Balance

DEFINITION

A principle of design, balance refers to the way the elements of art are arranged to create a feeling of stability in a work; a pleasing or harmonious arrangement or proportion of parts or areas in a design or composition. Portions of a composition can be described as taking on a measureable weight or dominance, and can then be arranged in such a way that they appear to be either in or out of balance, or to have one kind of balance or another. Balance can be symmetrical, or formal; or it can be asymmetrical, or informal. It can also be radial.Balance comes to us from those devices having two pans or plates, and a pivoting suspension from a central axis that permits comparison of the weights of things on the two pans. When the weights on the two sides are equal, the pans are level ? balanced. One need know only the exact weight of things on one side, because when the device is level, the unknown weight must equal the known one. Linguistically, the origin is in Latin: bi meaning two is joined to lancia meaning pans.Symmetric balance occurs when the two sides are identical ? they reflect each other: Latin syn meaning same is joined to metric meaning measure. Asymmetric balance is different: the Latin prefix a- means not, so asymmetry lacks balance; it is off-kilter. Radial balance is the kind found in another device: a gyroscope ? essentially a spinning wheel.Example: Young Woman with a Water Jug by Johannes Vermeer (Dutch , 1632-1675), oil on canvas; 18 x 16 inches (45.7 x 40.6 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. This painting is renowned for the elegant asymmetrical balance of its composition.Quote: "I find sometimes I may want to end up with subtlety, but I have to start out boldly. I think you have to exaggerate to get it across. . . . All I can say is that you have to lean over a little to the left, and overdo it a bit, and then come back into balance, that ever-important balance." Andrew Wyeth (1917-), American realist painter, The Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976. Also see concatenation, counterpoise, direction, equilibrium, equipoise, homogeneity, horror vacui, tension, and trabeation.

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