Visual Components

This post is the research piece from my homework over the summer, and due to it’s overly extensive nature I feel compelled to share it. It covers many of the elements that one might need for a graphic design piece or artwork.


Firstly, I want to explain the use of colour and how important it is to initial responses to something. According to Wassily Kandinsky, colours can trigger emotional and psychological responds, that when used in design could attract or repel buyers. An idea that influenced the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements, and is seen today in advertisements, warning signs and other visual media. An example of this would be temperature colours; two categories that convey a sense of warmth of cold. The colour wheel is cut directly in half, the warm side containing red, orange and yellow, while the cool side contains green, blue and purple. Warm colours are generally associated with power, while cool colours convey weakness. Although provided with their surroundings and situation, the categories can evoke different meanings. Like how red can symbolize war or feelings of passion, or how blue can symbolize the sea or a calm feeling. The way in which these colours are used may generate more complex associations; primary colours are considered the boldest and most forthcoming with their ability to trigger responses, complementary colours are a selection of two contrasting colours that opposing one another on the colour wheel, analogous colour are a selection of two to four colours that are blocked together, and monochromatic colours that are made up of one colour that varies in tonal values. There are also split complementary colours, triad colours and tetrad colours. However, those work similar to complementary colours, so I won’t go into them.


Next I want to discuss the importance of proportion, a devise that was fundamental to development of the Renaissance’s ideal beauty in art, as the golden ratio is a testament to this. Proportion works similar to colour theory, if less immediate, but effects the impression received by the viewer. These impressions can convey certain states of being, such as ‘stability’, ‘motion’ and ‘tension’. This was another thing that influence the De Stijl movement, they used scale, which enlarged objects in order to draw attention to them, and symmetry, that aimed for equal measurements and harmony, prolifically throughout their designs. Other techniques manipulating proportion are radial symmetry, that is imagery that spreads outward or inward from the centre like a flower; asymmetry that is the opposite to symmetry and actively avoids harmony; and ergonomics that focus on the comfortability on objects and human needs. If you wanted to create motion in your design you might
want to employ radial symmetry to create the illusion of images moving inward or outward. You could also combine this with colour theory to create an impression of degradation using colours gradually desaturating or
lightening in value.

Shape & Form

The shape and form of a design, be it for packaging or a product, is just as important as the colours used and allows for a design to be interactive. It works alongside proportion, for proportion handles how effective it is visually when constructed. This discipline considers 2D shapes that are used in print or web design, 3D shapes that can be used for a multitude of media, be physical construct or digital, and organic shapes and forms simulate uniqueness and uncontrollable elegance, those you might normally see in hand crafted products or plant life. These can too be manipulated using techniques. Shapes and forms can be geometric, which is generally the idea of symmetry but in physical form, they featured prominently in Art Deco; they can be organic, shapes that derive from nature and can be fluid or loose; they can be isometric, of which are like geometric designs but have stronger symmetry, where all the detentions are the same, like triangles; a zoomorphic design is inspired be nature in a more direct manner, using the shapes of animals for inspiration; combined shapes build up layers of information that generate a sense of energy; and Biomorphic shapes are abstract and have their roots in Surrealism and biological science, creating weird shapes that lack the rigidness that may plague other techniques.

Patterns & Texture

Patterns and textures owe their significance to their effectiveness to the decoration of otherwise mundane surfaces. There can attribute to the interest created for something due to sensory effect that they can provide. Those being the touch and feel of something, to the optical effects created through patterns. Those can influence how one feels about an object, where a soft pillow with simple patterns can appear more approachable, something coarse and with complicated or disorganised patterns may do the opposite. Patterns can have cultural or religious significance that may become a factor to the appeal, such as how curry usually has references to Indian paisley patterns. Texture can have similar influences, such as how steel might remind a viewer of an old industrial factory or how gold reminds a viewer of quality and wealth. There are many different sorts of textures in the world, so I’m not going to list them, however there are a few different elements of patterns to consider. A regular pattern is a repeating formula that rely on symmetry and order; an irregular pattern does the opposite to a regular one, while confusing they can effectively draw the eyes attention; contrast can play a key role in a pattern by using contrasting colours or shapes (rigid and round), to create energy and dynamism in the image.

Psychological Appropriation

While there’s the response attributed to the mind, there is also the response of the individual themselves, be it conscious or unconscious. In the early years of psychology, the development of behaviourism came about to investigate how animals and humans learned. Be it through figuring out mechanisms leading to a reward or to how they develop opinions/associations towards something. I want to draw your attention to the latter, about associations, and to John B. Watson. The reason I’m bringing this up is because of how objects and subject matter, through association, can heighten the viewer’s opinion of something, in a conscious sense, or can be uncanny (strangely familiar), in an unconscious sense. I’ll elaborate on this later.

Watson introduced conditioning to humans after numerus experiments with animals, and concluded that you could control the fundamental responses (those that are our innate nature) of fear, rage and love. By using an unconditioned stimulus (US), you could produce an unconditioned response (UR), that elicited a fundamental response. By using a stimulus (US) along with an object, the response (UR) will be associate with the object, associating it to fear, rage or love. After repeated treatment like this, the individual with become conditioned to respond to the object with the appropriate response (UR), creating a conditioned response (CR) with the object being a conditioned stimulus (CS). An example of this would be the famous and controversial Little Albert experiment, where Watson and his assistant adopted a nine-month-old baby that didn’t seem to be conditioned at all. The child, named Albert, was exposed to regular experiments attempting to control how Albert learned. They were successful, by using the mentioned method they made a white
rat (CS), that Albert previously had no issues with, evoke fear (CR) in the child by creating a loud sound (US) whenever the rat was shown. Albert showed fear in the rat even when there was no accompanying sound, and also showed fear towards other animals that had similar traits, such as being white or furry.

With all this under consideration, it becomes a tool which designers can use to manipulate the fundamental responses of the viewer by taking into account the probable conditioned responses they held. Such as the use of cute baby animals the McVities adverts, they commonly elicit a response of love, because the majority of society adores baby animals. Knowing your targeted audience is vital here, since it’s highly improbable that everyone seeing the design will carry the same response, you’ll have to rely on certain traits and ideals that frequent the audience’s identity that can be visualised within your design. Hence, the McVities advert resonates with people who like baby animals, which is a large audience. The audience has a love for baby animals (CS), and this evokes love (CR).

Artist Research

Bridget Riley

The London-born Bridget Riley is a strong component of the Op-art movement, where art becomes a performance with the way it effects our vision, creating static images that seem to move. Inspired by Op artists of passed generations, such as Vasarély’s digital mind bending images, and the Post-Impressionist George Seurat’s use of colour and how two colour placed next to each other combine within the eye. Riley produces work that, not only tricks the eye into perceiving movement, but also creates images that distort perception in other ways. The work Fall (1963) irritates your eyes by making them want to follow down from the top of the canvas, but in doing so fluctuations occur and the lines become tense. Her piece Cataract 3 (1931) consists of horizontal lines that travel across the page in a wave like formation with altering thickness, but the effect creates new lines that draw your attention more and travel across the page at an angle. The repetitive patterns in these image overload your visual senses and tries to simplify them into understandable forms. August (1995), one of her colours pieces, is built up of seemingly randomly organised diamond shapes. Although, if you look at the individual colours, they seem to be pulled forward or pushed back, creating a complex level of visual depth to the seemingly simple image. Riley’s work highlights the potential of shapes, colours, scale, patterns and contrast. the manner in which she employs them allows for an immediate response to the illusion and demonstrates to powerful effects of the misguiding the eye.

Piet Mondrian

The Dutch painter who broke boundaries between art, design and even fashion. While primarily known for his abstract paintings such as the work Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow that has become a classic example of modernist art, Piet Mondrian provided a whole new perspective for abstraction. He was influenced by a mythical movement called Theosophy, who believed in a spiritual reality beyond the physical world that could only be perceived through the transcendence of the human conscious. Mondrian’s highly abstract work is a testament to its ideas of truth, with its balanced areas of colour. Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow is built from the simplest of forms, including the three primary colours and goes out of its way in order to avoid lines and shapes that make no distinction with the edges or centre of the canvas. A lot of these ideas of simplification translated into an art form he called Neo-Plasticism, which consists of purely geometric shapes that are set at right angles, horizontally or vertically and coloured using the three primary colours. The reason for these colours is to represent a universal harmony, as they were seen as pure examples of all colours’ fundamentals. There is a meditative quality to his work that somewhat resonates with Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism pieces, who’s philosophy is similar to the Theosophists, with art transcending subject matter and coming together harmonically. Mondrian experimented with varying different compositions using the primary colours, but after moving to New York where he created a more rhythmic and energetic piece called Broadway Boogie Woogie that looks very different to his previous pieces yet contain the same Neo-Plastic principles as them, with the exception on any black. Mondrian demonstrates the capabilities of restricted forms that use a limited colour palette, and how much variation they can encompass, be it art, fashion, architecture or anything. He shows us the ability of abstraction and Neo-Plasticism, and the rest of history has shown how effective it is. The Bauhaus and De Stile are the most notable examples of Mondrian’s influence, with their own ideals and formulas very much akin those of the Dutchman.

Art Through Interpretation – Part 1 – Symbolism

In the modern world we are faced with an array of differing visual media, those which enlighten us and those which annoy us. These responses are the result of ones interpretation of them, what we understand of them and how they effect us. The intention of art can be mystifying because of how, without the proper guidance or mindset, will appear pointless. I want to highlight some of the methods artists may use to convey their intentions, making use of work that effectively corresponds such. I will look at artwork from the detachment from reality that is Surrealism to the narrative images of Classical paintings. I want to expand your ability to recognize the intention of artists and what they are doing.

First of all, I want to discuss the importance of symbolism. Not to be confused with references, that always relies on the literal existence of something else, symbols are an important vehicle for conveying less tangible elements for a piece of work. A rose, for example, can symbolize romance due to its passionate red color and its dangerous thorns. A black rose, while similar, has a more sinister connotation evoking death and despair due to its darker features. This extends to settings as well as individual objects. Color is an important factor, just by its presents it can trigger certain emotional responses. Purple, for instance, is associated with royalty because only they could afford to wear it. Here are a few more symbolic interpretations surrounding color:

  • Yellow – Energy, Cowardice, Philosophy
  • Red – Power, Lust, Danger
  • Blue – Peace, Loyalty, Depression
  • Green – Nature, Envy, Healthy
  • Purple – Mourning, Mysterious, Honor
  • Orange – Vibrant, Enthusiastic, Flamboyant

Symbolism Movement

From the 1875s to 1910, Symbolism developed its own movement. The ideas behind it involved mysticism, the melancholic and the perverse. Artists such as Gustave Moreau (1826-98) and Odilon Redon (1840-1915) would create images that seemed dreamlike and dark, that would evoke feelings around religious subjects or present somber moods with some directness. The movements best known work is based around human sadness, such as Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’s (18224-98) The Poor Fisherman (1881) or George Frederic Watt’s (1814-1904) Hope (1886).

Hope by George Frederic Watts, 1886

I want to take a look at Watt’s Hope painting, as I think it conveys many things through symbolic means. The image contains a young blind woman seated on a globe playing the only remaining string on a broken lyre. The woman leans closely to the broken instrument to here its music. There are multiple perceptions to take on the piece, one being that while the title suggests a positive end, the atmosphere of it seems to be of dwindling hope. The setting looks cold and bear with only smoky wisps accompanying it, and the girl sits uncomfortably on a mound while begging for music from her broken lyre. However you could see the girl symbolizing universal hope, as she may be seated on the globe, and represents the struggles everyone may face to attain something beautiful. These are a mere two ideas, there are many more possable meaning tothe piece.

Religious Work

The Symbolism movement wasn’t the only instance where symbolism was present, as it can be recorded being used throughout history in periods including the Renaissance and beyond. Symbolism has always had a strong presence in religious paintings, as religion itself functions on many symbols. Christianity for instance has the cross to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice, and traditions such as Christmas that symbolize his birth.

Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais, 1849-50

One of these paintings is Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-50). Being one of the first scene paintings produced by The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-1900) by John Everett Millais (1828-1910), who wanted to depict the holy family in a realistic environment that was unsaturated by idealization. By doing this, certain elements that had been used so frequently to symbolize divine characteristics were deemed unrealistic and would detract from the artists intention of a humble origin story. This meant that they would need to be implemented more discreetly. This is what is so fantastic about this image, it’s full of symbols of the young Christ’s future in a way that does not draw away from the domestic scene. In the background there is a triangle that symbolizes the Holy Trinity, Christ has blood on his palm and feet that call to the Crucifixion, which is strengthened by the presence of nails on the table and planks of wood in the background. You also have the young John the Baptist carrying a bowl of water to clean Christ’s wound, another preconception to future events.


Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, 1434

Symbolism is also present in portraiture, as can be seen in Jan van Eyck’s (1390-1441) double portrait of a wealthy merchant and  his fashionable wife. While nobody is truly certain of what exactly this painting is for, all can agree on the present symbols that the man is a wealthy merchant because of his expensive fur coat, which may of been his product because of the value of fur at the time. Also, his wife wears the fashionable clothing of the time, that is filled with intricate detail and is made with a lot of material. There is also the decorated environment that symbolizes this, such as the red cloth on some of the furniture, symbolizing power and importance. It also symbolizes passion, to copulate for a baby perhaps. This idea is further implemented  by the green dress the woman is wearing, as green is the color of fertility. You could suggest that the manner in which she holds the dress also indicates fertility, but apparently this was something women did with this sort of dress anyway, but I wouldn’t put it passed the artist to hint at pregnancy. You can also detect a holy presence in the picture; there are miniature details of the Passions outlining the mirror in the background, and some speculate that the single lit candle symbolizes gods presence. Until recently it was officially understood to be a painting that captured the marriage of the husband and wife, but now its meaning is undetermined. It could be that the image in a memorial to the woman, as the couple’s hands may be drifting apart. Or it may very well a simple double portrait that has information regarding the husband.

Still Life

Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life by Harmen Steenwyck, 1640

Still life, while usually disregarded as true art due to their perceived simplicity, became integral to an artists success during the the Protestant Reformation and in countries that adopted Protestant ideas such as Holland and Spain. This was a change that meant depictions of holy figures, such as St Peter or the Virgin Mary, was sacrilege. This meant that patrons of this faith would be far less inclined to commission for religious works, and the Protestant churches, who beforehand used to be their main patrons, were now lost. The reason that still life thrived in this time is because they did not traditionally depict holy figures. They consisted of physical objects, those of which followed a certain theme, like breakfast or hunting. But for those who still wanted artwork that related to religion in some way, there was vanity paintings. These works would not contain direct items that had clear religious implications, instead they used symbolic meaning behind certain items to convey religious attitudes. They would present objects of earthly pleasures, in contrast to symbols of death and heavenly ascendance. They might contain the decay of fruit to symbolize the decay of ones piety through such indulgences, and inevitable end we all face. These vanity paintings were invented to stir people onto the right path to heaven. Here are a few more examples of items and the symbolic meanings they held:

  • Books – Knowledge, Luxuries
  • Shells – Fertility, Wealth
  • Produce – Sustaining life
  • Silk – Wealth, Luxuries
  • Blades – Military, Craftsmanship

Composition would also play a part in these works. In Harmen Steenwyck’s (1612-56) painting, shown above, he displays all of the objects on the right side of the painting diagonally and has a shaft of light come down in the empty space. This light is directed towards the symbolic objects, which in doing so symbolizes ones spiritual existences in contrast the the physical realm and its vanities.


In the wake of Freudian psychoanalysis (in early 1900s); artists, poets and writers from around Europe came together to create work concerning the human mind that contradicted the logical expectations of the conscious. This group were called the Surrealists. Andre Breton (1896-1966),  their leader, concluded that the the unconscious and the conscious could be combined to create a “super reality” – Surrealism. They experimented with how their own mind could be altered in order to gain greater access to the unconscious. The work produced by the Surrealists were strange, scary and confusing. The images created are considered dreamlike given there strong association with the unconscious and that they sometimes even resemble dreams. But they do hold symbolic meaning, hidden in a code of mental filtering that is best understood through psychoanalytical dissection, you can create your own picture of certain aspects of the artist, perhaps secrets about their childhood or intimate desires.

Salvador Dali (1904-89) was a prominent figure of the Surrealist art, as he was one of its most famous and controversial members. He always attempted to go against the logical and made shocking statements that went against much of what surrealists valued. Dali’s work, specifically between 1928 and 1933, relied on the “paranoiac-critical method”. Essentially another way for him to access his unconscious, but this method also allowed him to make use of his conscious state at the same time. It allowed him his precise artistic style (using his conscious) while inspired by his unconscious. This is interesting, because it allows for the abstract thoughts of the unconscious to be rendered into a readable manner.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, 1931

The Persistence of Memory is one of the results of this combination, and given the paintings title along with its subjects, you can see that there’s a connection. Although, like many Surrealist works, the meaning is almost never straightforward, especially with Dali, it’s known that he creates work that includes visual identity through two disparate objects. In this case it appears that Dali has attempted to make a connection with time and melting. This could have a somewhat literal meaning, symbolizing how time can simply melt away before you know it, or the flowing eternity. Or it could symbolize a physical description of Einstein’s theory of relativity, about how time is subject to changing dramatically anywhere in the universe, a subject that was being discussed around this time. Besides the pocket watches, there appears a flat portrait of whom might be Dali, equally as flexible as the watches, there seems to be a fixation with himself and time. This portrait also seems to stretch off into the darker side of the image and is lacking any sort of mustache. Perhaps Dali is showing concern about his future, this is supported be the be the ants that are eating one of the timepieces. He was highly ambitious, so the idea of losing it all must have plagued his mind.


Symbolism, as you can see, exists throughout almost all art, if not intentional it’s psychological. Unfortunately most of us lack the required knowledge to pick out some of the less obvious symbols. Leaving us only the written work of others to rely on if we are struggling with our reading of art. But provided the examples I’ve provided, you should find that artists are communicating far easier. Remember that sometimes you may need incite to the artist and the environment they lived/ live in. You may also find that other media such as films, books, games, theater and music may also contain symbolic messages; if you are interested in subjects than I suggest you look into the YouTube channel Wisecrack at, they have a series that deals with this subject and has quality writing.

The great 19th century writer Thomas Carlyle (On Heroes and Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History – 1840) writes that Symbolism is “a concealed revelation, something we can see visibly, but the true meaning is deeply hidden and can only be unlocked if one contemplates and considers. However once unlocked, true revelation of that meaning of the symbol, is revealed.”

Edger Degas’s Treatment of the Taboo Subject of the Contemporary Nude

Edger Degas is known by many as one of the Impressionists of artistic fame, while also being one of the more controversial members. He was a misogynist, he had awful things to say about Jews and he was generally a mean spirited person with an up-tight attitude. However, despite his spiteful character he was a man of great artistic innovation.

I’d like to share some incites about his work, specifically his pastel pieces around the female nude. As you may well understand, nude woman in art had proceeded artists such as Degas for generations, although they were constricted to classical imagery. Edouard Manet for instance, a major influence on many Impressionists, had challenged the hypocritical nature of this Classical subject with his piece Olympia as it presented a far more confrontational nude woman in a contemporary setting. Where Classical nudes presented women as idealized forms in highly finished paintings, Manet presented a prostitute with spontaneous strokes. Unfortunately for him, many critics claimed the work “valuer” and “amateur”, criticism which reoccurred similarly in the later first Impressionist’s exhibition.

Olympia by Edouard Manet, 1863

Manet wanted to show women in a more realistic light, as the world was a quickly changing place and the classical motif was an aging relic of the past. So it may not surprise you to find that Degas, a great innovator, adopted this notion to move away from the old traditions, however it may surprise you to find that he also presented the female nude less idealistically and more realistically. I’m again referring to the pastel nudes as I mentioned earlier, images of woman  bathing, washing, drying themselves and so on. These images were first exhibited in the final Impressionist exhibition of 1886, while the artist was at the height of his fame, resulting in critics considering the work more. While this did lead to the praise of reflecting colors and more spontaneous techniques, as the Impressionists usually achieved, the subject matter itself was as much a taboo as it was for Manet in 1865 with Olympia. Like Manet’s, Degas’s nudes were received with shock, as nudes were still primarily a Classical subject, although the manner in which Degas presented them was entirely different to Manet’s. His nude figures were far less confrontational and more disconnected, even unknowing of the viewer’s glance, as if caught unaware. As you can imagine this somewhat perverse placement of the viewer generated some negativity, but considering that a lot of Classical images of reclining women was just as erotic, if not more welcoming, this placement seems to be mostly overlooked. What I feel needs highlighting is the underlying ideas in the pieces, ideas unrelated to technique, the essence of human kind in naturalistic form that evades idealization.

Woman in the Bath by Edger Degas, 1886

Woman Combing Her Hair by Edger Degas, 1887-90

The imperfect postures of the women as they go about their daily activity, unknowing that they are on show. Ordinary women, without slim bodies and clear skin expectant of Pagan goddesses. Women with layers of pink flesh, made apparent through bending and stretching, that describes them unsympathetically. Some critics said these details were “cruel” and “degrading” (as some of these features were saved for the mockery of prostitutes due to ‘idleness’), maybe Degas was merely being misogynistic again, but its the activities that the women take part in that tackle this notion. The self cleansing portrayed may very well by an allegory of the cleansing of the taboo of unidealized beauty in contemporary women.

Woman in Bath by Edger Degas, 1883

This work has clear influences to later artists; such Egon Schiele’s highly emotive contorted figures, unidealized human bodies that strike with fixations of lust and anguish, and Lucien Freud’s painfully truthful painting of those close to him, unrelenting with fact over fiction.

Seated Woman with Bent Knee by Egon Schiele, 1917

Untitled by Lucian Freud, 1972


I think it’s about time I put up some art, and to start off I’m going to show one of my favourites. This piece was one of the final pieces for my course in Lichfield College. It’s a steel sculpture that I processed with chemicals … Continue reading RUST