The Essential Element ~ LINE

   Before going into a definition of line I should mention that there are two forms of line: actual and implied. Actual line embodies the characteristics of order. Implied line embodies the characteristics of chaos. The former, in a generalized statement, requires the mechanics of order in order to exist in reality. The latter, in a generalized statement, requires the mechanics of chaos in order to exist in reality. These are generalized statements because they do not hold validity in all situations.

   I do not intend to comment in depth on the properties of implied line other than to point out what that term basically implies. When two objects such as rectangular forms are placed side by side tight together, the interface between the two forms creates an implied line. In such a situation the line exists solely in the juncture because of the relative position of the two shapes. It embodies the characteristics of chaos because of the fact that its existence does not rely on any human induced rationale.

   In certain situations the artist may consciously induce the existence of an implied line by the overt placement of objects in particular relation to other objects. In all situations the artist must be aware that implied line will come to exist in a work of art whether desired or not in any event where two or more objects are composed in close proximity.

   In terms of actual line (which from this point on will be referred to simply as ‘line’), this form embodies the characteristics of order in that its existence requires a human induced rationale. For line to exist as an element in a work of art, the artist must consciously manipulate his media and tools.

   Line exists in the configuration of a series of points in close proximity in space. There are many configurations or types of line possible in a visual sense. Each line configuration possesses, to some degree, certain properties universal to all lines. Besides these properties, line might incorporate in its nature certain aspects of the other basic elements of shape, texture, tone and color.

   Line configurations vary according to how the coincident points position themselves in relation to each other. They can be straight, curved or any variation and combination of these two. A variation of a straight line would be any number and lengths of straight line segments connected at their ends to each other. This would translate into a ‘jagged’ line. A variation of a curved line (the most extreme example of which would result in a pure circle) would be any number and lengths of curved segments connected at their ends to each other. This would translate into a ‘wavy’ line. In either case, the variables which would dictate the visual appearance of the line would be in the length of the segments and the degree of angle the segments would bear in relation to each other.

   The properties which are universal to all lines are direction and length.

   No matter what the size of the integral points composing the line are, it cannot exist without the property of length. By its inherent nature of being a series of points connected in close proximity, a line must possess length. Two points of equal size placed side by side produce a line which would have a length of twice the dimension of the width. Three points of equal size placed side by side in proximity would produce a line which would have a length of three times the dimension of the width and so on. This property provides the artist with one choice in the use of line in a work of art. The artist may choose from any length ranging from short to medium to long (relative to the size of the artwork itself and to the other elements utilized in the same composition).

   The second choice provided to the artist is that of the property of direction. Beginning with one point a line may proceed in any direction of 360 degrees around the original point, on a flat surface. (I do not intend to discuss all the possibilities of geometry here; I will discuss only those lines relative to a flat plane.) Regardless of length, any line must possess direction in relation to the original point. There are certain ostensible directions provided for the artist which include horizontal, vertical and diagonal orientation.

   What we have so far in terms of line are a number of possible configurations of points which determine a line’s general form and two properties which are universal to all line configurations. These items are prerequisites which the artist must have a knowledge of in order to create any line in a work of art. So as to give variety to the representation of line, certain aspects of the other basic art elements may be included in the line’s general appearance. A line can have shape, texture, tone and color incorporated in its form.

   Line which incorporates shape can be represented as either thin, medium width, thick, converging or diverging in thickness or variable in thickness. Proceeding under the assumption that line is defined as a number of points positioned in close proximity with length as a prerequisite, the most basic form of line would be one in which the length exceeds the width. This basic form of line relies on the assumption that all the points comprising it are of equal size. Should the size of the individual points vary in relation to each other, not only the length would vary but also the width. Should the points vary in a geometrically increasing ratio from the original point at one end of the line toward the last point at the opposite end of the line the visual mature of the line as a whole would be perceived as either a converging or a diverging shape similar to a triangle. Should the size of the individual points vary in relation to each other in a random manner from one end to the other the visual nature of the line as a whole would be perceived as possessing a variable shape or thickness. The aspects of thin, medium width and thick would tend to be unperceiveable if the line exists by itself; these aspects would be perceived in the event that there are more than one line in existence in the same work of art in which the size of the points of one line would vary in comparison to another line. The element of shape is discernible in line when one views the line according to its perimeter.

   Line possessing tone is perceived as such in relation to the supporting surface and any other elements in the company of which it exists. Tone varies from an extreme of light through gray to an opposite extreme of dark. A line possessing no colors would appear to be light in tone if it exists on a dark surface, dark in tone if it exists on a light surface and either dark or light if it exists on a gray surface relative to its particular inclination. (Note- The element of tone is, in most cases, relative for a number of factors; as it influences line depends on those factors.)

   The element of texture may exist in association with line, when the line is perceived as a whole. Two points separated in space do not necessarily constitute line (except as an implied line perceived by the mind’s eye because of the tension generated between the two points). A series of points or short line segments, on the contrary, may be perceived as line in the event that their totality possesses the properties of direction and length. In this case, when viewed as a whole, the line would encompass the element of texture according to the disposition of points and integrated segments. Various possible textures in line would include simple dotted, short segmented, long segmented, variable length segmented, geometrically increasing or decreasing length segmented and any random combination of the dots and segments.

   The representation of line is not restricted in terms of color. A line may possess the quality of any color in the visible light spectrum.

   With definitions and examples aside, I would like to make a few closing comments on line. Although line is not the only basic element in art, it is of utmost importance and simplicity in art. From the seed of point, line is the first growth. Line proceeds and comes into existence by replication of an original point (which is itself indescribable). In a succession, all the other elements proceed, or are enhanced by line.