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Some principles of spatial organization in art

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image of Spatial Vision
For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

Rules of composition in paintings form a rich probe into the principles of perceptual processing that have been discussed for centuries. These principles can be studied by controlled scientific experiments, but an alternative approach is to use the art works themselves as a database for direct analysis. This paper focuses on the analysis of composition in relation to the canvas frame. An underlying principle is the compositional pyramid rising from the bottom of the frame to a center of consciousness high on the midline, which also finds its expression in the configuration of portrait paintings. The analyses presented reveal a dominant positioning principle for one eye in a portrait to lie on the vertical axis with an unbiased accuracy of the order of ±5%. Analysis of the vertical location shows that the dominant height is at or above the Golden Section level on the vertical axis. In general, the layout of the portrait follows the principle of the compositional pyramid, with a center of consciousness at its apex, but there are many other compositional principles at work in the corpus of portraits in general. Analysis of the portraits of particular artists reveals that special features of their work must be considered in order to identify those that do and do not conform to the eye-centering principle.

Affiliations: 1: Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, 2318 Fillmore Street, San Francisco CA 94115, USA


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