Balance is one of those things we do without thinking or awareness until we lose balance. Anyone who has had an episode of vertigo knows what I am talking about. The last couple of weeks I have spent a fair amount of time ruminating about balance—paying attention to where and how balance or the lack of it impacts my life and work.
My father, who is a healthy and youthful 93-year-old, came for a visit and I noticed that for the first time he felt the need to hold my hand or arm when we went for walks. Without actually having experienced a fall he has become aware of feeling less secure on his feet.
This led me to consider all the ways in which balance plays a role in our lives. Naturally, our most direct experience is the physical aspect of balance. That we can stand up straight, move through space, spin, jump, lean precariously and still stay on our feet is actually quite remarkable. It requires the coordination of our inner ear, eyes, muscles and joints to stay oriented and upright in the physical world. The human child on average achieves this coordination after 9-12 months of determined effort. It takes another couple of years to add running, leapfrog and monkey bars to our repertoire. So a problem with any of these functions can literally throw us off our feet. Just try standing for a minute with your eyes closed. How long before you start swaying and feel like you are losing your balance?
Balance as a concept has many flavors and is the subject of much inquiry and discourse. Whether it is a life-work balance, spiritual balance, emotional balance, social balance, or balance sheets—you name it and there are hundreds of books on the subject. In all of these flavors, attaining balance is the goal.
Think about it—the balanced personality, a balanced diet, a sense of balance, a balanced checkbook, balanced tires, a balancing act, the balance of power, the balance point, the balance of time, balance of nature, balance of mind, one-legged balances—all we need is a balance of balance so we are not so focused on balance.
I don’t have a theoretical or academic grounding in the subject of balance in art, but I can speak from my personal experience. I am aware of my need for a sense of visual stability. My tendency is to work towards a visual balance of elements in a composition—symmetry, asymmetry, repetition, color, shape, texture, light and shadow, etc. I use the word harmony more often than balance when I talk to clients about my goals in producing work for them. I like harmony because it implies a sympathetic integration (or happy play) of multiple elements whereas balance implies a single point between opposites and I see it more as an element of harmony.
Whether or not we are consciously aware of what creates balance and harmony in visual media, we feel it subjectively. We are more drawn to and will look at images longer or repeatedly—irrespective of subject matter—when they are harmonious and balanced. These images are comfortable psychologically. We say they are successful or good.
Conversely, visually uncomfortable imagery challenges our need for balance and stability to feel safe—and is subject to personal preference. For each of us the ”balance point” between risk and safety, challenge and ease is different and that is a good thing. The result is we have a broad range of richly diverse art and visual media available to us.
As a designer of collateral material for businesses and organizations achieving the right balance between comfortable and “edgy” is driven by brand personality and audience…and more often than not the preferences of the individuals at the helm. To get it right requires a sensitivity to the personalities, organizational history and current context as well as a certain amount of divination. I often have to put my personal preferences aside in order to find the right expression to communicate my client’s vision.
In my own work exploration of anything and everything is on the table. What are the outer edges of my comfort level? How do I balance my need for comfort and beauty with risk-taking and truth? Where is the energy in my work? In the middle? On the edges? Is my work balanced? Is it harmonious? How do make it better?
The creative vision comes from a deep place and making images exposes this inner reality to the community at large. You could say that creativity is the ongoing process of integrating the personal with the communal—the goal being the achievement of balance between the needs of one and the requirements of the other.
On that note, I bid you good balance.