To understand and apply the principle of unity as it relates to two-dimensional art.



The ability to make order from chaos is one of the special talents of the artist and the designer. Good design is often a matter of perceiving potential patterns within fields of apparent disorder or visual complexity. There are some basic grouping or unity principles that can be applied to almost any kind of visual information.

Imagine dumping all of your possessions from your pack or purse on a table top to create a random or chance "composition." How could you begin to make sense of the chaos? As we saw in UNIT I, a frame helps to focus attention by placing a selection of objects within clear borders or boundaries. Imagine the tabletop as your "frame", and your possessions as art elements ripe for some organizational or compositional treatment. The frame is the first step in creating your composition--it provides "edges" to the field of chaos.

Now, what are some organizational principles we could use for the objects themselves? One of the most basic is the idea of proximity--that is, the clustering of objects. Imagine pushing all of the objects into one corner of the tabletop. Can you see how our attention follows? What if all of the objects are now clustered in the virtual center of the table except one? Our attention naturally shifts to the center of the table--then back to the isolated element. "Proximity" can be played off relative "distance"--in other words, clusters of objects can be balanced against objects that are excluded from the group.

Consider some other strategies. What if the objects were lined up, one after another, in a continuous "implied line?" Designers call this continuation or contiguity. We can use invisible pathways or other patterns (such as grids or controlling lines) to create an implied relationship between the objects.

Another solution would be to simply turn each object so that it faced the same direction--as if everything on the table were magnetized. The result of this treatment is called unified direction. Objects can be grouped according to a whole array of other factors including shape, size, color, texture, etc. Imagine segregating all of the light colored objects from the dark colored objects for example. Or lining up all of the shiney, metallic objects one after another.

Less obvious in its application is the concept of Gestalt. Gestalt theory suggests that we perceive visual events as "wholes"--overall visual patterns-- which are grasped all at once. An example would be seeing a "face" in the craters and patterns of the moon. The visual pattern of the human face is a powerful construct that emerges from the otherwise random distribution of dark and light shapes on the lunar surface.



Victor Vasareley, Joseph Albers, Paolo Ucello,



Arnheim, Rudolph, Visual Thinking, 1980

Dondis, Donis, Primer of Visual Literacy, 1973







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