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Roxanne Caruana

Design Foundation Studies Yr1

Written Assignment 1

Art and Visual Perception Balance Rudolf Arnheims Art and Visual Perception deals with the way we perceive the world around us, what looks good, and what interferes with our visual perception. In his first chapter Balance, he discusses the significance of the spacing of objects and the forces that may exist between them. He also writes about their overall equilibrium and direction, and the notion of weight in an artwork induced in the human mind. In the first section, Arnheim claims that Visual experience is dynamic and that nothing is perceived on its own. He clarifies this by means of a disk in a square, where he introduces the relevance of the structural skeleton of the square and its impact on our vision. Moreover, he explains that there is no point inside it that is free from attractive or repulsive forces and as such, balance is alive with tension. When the disk is not centered in the square, an unpleasant outcome is produced as the eye cannot resolve to which part the disk is attracted to. This further attests the authors statement that there is more to the visual pattern than what is recorded by the retina. Accordingly, he concludes by saying that seeing is the perception of action. The effects of the psychological and physical forces we trust to see in the figure are also explored. Arnheim asserts that the parts and the whole determine whatever happens at any one place. If this is not so, inductions, attractions or repulsions could not take place in the field of visual experience. I agree with his insistence that perceptually and artistically, forces are real. However I do not understand his statement that The forces
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Roxanne Caruana

Design Foundation Studies Yr1

Written Assignment 1

that pull the disk are illusory only to the man who decides to use their energy to run an engine. On introducing a second disk in the square, I feel he is right in asserting that the two appear as one inseparable entity when attracted to each other, and unstable when offset to the upper edge. Accordingly, he arrives at the conclusion that when spatial location and shape oppose one another, balance can be distressingly vague. Arnheim compares finite visual patterns to a physical body, in the sense that they both have a fulcrum, except that in an artwork this is established by trial and error. In my view, he is precise in maintaining that elements such as size, colour or direction produce inconsistencies between physical and perceptual equilibrium, as they contribute to visual balance by means which are not necessarily paralleled physically. The artwork of St. Michael weighing souls further provides a remarkable instance of what he is trying to convey. Pictorial balance is also taken into account. Here, it is debated that an unbalanced arrangement looks accidental and hence unsound when its components demonstrate a tendency to change place or shape, with the aim of attaining a state that better accords with the entire organization. I strongly agree with Arnheim when he sustains that disequilibrium can be conveyed only by disequilibrium, as order can only be presented by order. Contrastingly, the case of the Latin cross shows minimal deviations from

Roxanne Caruana

Design Foundation Studies Yr1

Written Assignment 1

symmetry which I think may leave the reader skeptic, whether this might symbolize Christs inclined head, or perhaps a flaw. The section carries on with the role of weight and its dynamism in an artwork. For instance, it is shown that an element in the artwork increases weight in relation to its distance from the centre. Size, geometrical shape and isolation of a constituent are similarly considered. Fascinatingly enough, it is shown that red and bright colours look heavier than blue and dark colours, respectively. Puffer additionally explains that perception relies on the viewers desires or fears. Moreover, in accordance with Mock and Richards, knowing that something will result in success from former experiences leads to a biased outlook with regards to new things, which one hasnt experienced yet. Another key aspect discussed in this unit is the direction of a visual force, which is commonly generated by the exerted attraction of surrounding elements. The aspects may act with or against each other to form the steadiness of the whole. A clear illustration is in actual motion, such as dance or theatre, where balance is achieved between movements that occur simultaneously. Arnheim refers to Jackson Pollocks late paintings, which consist of with homogeneity that indicates equilibrium as one finds oneself in the same place wherever one goes. Like everything else in the world, artworks are also affected by the force of gravity where a distinction between top and bottom is thus suggested. Indeed, Arnheim demonstrates that dense items must be positioned lower in a representation, while
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Roxanne Caruana

Design Foundation Studies Yr1

Written Assignment 1

lighter entities higher up. This owes to the fact that enough weight at the bottom makes the composition look solidly rooted, reliable and stable as held by Horation Greenough. What I found most striking in this reading is the figure of number 3 which becomes macrophaelic on rotating it upside down. Discussing Heinrich Wlfflins theory that pictures change their appearance and lose their sense on turning them into their mirror images, Arnheim hints at the notion that this happens, as depictions are read from left to right. Taking Raphaels Sistine Madonna as a model, he determines how pictorial objects appear heavier at the right hand side and seem to require less effort in moving them. Conversely, an element on the left hand side looks lighter and on moving it, it is seen as overcoming forces thus suggesting strength and speed. It is established that man strives for equilibrium in all phases of his physical and mental existence. In Freuds words, all living matter has a tendency to the death instinct and by his economy principle, man is lazy by nature. Arnheim evaluates this by commenting that one is satisfied in activity but in doing so, one is putting ones life to an end more rapidly. In the final sub-section, Arnheim depicts Czannes masterpiece where he investigates the picture to support what he described so far. The wall, the chair and the figure which overlap in a movement going from left to right but neutralized by the chair so as to

Roxanne Caruana

Design Foundation Studies Yr1

Written Assignment 1

create balance; the figure not being symmetrical and resting on several counterbalancing features, yet comprising no ambiguity. To sum up, the author claims that each relation is balanced in itself but together they all balance one another in the structure of the whole work. Arnheim succeeds in tackling various aspects where he outstandingly shows how the meaning of work emerges from the interplay of activating and balancing forces, and perhaps hinting at the indispensible concept of gestaltung.