The Alphabet of Art

The Attributes

Attribute Maximum Contrast Minimum Contrast
Emotional Active Passive
Esthetic Dynamic Decorative
Spatial In Depth Static

The Elements of the visual notation system are used to create designs or objects to be seen, and to give them certain qualities or Attributes. The Alphabet of Art recognizes three attributes or categories of viewer response: Emotional, Esthetic, and Spatial. All works of visual art and design contain these Attributes.

For example, a painter may employ some of the Elements in an active manner, using maximum contrast in an asymmetrical composition to produce a painting that creates an emotional response in the viewer. Or, a painter may employ some of the Elements with minimum contrast in a symmetrical composition, thus producing a decorative painting that creates a more passive viewer response.

To a large extent, viewer responses are influenced by the artist's use of the Elements, as described in the topic for each Element. But response also depend on the personal and cultural characteristics of the viewer.

The Emotional Attribute, for example, is simply the emotional response: "I like it" or "I don't like it." This response depends on the temperament and background of the viewer, which varies widely.

The second, the Esthetic Attribute, may require some training if the viewer is to comprehend the difference between the dynamic and decorative qualities of a design.

The third, the Spatial Attribute, requires a technical observer to fully appreciate it. That is, an artist or critic who understands why a chosen Element behaves in a certain manner and has a particular effect in a composition. See The Picture Plane for more information on the Spatial Attribute.

Choose a topic to read more about the Alphabet:
Line Line Direction Shape Size
Texture Value Color Composition
The Attributes The Picture Plane

Return to the Home Page About the Authors