The Attributes


AttributeMaximum ContrastMinimum Contrast
SpatialIn DepthStatic

The Elements of the visual notation system are used to create designs or objects to be seen, and to give them certain qualities or Attributes. The Alphabet of Art recognizes three attributes or categories of viewer response: Emotional, Aesthetic, and Spatial. All works of visual art and design contain these Attributes.

For example, a painter may employ some of the Elements in an active manner, using maximum contrast in an asymmetrical composition to produce a painting that creates an emotional response in the viewer.

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Carrivago. Source:

Or, a painter may employ some of the Elements with minimum contrast in a symmetrical composition, thus producing a decorative painting that creates a more passive viewer response.

La sente aux vaches by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot. Source:

About Viewer Responses

To a large extent, viewer responses are influenced by the artist’s use of the Elements, as described in the topic for each Element. But response also depend on the personal and cultural characteristics of the viewer.

The Emotional Attribute, for example, is simply the emotional response: “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” This response depends on the temperament and background of the viewer, which varies widely.

The second, the Aesthetic Attribute, may require some training if the viewer is to comprehend the difference between the dynamic and decorative qualities of a design.

The third, the Spatial Attribute, requires a technical observer to fully appreciate it. That is, an artist or critic who understands why a chosen Element behaves in a certain manner and has a particular effect in a composition. See The Picture Plane for more information on the Spatial Attribute.

Choose a link to learn more about the Alphabet

The Elements  
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Other Topics  
The AttributesCompositionThe Picture Plane
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The Alphabet of Art is a service of, the home of fantasy and science fiction author Jack Massa. Jack developed this site based on manuscripts and illustrations by Robert J. McKnight. If you have comments on the Alphabet or this site, please contact us here.

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