Compositorial ‘Weight’ & ‘Luminance’

in Art & Perception
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Compositorial weight might be understood as an operational definition of salience. It is not a psychophysical entity, but holds a key position between psychophysics and aesthetics. Several factors ranging over raw photometric/colorimetric parameters, various kinds of psychophysical contrast, image geometry, even semantic properties are readily shown to influence weight. A down-to-earth proposition is that luminance might play a dominant role. We investigate this notion and show that luminance per se is hardly important, except in certain paradigms like the ones considered here. We find that observers indeed readily judge weight based on luminance in such paradigms, although there are strong idiosyncratic differences. Our results have some generic implications for graphical design.

Compositorial ‘Weight’ & ‘Luminance’

in Art & Perception



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  • View in gallery

    Four instances of simple compositions with two blobs on (perhaps statistically) uniform grounds. The two patches are identical in all cases. Are these ‘balanced’ configurations, or do they look lopsided, verging towards left or right? One’s intuitive decision will be influenced by many factors, such as the shades of gray, the contrasts with the background, the sizes, the position in the frame, the edge quality and so forth. Of course, there are also idiosyncratic factors in play. In the top-right example the background has no particular shade of gray, in the top left it has a uniform tone yielding a balanced composition. In the examples at bottom the design is unbalanced due to a different choice of background tone. At left, it veers towards the white blob, at right towards the black blob.

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    An example (Diagram XXVII: ‘Illustration How Interest May Balance Mass’) by Harold Speed (1913). Notice how unbalanced the landscape composition at left appears. In the sketch at right the introduction of a tiny human figure manages to effectively ‘balance’ the group of trees compositorially.

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    A geometrical design based on two interlocking equilateral triangles, contained in a square that acts like a frame. The intersection of the triangles generates a regular hexagon and six smaller equilateral triangles arranged in a chain. The symmetry is partly broken by grouping the small triangles in interlocking triads, thus one needs only four colors (instead of eight) to paint this configuration.

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    Here are the 24 distinct designs based on the geometry defined in Fig. 3. One becomes aware of very distinct effects of grouping and apparent transparency. In some of these designs the two large triangles are not manifest at a cursory glance, in others they immediately strike the eye. This is of major importance in graphic design.

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    With the background simultaneously black and white, its role in the compositional balance disappears. Now there remain six distinct designs. Only two of these (center column) manifestly display the large triangles at cursory glance.

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    Here are six instances from a continuous spectrum of designs. At the left side it points to the left, at the right side it points to the right. Near the center the weights balance and the composition does not noticeably point either way. Notice that the central hexagon remains a constant, uniform mid-gray.

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    The principle of the ‘monochrome Gestalt paradigm’, this is a momentary impression of method B. It can only be suggested rather than illustrated, in reality the noise was much finer and was refreshed at frame-rate. The attempt was to create a background that would not fit anywhere on the tonal range from black to white. This succeeds to the effect that the snowstorm background contrasts about equally with any uniform patch no matter the tone, from white to black.

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    Settings for paradigm A (blue background) for all observers. Each observer did 10 repeats. The box-and-whisker plots show total range and quartiles. A positive value corresponds to the right side, a negative value to the left side of the stimuli shown in Fig. 7 (apart from the background).

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    Settings for paradigm B (‘snow storm’) for all observers. Each observer did 10 repeats. Like in figure 8, the box-and-whisker plots show total range and quartiles. A positive value corresponds to the right side, a negative value to the left side of the stimuli shown in Fig. 7.

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    Weighted regression between the medians for paradigms A and B over all participants. Black line shows the fit. The diameters of the dots show the weights, which are taken to be inversely proportional to the interquartile ranges.

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