Scale does not stand for the size of an artwork, but is a relational principle which is usually defined through the ratio of an object to a human body or another object. As humans put themselves in the center of the visible world, as masters of the living environments, artworks are measured regarding proportion relative to generalized human scale.
They became defined as large, life-size, miniature, or even enormous. The scale is thus something that is habitually examined, and is often an important factor in defining the meaning and significance of each work, particularly in contemporary art. Different scaling is applied in art when something needs to be emphasized, or when through disproportionate size the importance of the represented is underlined.
This does not mean that we are constantly bombarded with works that have unusual scaling patterns, but that scale is an essential element that is present and thought out even in works that at first observation do not seem to stand out regarding this element. Paying attention to and elaborating on scale in art is therefore an important aspect in any artistic evaluation and criticism. Sometimes this message may not surpass the pure aesthetic enjoyment in each piece, but even in these circumstances scale is carefully decided on.
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One of the leading figures of Pop Art , Claes Oldenburg started experimenting with scale of his works in early s, inspired by midtown showrooms on Manhattan displaying grand pianos and luxury cars. His exhibition in at the Green Gallery in New York showcased for the first time his soft sculptures created with the help of his then wife Patty Mucha, who made his sculptures from fabrics. Pliant material of Floor Burger , Floor Cake , and Floor Cone , to mention a few, was a groundbreaking moment in sculptural history transgressing its postulates of firmness and rigidity.
The choice of motifs he represented in colossal scales, such as everyday food, brought humor and whimsy in high art and opened up the field of sculpture to subjects from everyday American life. These works were created in collaboration with his second wife Coosje van Bruggen. By enlarging ordinary objects to enormous proportions, Oldenburg shrinks the viewers, reversing in this way the traditional relationship between the viewers and the observed objects. His oversized sculptures also possess a critical edge showing an insight on American culture and aiming at its absurdities.
Miniatures are one of the art genres where scale is defined by the purpose of the works. A Pakistani born artist Shahzia Sikander is one among the contemporary creatives who experiment with such artistic traditions and use scale to re-proportion the symbolic meanings such works inherently have. Her interest, among others, lies with Persian miniatures which represented religious or mythological themes.
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Even though Islam forbids figurative representations, in small-scale art made for private use such prohibitions were often ignored. The Gopi women hairdos that are disembodied and seem to float and swirl into a Mughal court are one of her early motifs she used in large-scale video SpiNN and many miniature paintings before.
Scale of the works she references is encumbered with historical meanings and religious postulates. However, in her mixing of history, personal feelings and experience she shift the perception and challenges the ways we see both her work and the past. Mixing of imagery taken from different historical references, such as, for example, in The Last Post , where a colonial officer of the East India Company appears in a Mughal court, creates a visual hybrid in which polarities between Hindu and Muslim, East and West, representation and abstraction seem blurred.
The use of small-scale genre in her large-scale videos invites to a broader questioning of cultural relationships between the East and the West both in the past and the present. He also immortalizes spaces and buildings that are lost to gentrification creating in this way a monument to a city that does not exist anymore. By putting such representations in miniature forms, Wolfson pushes for an intimate observation of urban conditions created by humans.
Scale is essential for viewing experience, not just in fine arts, but also in architecture and other visual media. It defines the meaning of a work, and is one of aesthetic elements central to its making and reception. Scale questions the role of the viewer and perhaps more than other elements directs attention to the relation between a work and location or place. Visual weight is a measure of the force that an element exerts to attract the eye.
Two-dimensional objects can attract attention. The more an element attracts the eye, the greater its visual weight. In the previous post in this series I talked about primitive features, or the intrinsic characteristics of an element, such as size, color and shape. In that post I mentioned how, through these features, you can show contrast and similarity between elements. For example, contrasting elements by making one very big and the other very small makes it clear that the elements are different.
Controlling the combination of these features is how you control visual weight. Red tends to attract the eye more than blue, and larger elements attract the eye more than smaller ones.
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A large red object carries more visual weight than a small blue object. Some combinations of features will attract the eye more than others. To create elements of different visual weight, you would use different combinations of primitive features. You use your experience and judgment to determine which elements have greater or lesser weight. Develop an eye and then trust it.
The areas of a composition that attract your eye are those that have greater visual weight. Learn to trust your eye. You can isolate each characteristic to know that something bigger weighs more than something smaller, for example. Fortunately, others have isolated and tested these characteristics.
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You can use additional characteristics to control visual weight. In the previous post in this series about contrast and similarity, I mentioned that contrast draws attention to an element. In other words, an element that contrasts with its surroundings will appear visually heavier than its surroundings.
For example, circles usually appear heavier than rectangles on a web page because most website elements are rectangular. Not all characteristics contribute equally to visual weight. Most people will notice the color of an element before its shape, which suggests that color contributes more to visual weight. You also have to consider the uniqueness of a given composition, because contrasting elements appear weightier than the elements they contrast with. Remember that visual weight is a combination of the above attributes.
While big carries more visual weight than small, a small dark circle surrounded by a generous amount of white space and located at the top of the page will likely appear to weigh more than a larger yet irregularly shaped object of a cool light color at the bottom of the page.
One of the ideas behind this series is to point out how much gestalt principles contribute to design principles. If visual weight is about attracting the eye to a particular location, then visual direction is about leading the eye to the next location. Visual direction is the perceived direction of visual forces. Think of it as the direction you would expect an element to move if it were in motion.
How Scale in Art Influences the Viewing Experience
As with visual weight, you can modify the characteristics of an element to suggest different directions, although fewer characteristics are at your disposal than with weight. The idea is that every canvas has a structural network of forces running through it. Even if no elements are inside the canvas, our eye will be drawn to certain parts of the canvas because of this network of forces seen in the image below. The center and the four corners of a rectangular canvas act like magnets to the eye. The strongest magnet is in the center, though not the geometric center of the canvas.
Rather, the center that attracts the eye is the optical center, and it sits just above the true geometric center. The axes run from corner to corner, and the points along these axes that are midway between center and corner also attract attention. These midway points can, then, be connected with vertical and horizontal lines, which create additional axes of visual force. You can make use of the structural net by placing elements where they would naturally attract the eye, thereby increasing their attractive force. You can think of direction as real or imaginary lines that point from one element to another or that connect different elements.
Design in Art: Scale and Proportion
One more concept of visual direction is that every composition will be seen to have a dominant direction, whether horizontal, vertical or diagonal. The dominant direction of a composition will be established by the direction of the majority of elements or perhaps a few key elements. The direction will help set a general mood according to the general meaning ascribed to different types of lines.
It is possible for a composition to have no dominant direction. The number of horizontal and number of vertical elements might be equal, for example. In this case, the viewer could decide which direction is dominant.
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Different eyes are attracted to different things. Besides, two people could easily look to different areas of a composition because of their different interests. A bit of subjectivity is to be expected. An easy way to tell which elements have the most weight is to use the squint test. Close your eyes a little until some elements fade away. Those that remain have more visual weight than those that disappear. Note: The screenshot for Bureau was captured with my browser set wider than pixels.
Anything less and the design would collapse to a single column, instead of the two seen here. The article from Bureau shown above is nearly all text. The main heading carries the most visual weight. Links gain some weight through their contrast with the surrounding text, although the cool color lessens the gain in my opinion. The element with the least visual weight is the text in the right column.
Related visual scale deals with which aspect of art
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