AD 175: Visual Structures
Goal and Objectives
- Apply visual structures as fundamental elements in the artistic process. While the use of a common set of concepts for visual structures allows for consistent communication within the School of Art and Design, it is critical that the student understand and apply the concepts. It must be clear that the use of visual structures is not an academic exercise but a means to better understand what is being created by the student and, in understanding what is being created, the student can control the creative process with greater intent. The commonality of visual structures must be stressed as the structures apply regardless of media or method. Students should be able to fluidly apply the concepts of visual structure within their own work and in the analysis and evaluation of other work.
- Understand the physical, visual, and social aspects of art and design as separate yet interrelated. Each of the first three foundations courses emphasizes a specific structure of art and design: physical, visual, and social. But while the three aspects are treated separately, virtually all art and design includes components from all three aspects – one cannot build a piece without consideration for what it looks like and consideration for why it is being built. It will be understood that AD 175: Visual Structures focuses on the visual aspect in all lectures, projects, and discussions but the physical and social domains will be addressed to some degree.
- Comprehend cognitive perception. Perhaps the most complex, yet most fundamental, concept within AD 175: Visual Structures is the idea that what is seen and perceived is directly affected by each viewer’s vision and interpretation of the situation. Magritte’s The Treachery of Images (often better known for “This is not a pipe”) is a clear example of this – the painting is not a pipe, it is a painting of a pipe. The mental construction that allows a viewer to perceive volumetric space in a planar painting is the same construction that allows a viewer to perceive an actual volumetric object. In essence, while the object may differ, the mind summarizes the information in identical fashion – blue is blue regardless of whether it is on a computer screen or enameled onto metal.
- Analyze and solve problems. Making decisions about design are inherent to every art and design discipline. Students must be able to encounter a problem and determine a course of action to solve the problem. While this competency is stressed in AD 160: Physical Structures, the major emphasis in the course is on problem-solving construction problems and issues of force. In AD 175: Visual Structures, the emphasis is on solving visual problems: how to resolve a figure-ground ambiguity; how to deliberately create figure-ground reversal; how to create primary figure and then modify the design to have a different figure become primary; how to enhance a sense of depth.
- Reinforce the common set of visual structures concepts. The School of Art and Design relies on a standard set of concepts in reference to visual structure that is used in every concentration. The concepts establishes a common framework for discussion that allows sculpture majors to easily discuss their work with human centered design majors and graphic communication majors to discus their work with metals majors. While the concepts are used in AD 160: Physical Structures, AD 175: Visual Structures explains the concepts in depth. See the Master Concepts List.
- Concisely communicate what is perceived. While the common concepts of visual structure are used as tools to analyze what is seen and created, it is critical to be able to describe what is seen and created. Students must be able to to accurately describe visual phenomena in a manner that can quickly be understood by others, without lengthy explanation or hand gestures. In fully understanding the concepts of visual structures, students will be able to talk about work in a manner that would be common to all majors within the School of Art and Design. Students must be able to apply visual structures in an active way – to be able to spontaneously describe an image using language appropriate to the concepts of visual structures. The method of communication may include both oral and written applications.
- Understand the value of artistic research. Ongoing research is a vital part of art and design, but how individuals develop the research can vary widely. One form of research is an artist sketchbook that includes not only project ideas but magazine clippings, Xerox information from books, printed websites, bits of found object material, and anything else that inspires the individual. Another form of research is formal research – requiring students to research a specific artist or an artist in their discipline for a paper or presentation, perhaps using research about an artist to provide the basis for a project such as creating a design emphasizing color based on the color use of Piet Mondrian or creating a figure-ground study based on the compositions of the Dadists.
- Cultivate the ability to be self-critical. The ability to be self-critical ensures the continued growth of any artist or designer, particularly beyond the confines of academia. Students must be able to critically evaluate their own work for success, failure, and areas for improvement. Self-critique should become an integral part of the creative process, both in the developmental stages of a piece and in review of the piece upon completion.
- Expand upon initial concepts. All participants in art and design eventually understand that pre-visualization is a critical step in the creative process. Pre-visualization can take the form of sketching, rough drafts, iterations, maquettes, and storyboards, but with every method the intent is consistent: to work through ideas and arrive at the best possible solution. It is recognized that the first solution that comes to mind is seldom the best solution. Students must understand that design is often an iterative process in which initial ideas are changed, modified, expanded, and re-examined in order to arrive at the strongest possible solution. Students must consider the larger design issues first and find solutions to these before proceeding to detail issues. Students must be able create work that reflects a methodical process of growth and improvement beyond the initial version.
Required Methods and Concepts
- Understand visual perception as a series of relationships
What is perceived by an individual is affected by many factors including the viewing situation, the method of presentation, the surrounding imagery, and even the mindset of the individual. Color effects such as simultaneous contrast or the halo effect are completely dependent on having two associated colors – remove one color, and the effect disappears. A more complex example is an image of railroad tracks in one-point perspective – in order to understand the concept of linear perspective as a depth cue, one must first understand the objects as railroad tracks, otherwise they are merely lines in space. Students must understand that a visual structure does not always function in the exact same fashion but changes depending on the context in which it is used. Visual structures fundamentally describe the relationships between aspects of what is perceived. The most fundamental comparison of relationships can be described as continuities and discontinuities (a red square on a blue ground is discontinuous; a green circle amidst twenty similar circles is continuous).
- Understand and apply core visual structures concepts (see Master Concepts List)
A. Visual field as a surface and through space
- point, line, surface (plane), object (form)
B. Descriptors (used to describe figure/ground, motion, and gradient)
- hue, saturation, brightness
- color systems
D. Additional relationships
- Gestalt, grouping
- figure/ground ambiguity
- figure/ground reversal
- repetition, pattern
E. Depth Cues
- linear perspective
- aerial/atmospheric perspective
- relative size relationship
- known size or scale
- kinetic depth (motion parallax)
- retinal disparity
F. Kinesthetic response
- balance (visual)
- Understand and utilize planar, volumetric, and motion-based interpretations of visual structures
Visual structures may be understood and exhibited through a variety of methods ranging from drawing to sculpture to animation. Students must experience a variety of approaches to utilizing visual structures in order to experience a multitude of interpretive methods with the goal of understanding that visual structures are not restricted to any particular medium but rather affect all art and design. Some concepts of visual structure are specific to method of interpretation: a painting will not exhibit the visual structure of movement and a sculpture will not exhibit the visual structure of many depth cues (there is actual depth). Projects, lectures, and discussions must expose students to planar interpretations of visual structure, volumetric interpretations of visual structure, and motion-based interpretations of visual structure.
- Apply the concepts of physical structure in relation to visual structure
Physical, visual, and social structures are inter-related aspects of the visual arts. Students will have completed AD 160: Physical Structures prior to enrolling in AD 175: Visual Structures so the concepts of physical structure must be integrated as related aspects of visual structure. Understanding the illusion of depth (visual structure) is dependent on understanding space (physical structure). Interpreting a sense of gravity and weight (physical structure) is dependent on the use of shape and direction (visual structure).
- Concisely analyze and communicate the concepts of visual structure
The concepts of visual structure must not be a student exercise in memorization. Students must be able to apply the concepts of visual structure to their own work and the work of others. Students must be able to analyze an image or object for its visual structures and then be able to describe those structures to another person in both written and verbal form. Students who cannot communicate the concepts of visual structure will be working on a fundamentally intuitive level. And while working intuitively has a place in art and design, the goals of AD 175: Visual Structures speak to an analytical awareness of visual perception. The students take a capstone visual structures test as part of AD 303: Individual Art Review to evaluate the ongoing understanding of visual structures – AD 175: Visual Structures is the first and most significant step toward that understanding.
- Participate in self-critique
Self-critique may take the form of an entire class critique wherein students evaluate their own work before the class and self-critique may take the form of personal, individual evaluations. Providing a structure for self-critique is recommended as many students have not critically evaluated their own work in an in-depth fashion. It should be made clear that self-critique is not a process that only occurs upon the completion of a piece but an ongoing process. Self-critique is ultimately one of the most critical skills a student can develop while in the School of Art and Design since it applies to all disciplines and all levels of art and design, from student projects to massive commissions. Self-critique can be completed as a written assessment of a class project, a written assessment of a project completed in another course (in the event that AD 175: Visual Structures is taught as a lecture class), verbal self-critique before a group of peers, and even self-critique as evidenced by a required revision of a completed project.
- Analyze and evaluate visual strategies
Students must be able to understand and apply the concepts of visual structure and the most common application of these concepts is in the creation of art and design. Students must understand that while knowing how to apply the concepts of visual structure is vital, there are going to be effective applications of the concepts and ineffective applications of the concepts. The relationship of a final piece to the intentions of the artist is a vital aspect in such an evaluation. Analyzing visual strategies of historical work (a Titian painting or a Paul Rand logo, for example) and current student work are both effective means of exploring a broad range of visual strategies. Comparing effective solutions with less effective solutions is one of many approaches that may be used. Dissecting effective design based on the concepts of visual structure is another useful method. The effectiveness of a given visual strategy is often contingent upon the social structure of the work and therefore discussions of visual strategy will require discussion of physical/visual/social structure relationships. For example, there is a tendency for people to read text and look toward faces in a given work due to the associations of reading and recognizing faces. This social association creates a dominant figure in the work and must be addressed as an aspect of visual strategies.
- Effectively iterate ideas
Iteration of ideas must become part of a student’s creative process. For some, there could be a few iterations and for others, the iterations could number in the hundreds. The emphasis is on creating the habit of generating iterations and that the iterations are a productive process that leads to more effective results.
- Iteration could be completed as thumbnail sketches prior to final production of a piece
- Iteration could be completed as thumbnail sketches as a project – discussion of the various solutions
- Iteration could be completed as revisions of projects
- Verbal development of concepts with peers