Friday, May 6, 2011


Fra Bartolomeo, Adoration of the Christ Child, 1499, Galeria Borghese, Rome

        “Intrinsic interest” has been found by Puffer [1] to be a factor of compositional weight.  An area of a painting may hold the attention of the observer either because of the subject matter – for example, the spot around the Christ child in an Adoration – or by formal complexity, intricacy, or other peculiarity.  (Compare the multicolored bouquet of flowers in Manet’s Olympia.)   The very tininess of an object may cause a fascination capable of compensating the light weight that would otherwise go with small size.  Also, recent experiments have suggested that perception may be influenced by the observer’s wishes and fears.  It would be interesting out whether pictorial balance is changed by the introduction of a highly desirable object or a frightening one.

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, Musee d'Orsay, Paris

        Isolation makes for weight.  The sun or moon in an empty sky will be heavier than an object of similar appearance surrounded by other things.  On the stage, isolation is known as a means of emphasis.  Star actors often insist on not being approached too closely by others during an important scene.

Arthur Dove, The Moon and the Sea, 1923, Curtis Galleries, Inc.

John Gielgud as Hamlet, 1944

[1]  Puffer, Ethel D.  Studies in symmetry.  Psychological monographs, 1903, vol. 4, pp. 467-539.

From Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception, A Psychology of the Creative Eye.  Berkeley and Los Angeles. University of California Press, 1969.

The Fallen Idol, 1948 (starring Ralph Richardson; director Carol Reed)

The Third Man, 1949 (starring Joseph Cotten; director Carol Reed)

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