The Compositional Element ~ VISUAL DIRECTION & FLOW

   Visual direction and flow refers to the tendency of the viewer’s eye to move from one element to another in an artwork. The artist can control this tendency to some extent by arranging the design elements into ‘pathways’ which induce a particular directional eye movement. In order to accomplish this the artist must draw upon his knowledge of the direction properties of the individual elements. In the case of line, direction is a predominant property and the visual flow will be induced to move in a direction along the line. Should the artist wish to direct the visual flow in a basically diagonal direction he might utilize a diagonally placed line to achieve his desire. A textural area composed of parallel lines might be placed in a diagonal orientation to induce the diagonal visual flow.

   Visual direction and flow is not limited to the orientation of individual elements. The eye of the viewer may be induced to move from one element to another because of the two elements’ coincident proximity. Two elements placed side by side will create a sort of tension between them in the same way as the element of texture does. The placement of a single line close to a single shape will induce the viewer’s eye to move from the line to. the shape and vice versa. Two elements might also be placed one on top of the other and induce flow from one to the other. The viewer’s eye, as it moves about to experience one of the elements, will be unable to avoid experiencing the other element because of the extreme proximity of the two. These two devices are apparent in the reality all around us. Very seldom does one single element exist in the absence of any other element. Glancing across a landscape it is noticed that the horizon line exists in close proximity to the skyline. Eye movement from one to the other is very much induced by the placement. Then as the eye moves around the horizon it may be interrupted by a tree which juts in front of the sky and the horizon. The placement of the tree on top of the area encompassing the sky and horizon tends to induce the viewer to look at it also.

   By considered arrangement of the elements the artist can control the direction of visual attention in an artwork. In terms of the artwork as a whole, a dominant existence of horizontally oriented elements will control the visual flow in maintaining a horizontal direction. The same can be produced with dominant orientations in vertical, diagonal or circular directions.

   Visual direction and flow is not limited to merely dominant directions. An artwork may be composed of dominantly vertically oriented elements while also possessing subordinate directions. In a situation in which many differently oriented elements are utilized in the artwork the overall piece might not exhibit any one dominant orientation and exist as omnidirectional. The viewer’s eye would be induced to meander all over the piece rather than in one basic direction. The major part of reality (that which is not influenced by man) tends to encompass omnidirectional visual flows.