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3: The Visual Field

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    We see the world around us in three-dimensions using binocular vision. Because our two eyes are separated by several inches, the forms, shapes, colors, and light we see must be reconciled by our brain into one cohesive three-dimensional visual. This allows us to sense depth in our environment. If we lose sight in one eye, that sense is lost and we see the world without that added dimension.

    Artists creating two-dimensional visuals can learn the techniques to create the illusion of three-dimensional form in their paintings, prints, and drawings. However, to do this requires skill and knowledge. Art is formed with skill!

    Drawing from life, for example is much more difficult than copying another drawing or photograph. Why? The drawing or photograph you are copying is already in two-dimensions, so it is much easier to transpose this visual information onto another two-dimensional surface. It may also be in a rectangular format, again making it easier to copy. To see the three-dimensional world and create the illusion of that world on a two-dimensional surface is a much more difficult task. To do this using artistic techniques and tools requires studying drawing either in a formal setting, such as a university class, or through online education.

    When we think about the way we communicate and are entertained using visuals we can conclude that the format used is mostly a rectangular format. Our smart phones, computer monitors, tablets, and flat screen TVs are all rectangular. If we take this concept even further and look to the past, we recognize that humans have been viewing the world through rectangular frames for thousands of years. Early architecture used post and lintel construction for windows and doorways yielding rectangular openings through which the outside world was viewed. We are used to this type of framing of visual information, and there is certainly a logic to using this format in visual art.

    The rectangle as a visual format allows for a predictable space in which to design or create a drawing or painting. Top, bottom, left and right sides enclose the space and allow us to either create within those boundaries, or to use those edges as a frame with cropped forms extending beyond the boundaries of the rectangular visual field. Do understand that although the majority of artwork is rectangular, the visual field may be circular, square, or another geometric shape, or organic. It certainly does not have to be rectangular. However, for our studies, let us first consider some of the dynamics occurring within the rectangular visual field.

    Top and Bottom:

    Just as we view the solid earth beneath our feet and the open sky above, we also may feel the top of the visual field as lighter than the bottom. A building has a foundation securing it to the ground and allowing it to reach up without collapsing upon itself. So too with designing within the visual field, an artist will often use a stable foundation place towards the bottom and lighter or smaller forms towards the top. A good example of this is concept is the painting compositions of Leonardo Da Vinci. We find in examining his work that he incorporates triangular compositional elements providing stability. The base of the triangle is placed at the bottom of the paintings forming a stable foundation upon which to build. He then directs the viewer’s eyes around his pyramidal composition in a complex and sophisticated way.

    The concept of a shape having weight can be demonstrated by placing a sphere in the upper part of a rectangular field versus placing it towards the bottom. If placed towards the top, it may represent a celestial body like the sun, or a rising balloon. If placed toward the bottom, it may feel gravitational pull and appear heavier.

    Another effect of placing objects or forms towards the top or bottom is that the forms at the bottom may appear closer to us than those at the top. This is referred to as the rule of verticality. Objects closest to the bottom are in fact closer to the viewer. This is a general rule that applies to many situations, however, like many rules in art, it can be broken and is not universal in its application.

    Left and Right:

    In western civilizations we read book pages from top down and from left to right. In eastern civilizations books and manuscripts may be written and read top down, but right to left. These traditions may influence the way a work of art is viewed. Artists may emphasize the right or left and move the viewers’ eyes across the paper or canvas.

    The Edge:

    The edge of the paper, page, or canvas plays an important role in design and composition within the visual field. Placing an object too close may make the viewer uncomfortable creating what is termed visual tension. Beginning art students are sometimes unaware of the power and importance of the edge and create unnecessary visual tension by placement of objects too close to the edge. The edge encloses and defines the space, so the placement of objects and forms within that space should be done with a goal of balance and harmony. Also consider the negative spaces and shapes created by the interaction of the positive shapes and the negative shapes created in combination with the edges of the visual field.

    The Center:

    The center of the design or composition has visual power and importance. It is a point of balance for the design as well as an area of visual significance. The aesthetic visual center may actually be slightly higher than the actual physical center. Placing an object slightly higher in the rectangular visual field often creates visual balance.

    Assignment #1:

    After reading the above discussion, select one topic as your major area of emphasis for an 11” x 14” design. This design, obviously, will be created in a rectangular visual field. What other types of visual fields are there in two-dimensional art?

    Discussion topics are: The Center, The Edge, Top & Bottom, Left & Right

    You are free to use more than one “topic” in your design. I do, however, want you to be conscious of the incorporation of the “topic,” and be capable of discussing your decision-making process during the critique.

    How artists design and manipulate within the confines of two-dimensional surfaces is certainly of interest for this assignment. Nonetheless, we never lose sight of the overall mission of the course: to create increasingly sophisticated designs using critical thinking and successfully incorporate color in those designs. Subject matter is only effective in this class when the execution of the work is successful, so subject matter should not be your first consideration. Purely abstract designs are preferable.

    Art is formed with skill, so continue to take the time to carefully craft your work. Utilize the art materials available in class. If you need additional materials, please ask.

    Use thumbnail sketches to develop your ideas and present them.

    Assignment #2:

    Create both a representational and an abstract design

    The representational design follows established art genre such as still-life, landscape and interior drawings or paintings

    Use thumbnail sketches to develop your ideas

    Choose one of the three visual field formats discussed in Visual Field Format Design

    (1. Rectangular Field, 2. Circular or Oval Field, 3. Irregular)

    Consider the meaning and use of Figure & Ground, Depth Cues: Gradients, Overlaps, Size Change and Vertical Location and incorporate some or all of these in your designs

    Incorporate glued paper, newspaper/magazine cuttings, photos, wallpaper, texture, wood-graining, fabric, painting elements, wire, colored glass, plastics, man-made materials and/or organic materials

    As you plan your design also take into consideration design concepts such as the Center, Edge, Top & Bottom, Left & Right,

    Emphasize design, not subject

    Present your final piece

    3: The Visual Field is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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