Measuring pictorial balance perception at first glance using Japanese calligraphy

According to art theory, pictorial balance acts to unify picture elements into a cohesive composition. For asymmetrical compositions, balancing elements is thought to be similar to balancing mechanical weights in a framework of symmetry axes. Assessment of preference for balance (APB), based on the symmetry-axes framework suggested in Arnheim R, 1974 Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press), successfully matched subject balance ratings of images of geometrical shapes over unlimited viewing time. We now examine pictorial balance perception of Japanese calligraphy during first fixation, isolated from later cognitive processes, comparing APB measures with results from balance-rating and comparison tasks. Results show high between-task correlation, but low correlation with APB. We repeated the rating task, expanding the image set to include five rotations of each image, comparing balance perception of artist and novice participant groups. Rotation has no effect on APB balance computation but dramatically affects balance rating, especially for art experts. We analyze the variety of rotation effects and suggest that, rather than depending on element size and position relative to symmetry axes, first fixation balance processing derives from global processes such as grouping of lines and shapes, object recognition, preference for horizontal and vertical elements, closure, and completion, enhanced by vertical symmetry.

Authors: S. Gershoni & S. Hochstein
Year of publication: 2011
Journal: iPerception (issue on Art & Perception) 2: 508-27

Link to publication:


“Working memory”