Designing with Chaos. Simplicity and regularity | WebReference

Designing with Chaos. Simplicity and regularity

  Simplicity and regularity

It can be said that simplicity in the sense which I've tried to outline by the above historical sketch is akin to the level of humanism in fonts. The stricter, more obvious, more demanding and deliberate is the set of rules that defines the appearance of an object, the more alien the concept of simplicity appears to be for that object, even if formally it only contains a few elements. On the contrary, compositions which are casual and freeform tend to appear relaxed and therefore simple, even when they comprise many elements.


Figure 1

  Fig. 1:  The underlying formal system contrasts its rigidity with the foreground expression in this piece of analytic art (illustration courtesy of Anna Nikolaeva)  

  Thus, Fig. 1 is perceived as engagingly complex and intricate exactly because it is built according to a few strict and obvious spatial rules. Its features therefore do not melt into amorphousness; we can easily discern the regular pattern, and watching how each single line follows this pattern while at the same time constituting a part of the image's overall meaning (the depiction of a human figure) is a very stimulating experience which defines the appeal of the image.  

Figure 2

  Fig. 2:  Sweeping generalizations are characteristic in this example of synthetic art (illustration courtesy of Ludmila Pigina)  

  It is instructive to compare Fig. 1 to Fig. 2, where a female figure is equally different to discern - but for a different reason. No system of rules seems to define its freehand strokes, and we're therefore not tempted to apply any sort of analysis at the level of separate elements of the drawing. What we see is a whole image with its own character and distinctive style. This image favors synthetic, rather than analytic, perception, and therefore seems much simpler than Fig. 1 - not in the sense of being more "primitive" but more integral and life-like.

From a historical viewpoint, Fig. 1 represents a more traditional sort of art based on an established visual paradigm and capable of developing within that paradigm only by deepening its connotations and by formal artifice, rather than by expanding the range of creative tools (a fictitious but very persuasive example of such a system was described by Hermann Hesse in "The Glass Bead Game"). Such systems, as if to compensate for their formal rigidity, tend to favor excessive interpretations, with some of their formal elements acquiring deep philosophical connotations (mandala, a pictorial symbol of the universe in Buddhism, is such an example).

In this context, Fig. 2 may be viewed as a sample of the style that always comes as a reaction after long periods of domination of rigid visual paradigms. Our age is unique in the history of arts in that, although on the overall it's dominated by humanistic freeform imagery, it often indulges itself in much more formal constructs, usually in combination with contrastingly relaxed elements. For instance, for a modern eye the rigid lattice of Fig. 1 would look quite natural if overlain by (and interacting with) an expressively amorphous texture layer - a sort of combination virtually impossible in any of either "analytic" or "synthetic" periods in the past.


Created: May 15, 1999
Revised: May 15, 1999