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Aesthetic issues in spatial composition: effects of position and direction on framing single objects

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

Artists who work in two-dimensional visual media regularly face the problem of how to compose their subjects in aesthetically pleasing ways within a surrounding rectangular frame. We performed psychophysical investigations of viewers' aesthetic preferences for the position and facing direction of single, directed objects (e.g. people, cars, teapots and flowers) within such rectangular frames. Preferences were measured using two-alternative forced-choice preference judgments, the method of adjustment, and free choice in taking photographs. In front-facing conditions, preference was greatest for pictures whose subject was located at or near the center of the frame and decreased monotonically and symmetrically with distance from the center (the center bias). In the left- or right-facing conditions, there was an additional preference for objects to face into rather than out of the frame (the inward bias). Similar biases were evident using a method of adjustment, in which participants positioned objects along a horizontal axis, and in free choice photographs, in which participants were asked to take 'the most aesthetically pleasing picture' they could of everyday objects. The results are discussed as affirming the power of the center and facing direction in the aesthetic biases viewers bring to their appreciation of framed works of visual art (e.g. Alexander, 2002; Arnheim, 1988).

Affiliations: 1: University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA


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