Attribution: Arrangement in the public domain
How do artists show balance?
The painting by American artist James McNeill Whistler on the first page of this lesson and the stained glass design on this page are both structured with different types of balance. In The Artist's Mother (This painting is often called "Whistler's Mother"), the model (the artist's mother) is seated on the right side of the composition. The painting is asymmetrically balanced. but it is not unbalanced.
In the stained glass design, Dance I. below, the shapes and lines are more centrally located, with a pattern border to help focus the image toward the center of the piece.
Please study The Artist's Mother and Dance I carefully, then answer the questions below in your Art Journal in the Student Workroom with well thought-out answers and complete sentences:
Theo van Doesburg, Dance I. 1916
1. In The Artist's Mother. what helps "balance" the visual weight of the model? Hint: Look to the left side of the composition for a clue! What helps "lead" your eye from Whistler's mother to the other side of the composition?
2. In Dance I. besides the pattern border, how else does the artist arrange his lines. shapes. and colors to help the composition become balanced. Study the design carefully!
3. Both artworks are considered to be "balanced " visually. How does each artist balance their artworks in different ways? Be sure to comment on both artworks!
Attribution: Pencil and Paper is a paid subscription
Attribution: Dance I in the public domain
Read below to see some examples of how the Principle of balance has been used in art history:
Balance: In this painting by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, the composition appears to be balanced from top to bottom and from side to side. The visual weight is equal (though not symmetrical. but a piece doesn't have to be symmetrical to be balanced) throughout the piece. The houses and buildings in the top half balance out the bright field of color and the figures in the lower half of the painting.
Something to think about: Do you feel that the painting is balanced from side to side? If so, what objects or Elements balance each other on each side?
Symmetrical Balance: The famous Chrysler Building is made in the Art Deco art style that was popular in the early 1900s. Art Deco is known for its symmetrical balance in its design, and the Chrysler Building is a great example of symmetry. The ascending, diminishing arches, as well as the stacked "starburst" motifs are all perfectly symmetrical.
Chrysler Building, 1928-1930
This Islamic tile design is also
symmetrical. The colors. lines. shapes. and spaces are all equally depicted on both sides, but are mirror images of each other!
Something to think about: If you could, where would you draw a line of symmetry to show how the Chrysler Building and the Islamic tiling are symmetrical?
Islamic tiling, date unknown
Asymmetrical Balance: This painting by Spanish artist Diego Velazquez is constructed with asymmetrical balance. The figures and eye-catching Elements of Design are mainly located at the bottom of the composition, while the top of the composition contains less imagery and Elements. The tall canvas belonging to Velazquez himself, who depicted himself in the composition at the far left, helps lead the viewer's eye up into the upper half of the painting. Although there is empty space in this asymmetrical painting, the composition is still excellent since the viewer's eye travels throughout the piece.
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Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas (Maids of Honor), 1656-1657
In French artist Henri Rousseau's painting The Sleeping Gypsy. below, the figures, objects, and Elements are mainly located in the lower right corner of the composition, while the majority of the rest of the painting is empty sky and land. The painting is asymmetrical because of the concentration of objects on one part of the canvas only.
Something to think about: In Las Meninas (above) and The Sleeping Gypsy (below), each artist creates an asymmetrical composition, yet also uses lines and other Elements to help guide the viewer's eye throughout the piece (such as with Velazquez's canvas mentioned above). What lines (and other Elements) does each artist use to help us "see" the entire composition?
Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy. 1897
Radial Balance: In both examples below, the composition of each artwork is structured with radial balance. In this sand mandala (yes, it is made with colored sand!), the central focal point is a flower in the exact center, and many intricate patterns and designs radiate from that central point, leading the viewer's eye outward in all directions and all around the piece.
Chenrezig Sand Mandala, date unknown
In this Hex Sign, a common design (among other designs) placed above barn doors by Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants for centuries, radial balance is used to create an interesting and dynamic design.
Something to think about: The two radially-balanced designs in this section were created by two different cultures in two different time periods. What similarities do you notice about the two pieces? Why do you think similar designs were created by cultures on opposite sides of the Earth?
Barn Hex Sign, date unknown