LESSON 6Brain SeesTOPICS COVEREDDots,lines, shapes,Direction.Direction of shape as vertical, diagonal or curved.Visualmanipulation.Understanding Texture.OBJECTIVESLet’s learn the most basic of visual elements….from the dot to lines, circles shapes andvalues..From here we draw the raw material for all levels of visual intelligence. You willunderstand the grammar of visuals to explore the meaning and components of images.A mind that works primarily with meaningsmust have organs that supply it primarilywith forms. Suzanne Langer.
Why we see.It is the brain- not the eyes- that understands visual messages. Therefore, to consider how themind processes the visual information receives from the eyes is vital.The brain process images as four basic visual perception cues ( colour, form, depth, andmovement) . Knowing how the brain divides and sorts visual messages will help you to createimages that take advantage of that fact. Theories further refine our understanding of why somepicture are remembered but most are forgotten. Knowing how we see helps explain why we see.Visual cues & literacyFrom the beginnings of human culture, visual awareness has been a key element tocommunication. Just as information conveyed by the written word holds a significance forhumanity in the 20th century, the symbols of early cave paintings held a deep significance for theartists and cultures that produced them. Over time these symbols and meanings changed into thealphabets of the world of today; which are the basis for verbal literacy.To be verbally literate, one must possess and be able to manipulate the basic components ofwritten language: the letters, words, spelling, grammar, syntax. With a mastery of these elementsof written communication, the possibilities of verbal expression are endless. Visual literacy mustoperate within the same boundaries. Just as there are components and common meaning for theelements of verbal literacy, elements and common meaning exist for the elements of visualliteracy.The fundamentals of all visual communication are its basic elements; the compositional sourcefor all kinds of visual materials, messages, objects and experiences. The most basic of visualelements, the dot, a pointer, marker of space; the line, the restless articulator of form, in theprobing looseness of the sketch and the tighter technical plan; shape, the basic outlines, circle,triangle, and square; direction, the surge of movement that promotes character of the basicshapes; value, the most basic of all elements, the presence or absence of light; hue and saturation,the make up of color—coordination of value with added component of chroma; texture, opticalor tactile, the surface characteristic of visual materials; scale,the relative size and measurementof an image; dimension and motion, both implied through sfumato and other techniques. Theseare the visual elements; from them we draw the raw materials for all levels of visual intelligence.It is with the understanding of these elements that a viewer can come to understand visualsyntax. Visual literacy is the ability, through knowledge of the basic visual elements, tounderstand the meaning and components of the image.
DotIn mathematics, we use the term “point” to define an exact coordinate on a plane. Like mostmathematical terms, however, “point” is merely an idea. In order to visualize any concept, aphysical representation, in this case, the dot, can be created. Though termed as the simplest unitof visual communication, the dot carries a great deal of significance in the world of visualliteracy. The words you are now reading, for instance, are merely patterns of dots; the graphicimages you see surrounding these words are also dots; pretty much the entire computer screenyou see before you contains no more than just a bunch of well-organized, attractively colored,dubiously detailed dots. Computer screens like this one, along with other media through whichwe communicate visual information, use dots as the building blocks for image making.Paintings, sculptures and other art forms may not necessarily be comprised of dots themselves,but contemporary visual media such as television, video, and computer animation replicate theirimages through dots. In a process called visual fusion, our minds combine dots by blending andorganizing the patterns into coherent images. When placed in carefully designed patterns knownas “halftones,” dots suggest continuous and solid values and hues , as the following image fromParamount’s 1984 Spielberg blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom demonstrates.Notice how the image of the famed archeologist, when magnified, becomes an indiscerniblepattern of dots.LineThe line is a simple yet powerful visual tool. It can be seen as a visual record of a dot’s paththrough a visual plane. Therefore, the line provides the essential element for motion across avisual space. It has a definite purpose in its direction. Just as the horizon of an open outdoorspace provides balance and orientation, a horizontal line creates a strong sense of equilibrium ina compostition. In contrast, diagonal lines create visual stress and attract the eye. This stresscreates a point of heightened interest in a composition and often can be used to imply movement.
Artists use this implied motion when they wish to convey energy or action in their works. On theother hand, a technical illustrator would probably prefer to use only horizontal or verticle lines toemphasize stability and strength. Also, the line, depending on its boldness, sharpness, andlooseness, can express a wide variety of emotions.Art Images Technical ImagesShapeWe are born into the world of shapes. Growing up we learn how to read them, and how totranslate visual images into the information we need. We share the world of shapes with othercreatures, think in its terms, and communicate. We become visually literate as well as verballyliterate. We learn how to recognize the pictorial code, how to understand it’s culturallydetermined language. We can read signs on the post, maps, and pictures, navigating with theirhelp in the surrounding environment.In visual media shapes can be made in a number of ways. They may be defined as the outlines ofobjects, or they may be composed from parts of different adjacent objects; they can exist as gaps,or negative shapes between the objects.Reading shapes, we tend to dissect them into simpler forms based on geometrical units. Mostpeople can immediately perceive the total area of a circle, a square, a triangle, an oval, or arhombus, without difficulty. If we were shown an image for a couple of seconds, we probablywould not be able to remember it in all the details, but we would have a general grasp of it’sbasic form. If we look at a typical children’s drawing we would see the circle of the sun, and thesquares of the houses, or the ovals of peoples faces.
We can say that the geometric basis of shapes provides us with an elementary vocabulary, analphabet of the shape language. It helps us to dissect, analyze, and structure the world.Besides that intellectual perception, restricting our view of the outside world to things ofpractical interest and immediate necessity, we have a spontaneous vision of shape, the capacityto be surprised, enchanted, or impressed by it’s visual phenomena. We respond to thememotionally. They hold for us their own expressive meaning and character. If to return to thechildren’s drawing, it won’t be far fetched to say that we all read the circle of the sun as warmthand protection, as the best signifier of repose. It is continuity comforting to our eyes. The samefeelings are associated with all kinds of curvy forms. They seem calm, pacific, assured,sensuously relaxed, and optimistic.
Leves House New York. By Skudneck, Auriges, and Merillthe square can be read as dull, straight forward, honest, lacking imagination (though not always),stable, less natural than the circle. Salisbury Cathedral EnglandThe triangle is interpreted as action, agitation, conflict, tension, and aspiration. The most famoustriangles, are probably the Pyramids of Egypt. The pointed, sharp, and jagged edges suggestanguish, danger, and antagonism; by association with fire, splinters, thorns, arrowheads, twistedmetal, or cracked ice.Different shapes tell us different stories. The endless variations and interplays are stimulating ourcuriosity constantly. The sensory perception of shape is probably connected with the deepestlevels of our perception of the world. It is universal, and can be understood beyond the limits ofthe cultural identity. If cultivated, it can become our window to another culture. One of the waysof it’s training is through the arts. Artists play with the perception of shape. Different stylesemphasizes different capacities.
For example Matisse, reducing all the details to the minimum, was trying to unfold the purestforms, and give us immediate sensations of visual excitement. He wished that the viewer wouldsee shapes, as shapes in their entirety, and enjoy them that way.The Lived-in Silence of Houses MatisseIn the same way the connection between shapes and our emotions is utilized in the advertisingindustry. The use of basic shapes, and their appeal, is most obvious in perfume ads. Perfume istrying to bottle essential emotions such as attraction and sensuality. Women’s ads tend to use allthree shapes, thereby portraying how, according to society, women are more emotional andsubject to a greater variety of feelings. The bottles that hold women’s perfume are generallymore oriented to curvy, circular, and triangular shapes. The curves may be reflecting the actualbody, but it also implies a feeling of warmth, continuity, and security. The triangular bottleimplies risk, challenge, and excitement. The bottles that tend to hold cologne are generallysquare in shape. They are bigger and appear more solid. This shape implies strength, honesty andreliability. They are not as alluring and enticing as women’s bottles. The shapes perfectly portraythe stereotypes that women and men hold in our society, true or not.
DirectionWhen we look at an image our eye travels around the frame exploring the contents. Directionwill play key role in our understanding the meaning of this image. The amount and type ofmotion created by various shapes and lines can convey different emotional states and thedirection of that motion will contribute the intensity of the emotional response. For example inEdward Munch’s painting, The Scream, the viewer not only responds to the grotesque and strongshapes and lines, but also the numerous directions in which those lines move.Edward Munch, The Scream(172kb)
There is not a strong sense of movement in one direction so that the end result is chaos.Direction, perhaps more than any other point, demands an understanding of the other nine pointsin order to be fully understood. It may also be said that direction is simultaneously inherent inand an extension of at least line , shape , scale , dimension , and motion , in thatpoints exhibits and makes possible the phenomenon of direction. Direction is primarily inherentin shapes, as a fundamental component of a shapes existence. The direction of a shape can bevertical, diagonal, or curved.A viewer’s primary scan of an image is along the vertical then horizontal axis. This is how theeye picks up the most basic information from an image. Now, if diagonal direction is substitutedfor horizontal and vertical direction the image will feel less stable. This is because the diagonaldirection is one that conveys a feeling of movement, excitement, and change.Diagonals are the most dynamic directions, for they can suggest a strong feeling of imbalanceand motion. A left to right incline is associated with an ordinary graph, lower left indicatinginferiority, upper right indicating superiority or dominance. This diagonal is commonly used invisual communication because it is so accessible to a viewer. On the other hand, a left to rightdecline will feel less stable to the viewer because it is perceived as “downhill”. This is also avery suggestive visual manipulation.
Curved direction also has an element of instability in it, but unlike diagonals, it also has theability to be reassuring and safe. The amount of reassurance we derive from the curved directionis dependent on how curved the direction is; a curve that makes a full circle is much moreencompassing than a curve that is shallow. A circle is a virtual visual trap. Once the eye haspicked up the curve of a circle, it will inevitably become trapped within the path of the circle andimportance will be placed on anything inside.Whereas a curve has a definite beginning and end, thus leading the eye optionally in eitherdirection. On the whole though, the curved direction adds an element of softness because of itslack of angles.Triangles serve a similar function to circles in that they trap the eye within a specific sub- frame.Unlike the circle, the triangle is created by three different points in the image. In this photographby Naomi Savage, the three points of the triangle are defined by the tulip, the hand, and thecrook of the elbow. Savage is using this shape not only to make our eye travel around the framebut also to give it dynamic motion through the use of diagonal eye movement. A hierarchy iscreated by the highest point of the triangle and relationships between the separate items whichmay be defined by their respective angles.Beyond these two dimensional manifestations of direction, there is also depth, which may beseen as an extension through the third dimension of any curve, diagonal, vertical, or horizontal.Most objects, after all, exist in three dimensions, not two, and move through three dimensions,not two. Certainly, the opening shot of Star Wars, in which a massive space craft zoomsoverhead and recedes into a distant field of stars, does not follow a strictly horizontal, vertical,
curved, or diagonal direction. Similarly, the ship is not strictly made up of flat verticals,horizontals, diagonals, and cures, but verticals, horizontals, diagonals, and curves enhanced bythe third dimension. Of course, in reality the ship does not penetrate the flat surface of the screen,but we perceive it to move away from us, in a direction that is more than simply twodimensional.Understanding TextureIf someone were asked to define texture, they might reply, “. . .the feel of an object’s surface.”This is an example of the way in which we often assume texture is something which must bephysically felt in order to understand it. Texture is something which we feel when we interactwith our surroundings. But, our understanding of texture is not limited to touch. Texture can be“felt” with our eyes also.The visual element of texture must be looked at first from a tactile standpoint. If one picks up apeach, one may say that it feels, “soft.” Likewise, if one looks at a picture of peach, one mightsay that it looks, “soft.” This is because our sense of touch cooperates with our eyes to give us abetter understanding of our surroundings. Just as the fingers can sense that a rock may have arough and coarse surface, the eyes can also pick up the small variations in texture before evenbeing touched. This has great significance in the world of visual arts and literacy. If the elementof texture is more understood, then a more “hands-on” approach can be given when observingthe intense visual world which we live in today.Some of the other elements of visual literacy are also related to texture. For instance, dot and lineare the basic elements by which all visual images are composed. Thus they can add to or takeaway from the element of texture. Also, the eye interprets visual texture as the implied minutevariations in dimension which have no actual tactile value.The following examples show the different textural aspects of images. Lisa, 1976.
In the image above, the baby’s skin appears smooth and soft. There are few dots or linesinterrupting the surface of the baby’s cheeks, as one finds in the wrinkles of an older person’sskin. The value is also very even, enhancing the illusion of the skin’s smoothness.In the above close-up of the baby’s face, one can see even better how the lack of detailcommunicates a smooth texture while the gentle nuances of color and value make the viewerbelieve the baby’s skin would be soft.Old Woman with Head scarf Paula Modersohn-Becker, Private Collection.The above painting shows an old woman’s face which is delineated and roughened by age. Thisis in sharp textural contrast to the smooth image of the baby. The surface of her skin isinterrupted with lines, changes in value, and variations of hue.
The above image is a close-up of the woman in the painting. When one gets a closer look, it iseasy to see how the artist used delicate alterations in dimension to give the wrinkles depth, anillusion which “roughens” the skin. In this close up, the brush strokes resemble the curves on anetching or a topographic map. This image provides a clear depiction of how a two-dimensionalimage can give the impression of three-dimensional texture.Both of the sets of images give us a clear understanding of texture’s influence on visual images.Hopefully, these examples have made the difference between tactile and optical texture moreclear and applicable to daily life. Tactile texture is what we can feel with our sense of touch,while optical texture is what we make of visual texture in the images we see. In addition, thesense of sight and touch are obviously related when observing two-dimensional images. This isshown by our ability to tell what the texture of a photograph or painting would represent inreality. Our knowledge of the visual element of texture is also made possible with the help of thedot and the line . These two elements compose everything we see in an image, including texture.For example we see how the artist made use of both of these elements when marking the oldwoman’s face. Also, dimension is one of the more important aids to the appearance of texture.For example, if one looks at the surface of the old lady’s face blown up, the rough edges of herwrinkles almost appear to be cut into the painting. By manipulating the brush the artist enhancesthe texture of the old lady’s face by imitating subtle changes in dimension.