes of the work. And since performances can be repeated, there is a continual re-presentation of the performance itself. Each re-presentation is different, which means the work is perpetually changing. Therefore repetition in the performing arts equates with dynamic change. It can work much the same in the visual arts with the activation that repetition brings to the composition, resulting in a quality that is much more dynamic than static.
In visual art the repetition of lines, shapes, colors, or patterns creates a visual rhythm that keeps the viewer’s eye moving around the composition. Visual rhythm, which is the repetition of accented elements, works much the same way as rhythm in music: it helps to bind the work together; rhythm creates a thread of unity. Rhythm can be regular or irregular, these terms working somewhat the same as the terms symmetry and asymmetry work when speaking of balance. If the repetition of elements is equal throughout the composition, the rhythm is regular. If the repetition of elements is not equal, then the rhythm is irregular. Besides regular and irregular, some other terms used to describe rhythm are: simple rhythm, alternating rhythms, and progression. All of these terms could apply to music as well.
Unity and Variety
As a principle of design, unity and variety work together. Unity gives the work of art a sense of oneness, of coherence. If a work is unified then the viewer has the feeling that all elements in the composition belong together and make a harmonious whole. In other words, it works. Variety is the differences among elements. Variety is used to avoid the sense that everything is the same or bland, and to provide enough difference so that there are areas of interest and a focal point. There shouldn’t be so much variety that there is disorder or dissonance in the composition.
Unity is achieved in many ways when creating a composition. The first is repetition, the topic at hand. Another is by having one or two elements remain constant while other elements are varied. For example, one shape is repeated, but in a number of different colors and textures. Artists can also create unity by using enclosure, a surrounding element. This can be the edge of the composition or a frame. Enclosure can also mean that the elements of a composition do not direct the eye beyond the frame. If this happens, then the work might loose its unity, but does not necessarily do so. Unity can also be achieved by limiting the number of elements. Simplicity is usually more conducive to unity than complexity.
Variety as a design principle is, in many ways, much easier to accomplish by artists. Introducing variety is simply a matter of varying the colors, shapes, line, textures, and so on. Not only is variety the easier half of the unity-variety principle for the artist, for the viewer it is almost effortless to recognize. For an excellent example of unity and variety look at fig. #6-20, p. 113 Black Face and Arm Unit by Ben Jones.
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