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Principles of Design

Visual Unity
The most obvious effect of the principle of Unity is the cohesive linking of various elements in a design.

In the sketch below, the arrangement of shapes would be random and confusing without the large rectangle linking the smaller elements This unifying rectangle makes the design much easier to read.

Conceptual Unity

As well as visual unity we should also consider conceptual unity.

“The Jockey Artémision” from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens conveys a feeling of fear and tension through the powerful diagonal thrust and dramatic, contrasting scale between horse and rider.  The well formed muscles and pronounced blood vessels on the horse and terrified sideways glance of the rider communicate the artists concept of fear, tension and power.
This unity between artistic concept and practical execution gives the work much greater impact than simply portraying a horse and rider.

Visual Unity The Jockey Artémision

The Jockey Artémision – National Archaeological Museum, Athens – Unknown Artist

A similar unity can be seen in Ingres’s painting “The Turkish Bath”. The soft, flowing curves of the subject and the curved path the eye traces through the painting, are echoed in the circular shape of the canvas giving the painting a softer, more feminine feeling than could ever be achieved with a square canvas.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres The Turkish bath – Oil on canvas, 1862

The tight color harmony and formal, symmetrical design visually unify this painting of a well used trap. The scratchy aggressive lines and dirty splattered marks link the subject with its intended use.

Trap   © John Lovett 1998

Trap, John Lovett – 1998

Edmund Burke Feldman when describing “organic unity” states “Our tolerance for sameness is limited; we require variety to satisfy our visual appetites and yet not so much variety that the sense of wholeness is sacrificed.” (1)

Unity is not a principle that can be applied individually to each design element. It is more a general principle applying to the combined impact of all the elements

(1) Feldman E B 1971, Varieties of Visual Experience; Art as Image and Idea, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York

Author: John Lovett

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