02 December 2005

Composition #4: Symmetry

A friend mentioned on my husband’s family-and-friends-only site that a post about symmetry would be welcome. So, in the context of these little ditties about composition, here it is.

Symmetry usually equals instant static balance and boredom. Boring has an undeservedly bad reputation when it comes to composition, because if the image set up is boring, the image content can shine. Warhol’s Marilyn is a good example.

She is smack in the middle, and that keeps your attention on her. If she were slightly off center the image wouldn’t be the same. She would seem much more interesting, alive, in possession of a soul. In the center, she is the object of our gaze, and not much else. That kind of boredom is a great tool for artists to use.

Here’s an older example, Durer’s Apostles. Instead of one figure, there are four evenly spaced, equally large, symmetrically organized people.

Finally, here is my all time favorite symmetry artist. I once saw an exhibition of a whole lot of these in Mannheim, Germany. They are really stunning in real life, and huge too.

This is Victor Vasarely's 1969 oil-on-canvas Vega-Nor.


Fouad said...

in the case of marilyn it seems to me that the central positioning has to do with the tradition of icon paintings, not just attracting the viewer's attention but also imparting divine/sacred characteristics on the depicted subject

Mary Ann said...

Certainly icons have the central placement as well, and marilyn was already iconic at the time Warhol made his silkscreen of her. But I think you are giving the artist too much credit. I've done more reading than anyone should about Warhol, and he really wasn't that complicated.