Saturday, 6 July 2013

02.12 Visual weight

Visual weight is based on the idea that visual elements differ in their ability to draw attention to themselves - some do so more than others. Those elements which attract our eye more are described synesthetically as being visually 'heavier'.

Fluency with the use of visual weight allows an artist to convey importance of meaning and to establish order in a composition.

  • Importance of meaning
    Increasing the visual weight of an element elevates its importance, and decreasing its weight causes the element to recede into the conceptual background.
  • Establishing order
    The viewer's eye starts at the most attractive (i.e. attention-grabbing, not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing) element and moves to the next-most attractive, and then the next. There is, therefore, an order to viewing: a hierarchy based on decreasing visual weight. Composers utilise this hierarchy to direct the viewer's sequence of seeing.
Visual weight is thus the building block of symmetry, balance, and harmony. Graphical factors which influence visual weight include:

1. Size
The more an object fills the frame, the greater its visual weight, the more its implicit importance.

2. Saturation
Richer, deeper hues are visually heavier than lighter, washed-out hues.

3. Contrast
The greater the tonal contrast, the more dynamic the image and the higher its visual weight.
A note of caution though - it's important to ask, "does this suit the mood of the image I want to create?". Sometimes a low-contrast image like that of the Venetian lagoon in a misty morning may have a more enduring appeal.

4. Placement
The further from the centre, the more dynamic the placement, the greater its visual weight. Note: the more extreme the placement, the greater the need for conceptual justification.

5. Complexity
An element may be made 'heavier' by aggregating it with identical elements to form a larger, more complex, patterned or textured mass (see the Gestalt Theories of Visual Perception).

6. Actuality
Drawn on our knowledge-base of real-world experience, a physically heavy object will be perceived as heavy. A mass of feathers in the foreground can be outweighed by a marble statue in the distance.

In addition to graphical elements, there are subjects which possess high attraction weightings:

I - The Human Face
Our eyes are highly attracted to the human face and particularly its informational components: the eyes and mouth.

II - Inscriptions
Writing, whether we understand the language or not, heavily draws the eye because of its informational value.

III - Emotional
A nebulous category and contingent upon the personal interests of the viewer, themes include: sexual e.g. burlesque; 'cuteness' e.g. puppies; horror e.g. genocide; fashion; disgust e.g. environmental contamination; desirable materials e.g. gems; and novelty items.

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