The Compositional Element ~ BALANCE

   It is an aspect of human nature to strive for balance. The physical effects of gravity may be a motivation for this desire to some extent. When balance is not maintained a sort of tension is generated which may result in distress. In reality balance is not always maintained. In the event that an object is out of balance, because of gravity and its force, there may be a tendency for the object to be physically moved. An example might be that of a tree which is undermined by a stream and leans unbalanced until a strong wind or the force of gravity causes it to fall over. In many cases the human being cannot alter this phenomena; he must be content with allowing nature to take its course. The artist has an advantage over this though.

   By structuring his artwork with balance in mind the artist can eliminate undesired tension and as a result encourage the viewer to feel comfortable in viewing the work. There are two basic forms of balance which the artist might employ to achieve this end: symmetry and asymmetry.

   Symmetry is balance which is produced by distributing forms on either side of a real or imaginary axis in a way that those on one side correspond to those on the other side. The axis may be horizontally, vertically or diagonally placed. The significant point is that the forms on one side of the axis simulate those on the other side. A prime example of symmetry is the human body. With an imaginary axis running the length of the body vertically, the right side corresponds to the left side.

   Asymmetry, contrarily, is balance which is produced by disposing forms on either side of a real or imaginary axis which do not correspond identically but possess a basically equal mass. An example of this might be the, placement of a pound of cement and a pound of feathers on a beam set upon a fulcrum. The relative weight of both items being the same, the beam would maintain a balanced horizontal position but there would be a noticeable visual discrepancy between the two sides. The cement being more dense than the feathers would require less space; the equal masses would not necessarily appear visually identical.

   In order to employ either form of balance in an artwork the artist needs to manipulate the dominant and subordinate elements. Since certain elements will be more dominant than others and draw more attention to themselves the artist should utilize them to the advantage of balancing the artwork’s forms. A large shape might be placed to one side of an imaginary axis while being balanced on the other side by a number of smaller, subordinate shapes. A composition may be structured in a symmetric balance composed of equal numbers, sizes and dominance on either side of an imaginary vertical axis, but should a rather dominant form of line be added to one of the sides and not to the other, the balance might be thrown off. A remedy to such a situation might be to either add an identical line on the opposite side or to add a tonal area equal in dominance to the line.