The Alphabet of Art


Type Contrast Resulting Attributes
Asymmetrical Maximum Emotionally Active
Esthetically dynamic
Spatially in depth
Symmetrical Minimum Emotionally passive
Esthetically decorative
Spatially static

The Elements of the visual notation system are tools used to build a composition. In the Alphabet, we recognize two classes of composition, symmetrical and asymmetrical.

A symmetrical composition is balanced, and has an overall equality of Size, Shape, Line, Line Direction, Texture, Value, and Color. It is capable of division into equal parts. A symmetrical composition uses the Elements by repeating them, and is therefore of minimum contrast. Emotionally, it is apt to be a more passive design, spatially more static, and esthetically more decorative.

Henri Matisse, The Piano Lesson

Thomas Cole, The Architect's Dream
An asymmetrical composition is not balanced and does not use the Elements in equal amounts. It is not divisible into equal parts. It uses dissimilar Elements which are not often repeated.

Architectural schools sometime stress a symmetrical use of landscape materials when they are to be placed near or next to architecture. Since architecture is normally geometric and decorative, the use of naturalistic material in a symmetrical way makes it more decorative and less contrasting, spatially more static and emotionally passive. This creates a more harmonious and pleasant environment.

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

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