Chapter Outline

Unity, variety, and balance are central principles that artists use to create visual impact. Unity gives a work a certain oneness or cohesion. So powerful is the force of cohesive oneness that even a fragment of a work—for example, a broken piece of a ceramic pot—may have aesthetic unity. An artist may unify a work in one or more of three ways: through the arrangement of its elements, such as shape, line, and color; through its subject matter or the ideas it describes; and by drawing us in so that we become intensely aware of what the artist intends to communicate—a perception of wholeness sometimes known as gestalt.

The other two fundamental principles that affect the visual impact of a work are variety and balance. Variety is expressed in contrast and difference, which create visual interest and excitement; artists may use extreme variety quite deliberately to give an artwork a sense of chaos and lack of control. Variety can be created by the use of different kinds of lines, shapes, patterns, colors, or textures, or even by intentionally distinguishing many separate brushstrokes or chisel marks.

Balance is imposed on a work when the artist achieves an appropriate combination of unity and variety. We appreciate balance by "weighing up" the organization of the visual elements in our minds, as we consider and examine an artwork; our comprehension of balance is primarily intuitive, and our intuitions are based on an instinctive ability to discern symmetries and patterns in the world around us. This innate awareness of symmetry is reflected in the abundance of symmetrical artworks, but artists also exploit it when they create artworks that rely for their effect on the disturbing feelings caused by asymmetry.