Types of Symmetry in Art

Artists with a help of different methods try to show their vision of reality or certain objects. The balance as a basic principle of art helps to create a certain mood by using different elements (lines, colors, textures, etc.) To communicate different ideas, artists use various types of symmetry in the art. Artistic balance can be not only symmetrical. The most widely used are principles of radial, symmetrical and asymmetrical balance. The main target of every type is to produce harmony of the whole picture and its distinct elements. In this paper, we will describe symmetrical, asymmetrical and radial balance with examples, and will try to explain why a certain artist has chosen a specific type of balance in his work.

Symmetrical balance is a condition when all the elements have equal characteristics. Symmetry could be seen when one piece or side of something mirrors another one or balances with it according to its content. For example, on the Leonardo da Vinci’s piece “Last Supper” (Picture 1) we see such a technique. All elements, even if they are different, work at the same way and have equal status on the picture. It is seen everywhere; number of people and their location and the whole surrounding are perfectly balanced. Such symmetry is used to make an accent on the posture of Jesus in the center since all the perspective lines make him the most important figure on this piece. Another great instance is Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing “Proportion of the Human Figure,” 1492 (Picture 2). Here, we can see a perfect composition because the human body is the best illustration of symmetry. We can visually divide our body on two parts vertically, and they would be equal. “When the correspondence is exact, as in Leonardo’s drawing, we refer to it as pure or formal symmetry” (Fichner-Rathus, 2012). So long as symmetrical balance has a target to show perfection, we can say that artists, creating such a balance, idealize elements on the picture and try to display the better or perfect world or characteristics.

Asymmetrical balance is a condition when all the elements or some of them are unevenly placed on the picture. Their chaotic order due to the correct order gives a harmony and right perception of the piece of art. Visual weight could be distributed not through the whole picture, but on the one corner of it. For example, Paul Gauguin in his painting “Two Women on a Beach” (Picture 3) made an accent on the asymmetry of colors where vibrant colors were mixed with neutral ones in order to create calm moods in the summer heat. Asymmetrical balance could also be shown by value, shape, position, texture and eye direction.

If there is a purpose to create centrifugal effect within a circular composition, an artist can use radial balance. “The viewer’s eye will take the cue from what is present and will then “complete” the circular pattern (Fichner-Rathus, 2012). When lines radiate from the center of a picture and make a circle, it could be defined as a perfect radial composition. For instance, on the photograph by Barbara Morgan “Martha Graham: Letter to the World” (Picture 4) we can see the radial composition. The dress has a centrifugal arrangement that attracts viewer to the center of an image.

Sometimes different types of balance are mixed to show different moods and characteristics. Choosing one of the analyzed techniques, an artist dictates his attitudes through distinct methods.

To sum up, we can say, that depending on the one or other type of balance, an artist can achieve distinct results. Selecting symmetrical, asymmetrical or radial composition, creator chooses the way to express his attitudes towards something or to show some characteristics of certain objects.

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