Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Art & Design Code

Like the famous - yet secretive - Da Vinci Code, there is a Code behind every work of Art or Design. In short there is a 'core' around which all expressions of human creations (i.e. artifacts) are formed. Today we will dive into this core.

Buckle up, stop smoking, we are in for a crazy ride!



Here we are. Living beings on Earth.
But what is Earth? What is it made up of?

For that I looked up Clay Shirky's writings (http://www.shirky.com/writings/ontology_overrated.html).

He has looked into the Library of Congress' categorization of History. These are all the top-level categories -- all of these things are presented as being co-equal.
D: History (general)
DA: Great Britain
DB: Austria
DC: France
DD: Germany
DE: Mediterranean
DF: Greece
DG: Italy
DH: Low Countries
DJ: Netherlands
DK: Former Soviet Union
DL: Scandinavia
DP: Iberian Peninsula
DQ: Switzerland
DR: Balkan Peninsula
DS: Asia
DT: Africa
DU: Oceania
DX: Gypsies

I'd like to call your attention to the ones in bold: The Balkan Peninsula. Asia. Africa.

And just, you know, to review the geography:

[ Spot the difference? ]

Yet, for all the oddity of placing the Balkan Peninsula and Asia in the same level, this is so puzzling. The Library of Congress has a staff of people who do nothing but think about categorization all day long. So what's being optimized here? It's not geography. It's not population. It's not regional GDP.

What's being optimized is number of books on the shelf. That's what the categorization scheme is categorizing.

That's what we are going to discuss first; Hierarchies of Art & Design Elements.

  • Art is something tangible and new created by human skills, the purpose of which is to communicate ideas and feelings using visual means.

  • Unlike art, Design also implies utility. It involves an object for use. Designed objects communicate their use.

  • In a hierarchical diagram Art versus Design is depicted as follows:

    Art versus Design

    In addition, we have discussed the 5 senses with which we - human beings - receive stimuli from the world around us, and to which we respond. These are shown next:

    The 5 Senses

    You will most likely already have detected (like Sherlock Holmes) that "Vision" relates to Art & Design, using "visual means". Therefore it is nice that we can relate the two diagrams.

    Below I have included Interpretation, Perception, Culture, and Movement (in Time and Space), that influence our Response to Stimuli.

    The 5 Senses, Stimuli, and Movement

    Focusing on "Image", we open up a world of topics relating to art & design; point, line, shape, repetition, alignment, balance, contrast, proximity, color, value, space, texture & pattern, movement, etc.


    What science addresses the organizing of such a variety of topics?

    The answer is: ONTOLOGY

    The main thread of ontology in the philosophical sense is the study of entities and their relations. The question ontology asks is: What kinds of things exist or can exist in the world, and what manner of relations can those things have to each other? Ontology is less concerned with what is than with what is possible.

    The common thread between the two definitions is essence, "Is-ness." In a particular domain, what kinds of things can we say exist in that domain, and how can we say those things relate to each other?

    The other pair of terms I need to define are CATEGORIZATION and CLASSIFICATION. These are the act of organizing a collection of entities, whether things or concepts, into related groups. Though there are some field-by-field distinctions, the terms are in the main used interchangeably.

    And then there's ONTOLOGICAL CLASSIFICATION or CATEGORIZATION, which is organizing a set of entities into groups, based on their essences and possible relations. A library catalog, for example, assumes that for any new book, its logical place already exists within the system, even before the book was published.

    Let's have a look at one of the well-known hierarchical structures we use in organizing topics.

    File Systems and Hierarchy
    The file system is both a powerful tool and a powerful metaphor (i.e. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one object or idea is applied to another, thereby suggesting a likeness or analogy between them.), and we're all so used to it, it seems natural.

    [ Hierarchy ]

    There's a top level, and subdirectories roll up under that. Subdirectories contain files or further subdirectories and so on, all the way down. Both librarians and computer scientists hit the same next idea, which is "You know, it wouldn't hurt to add a few secondary links in here" -- symbolic links, aliases, shortcuts, whatever you want to call them.

    [ Plus Links ]

    The Library of Congress has something similar in its second-order categorization -- "This book is mainly about the Balkans, but it's also about art, or it's mainly about art, but it's also about the Balkans." Most hierarchical attempts to subdivide the world use some system like this.

    Then, in the early 90s, one of the things that Berners-Lee (founder of Hyperlinks and the resulting Internet) showed us is that you could have a lot of links. You don't have to have just a few links, you could have a whole lot of links.

    [ Plus Lots of Links ]

    But if you've got enough links, you don't need the hierarchy anymore. There is no shelf. There is no file system. The links alone are enough.

    [ Just Links (There Is No Filesystem) ]

    One reason Google was adopted so quickly when it came along is that Google understood there is no shelf, and that there is no file system.

    A lot of the conversation that's going on now about categorization starts at a second step -- "Since categorization is a good way to organize the world, we should..."

    But the first step is to ask the critical question: Is categorization a good idea? There are a number of cases where you get significant value out of not categorizing.

    So should we then not categorize any of the Art & Design ELEMENTS?

    The answer is, it depends... (sounds familiar?)

    I will try and 'branch' some of the elements first. Afterwards we'll see if we can find a denominator to attach these branches to the 'root', the 'IMAGE' in our diagram.


  • Without Gradient there can be no Color.
  • Without Interval there can be no Gradient.
  • Without Value there can be no Interval.

  • Art & Design Element: COLOR

  • Without Form there can be no Shape. NOTE: Forms are simplified Shapes, they lack individual identity.
  • Without Line there can be no Form.
  • Without Point there can be no Line.

  • Art & Design Element: SHAPE

  • Without Mass (2D) there can be no Solid (3D). NOTE: Solids have a continuous surface and are physically separate in space, unlike Masses that only cover a Plane (i.e. an area of a Form).
  • Without Plane there can be no Mass. NOTE: A Mass has Depth, unlike a Plane.
  • Without Surface there can be no Plane. NOTE: a Plane is a Two-Dimensional (2D) Surface.

  • Art & Design Element: SOLID

    Then there are Art & Design DIFFERENTIATORS that make a distinction between Elements.

  • The Size of an Element is the physical reality of its complete dimensions. Dimensions are described in terms of position in space.

  • SCALE:
  • Scale is the Size of one Element relative to another Element, hence it needs a point of reference.

  • Proportion is the relative Size of the parts (Elements) of a complete entity (Composition). Ideas about Proportion, like those of Euclid (Golden Section), Vitruvius (Figure), Fibonacci (1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55, and so on), Palladio (Reoccurrence), and Le Corbusier (Le Modulor), are guides for proportioning Forms and Spaces.

  • Contrast emphasizes the differences between the Elements. For example, Dark/Light, but also Loud/Silent.

  • Proximity is reached when related Elements are grouped together, moved physically close to each other, so the related Elements are seen as one cohesive group rather than a bunch of unrelated bits. Elements or groups of Elements that are not related to each other should not be in close proximity (nearness) to the other Elements, which gives the viewer an instant visual clue as to the organization and content of the Composition. Perspective is one of two. Linear Perspective is a depth cue that relies on the perceptual fact that parallel lines in the same plane appear to converge as they move into the distance. Atmospheric Perspective is a depth cue that occurs when faraway Elements appear less distinct than closer ones, because there is more air and dust intrude between it and the observer.

  • Repetition is a planned, uniterrupted, and regular recurrence of an Element with a maximum sameness. Continuity relies on the recurrence of some Element, but not necessarily identically, as with Repetition.

  • Alignment is a straight-line relationship between the edge or corner of one Element and the edge or corner of another Element. It also describes the centers of two or more independent Elements. Articulation are 'understood' lines between Elements - they lead the eye.

  • Equilibrium is established in two ways: directly through Symmetry, and indirectly through Balance. Symmetry mirrors alike Elements, and is understood at once. Balance arranges unlike Elements of similar visual strengths, and is sensed intuitively; it is not measurable. Asymmetry and Imbalance are also powerful Differentiators.

  • Negative Space is the area of a Composition that is "empty". Negative and Filled Space are equally important in Composition.

  • A Texture is a tactile experience as a mosaic of light and shadows. A Pattern is a recurrence of motifs over an entire surface (usually a Plane).

  • Together the Elements make up an Art & Design COMPOSITION, whereas the Differentiators make a Composition either interesting or boring.

  • A Composition is something meant to be sensed as a whole. A Composition is the outcome of the Art & Design process. It is a planned arrangement of separate Elements like Colors, Shapes, and Solids that make up a New and Distinctive single entity. Composition also means 'the act of arranging Art & Design Elements; it is both an action and a result'. In every Composition some Elements are emphasized over others, but each contributes to the impact of the whole. A Composition is greater than the sum of its parts. (Source: Noriega E., Holtzschue L. 'Design Fundamentals for the Digital Age')

  • Summary:
    Structure:impacts Elements SHAPE and SOLID
    Surface:impacts Element COLOR

    A Composition in turn makes an IMAGE.... and that is the Code as I see it.

    Honey, we're home!

    No comments: