The Law of Contrast

The Law of Contrast

WE have seen that beauty springs from unity in diversity, and that unity results from processes of comparison wherein like is placed with like-like lines, or shapes, or colors, or significances-until the multiplicity of individual units is related to a few types, and of these types one becomes dominant. Yet, though this conforms to the law of its being, the mind, like a child at play, quickly tires of the same old types. It will return to them; it must know all the time that they are there; but for the moment its interest can be retained only by showing it something different.

Contrast, as an artistic principle, is the result of this necessity. It is a means of giving zest to decorative compositions which, however harmonious, would without it be insipid. It opposes curved lines to straight, plain surfaces to ornamented, light tones to dark, and warm colors to cold, and by this opposition gives the charm of vividness to each.

In this, of course, artistic practice merely conforms to the general law of life, since all our states, both physical and emotional, are intensified by contrast. Sunshine always seems more brilliant after shadow, tranquillity more grateful after excitement. It is indeed only through contrast that we can discriminate between one state or emotion and another. We can enjoy warmth only because we have known cold, and rest because we have known effort. We perceive form or out-line only where there is a contrast of hue or tone. We know smooth textures through contrast with rough, and warm colors through contrast with cold; while lines, shapes and colors are set off and their peculiar qualities made more marked through contrast with their opposites.

It happens, therefore, that in the effort so to select and arrange the furnishings of a given room as to make the room beautiful, the esthetic problem of the decor- ator is twofold. He must first of all ensure an easily perceptible unity through principality and the repetition of like elements, and he must also invest his room with a quality of interest and decorative charm through the opposition of contrasting elements. The contrasts chiefly employed will be those of hue, in which hues more or less markedly unlike are used together; of tone, in which relatively light tones are opposed to relatively dark; of purity, in which relatively pure colors are opposed to relatively neutral; of textures; of lines; of shapes; and of ornamented surfaces as opposed to plain.

Besides its esthetic importance, contrast appears in decoration as a physical factor, the operation of which is to make unlike elements seem more unlike. It is in the nature of our perceptive faculties that when un-like things are compared their unlikeness is accentuated. When we see a tall chair and a low chair in the same group the tall one appears to be taller than it really is, and the short one still shorter by contrast. A picture hung in the midst of a large wall space seems smaller than it would if hung in a small space; a long room appears longer if it is also narrow; a round mirror on a rectangular wall space is more striking than a rectangular mirror would be; pale colors appear more pale against darker grounds; hues more intense against their complementaries; and a richly figured drapery fabric gains in emphasis and distinction from being hung against a plain wall fabric.


Figures 18 and 19, taken from Lipp's Raumaesthetik und geometrisch optische Tduschungen, illustrate this physical effect of contrast. In the first figure the first and second lines are of equal length, as are the third and fourth, and the fifth and sixth; yet the second appears to be distinctly shorter than the first, and the fourth distinctly shorter than the third. In the second figure the two mean circles are of the same diameter, but through contrast with the two extremes the second is made to appear smaller than the third.

Contrast and Comparison>>>>

Interior Decorating Course Interior Decorating Course
1. The Nature and Method of the Art | The Nature of Interior Decoration | The Method of Interior Decoration | 2. Fitness to Purpose | Interior Decoration Factors | Interior Decorator | Decorative Materials | 3. The Grammar of Decoration | Grammar of Decoration | Form and Color | 4. Line and Form | Line and Form | Curved Lines | Broken Vertical Lines | Diagonal Lines | Three Dimensions | 5. Color | The Nature of Color | The Study of Color | Complementary Colors | Color Constants | Color and Emotion | Color Binaries | 6. The Significance of Texture | The Significance of Texture | Harmonious Textures | 7. The Elements of Beauty | Elements of Beauty | The Human Mind | The Human Mind II | The Dominant Element | The Dominant Element 2nd Method | Reccuring Lines, Shapes and Echoed Colors | Repetition of Color | Perception of Beauty | Variety in Decoration | 8. The Law of Contrast | The Law of Contrast | Contrast and Comparison | Tone Contrast | Tranquility | Individual Feeling | 9. Proportion | Proportion | The Laws of Proportion | Proportions-Creation of a room | Proportions-Creation of a room II | Increasing & Diminishing The Apparent Size of a Room | The Arrangement of Furniture | Proportion-Individual Decorative Units | Instinctive Insistance of a Dominant Element | Basic Importance of Structure | Walls of a Room - Decoration and Proportion | 10. Balance | Balance | Decorative Weight or Power of Attraction | Fixed Decorations, Furniture & Small Unimportant Pieces | Bisymmetric and Formal Balance | Balanced Distribution of Pictures and Rugs | Structural Emphasis and Repose of Background Surfaces 11. Light and Shade | Light and Shade | Quantity and Intensity of Illumination | The Nature and Distribution of Light | Secondary Contracts between Background and Ornamental Objects | 12. The Dominant Hue | The Dominant Hue | Temperament in Decoration | Color to Supplement or Correct Nature | Choice of the Dominant Hue | Background Color | 13. Color Harmony | Color Harmony I | Color Harmony II | Diversity and Animation of Harmonies | Complementary of a Room | Triads in Decoration | Distribution and Intensity of Colors | Contrast - A Principle of Composition | Connecting Rooms Using Harmonious Color | 14. Ornament | Ornament | Naturalistic Ornament | Knowledge of Historic Ornament | 15. Excellence in Design | Excellence in Design - 1st Test of Excellence | Proper Use of Decorative Materials - 2nd & 3rd Tests of Excellence | Beauty in Design - 4th Test of Excellence | Designs with Walls and Wall Paper | Designs with Floor Coverings | Designs with Hangings | 16. Period Decoration Period Decoration | Different Styles in Different Periods | Decorating Traditions Handed Down from the Kings | Peculiar Styles and Decorations of Different Periods | 17. Conclusion | Conclusion

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