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The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts, The New Version [Paperback]

Rudolf Arnheim
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts 3.5 out of 5 stars (2)
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Book Description

March 25 1988
Using a wealth of examples, Arnheim considers the factors that determine the overall organization of visual form in works of painting, sculpture, and architecture.

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The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts, The New Version + Visual Thinking + Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye
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About the Author

Rudolf Arnheim is Professor Emeritus of the Psychology of Art at Harvard University. For many years he was a member of the Psychology Faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, and he spent his last ten academic years at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he now lives.

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This book offers an in-depth analysis of the visual dynamics in a piece of art according to the sizes, positions, orientations and the balancing centers of its components. Paintings, sculptures and architectures are the subjects of discussions in the book. In addition to the balance between the components of a piece of art, the shape of a picture frame, the environment, the perspective prescribed by the artist and the viewer all play an important role in the interpretation of a piece art. The author takes an step-by-step approach to explain how the understanding of the roles of all these elements would help us to appreciate a piece of art. Many examples, modern and classical, are provided to demonstrate his points. I find his approach to understanding a piece of art interesting and revealing. This is one of the best books I ever read about arts. I think this book would benefit aspiring artists and art enthusiasts alike. I would hane given it five stars instead of four and a half if the pictures in the book were in color.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More scientific than artistic April 20 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The book reads like a complicated mathematical college text book. The author either tries to impress you with his knowledge of the english language or confuse you with the ideology behind his observations in artistic composition. I found the book to be very confusing and at times boring enough to put it aside and read something else. The author does relate some good input when critiquing paintings but you need pay complete attention to the beginning of the book in order to understand his complicated formulas. It is definetely not an easy read, and not for the artist. This book is for the art critic who tries to find scientific formulas for the study of composition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the visua April 17 2000
By passtime seeker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book offers an in-depth analysis of the visual dynamics in a piece of art according to the sizes, positions, orientations and the balancing centers of its components. Paintings, sculptures and architectures are the subjects of discussions in the book. In addition to the balance between the components of a piece of art, the shape of a picture frame, the environment, the perspective prescribed by the artist and the viewer all play an important role in the interpretation of a piece art. The author takes an step-by-step approach to explain how the understanding of the roles of all these elements would help us to appreciate a piece of art. Many examples, modern and classical, are provided to demonstrate his points. I find his approach to understanding a piece of art interesting and revealing. This is one of the best books I ever read about arts. I think this book would benefit aspiring artists and art enthusiasts alike. I would hane given it five stars instead of four and a half if the pictures in the book were in color.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes! March 19 2007
By Thomas F. Brosnahan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've been looking for a book like this for years! As a photographer, I know what I like but I can't always say why I (or others) like it--in other words, what makes a "good" image. Arnheim helps by examining with extraordinary sensitivity the psychology and even physiology of visual perception.

Yes, it's complicated, and if you are not on the same wavelength as the author it may seem obtuse (perhaps even willfully so). But if your thinking is congruent with his, if you have been puzzling over how people examine images, how their eyes move about an image and absorb and appreciate it, then Arnheim's analysis is nothing short of brilliant and revelatory. I find myself saying "Yes! Yes! Yes!" as I read.

There is more here than I need--much more. I don't feel that I need to master everything he writes in order to fulfill my need to understand visual perception so as to improve my photography. But I celebrate the day I discovered this book, and I congratulate the author on such a perceptive, clearly--even engagingly--written work.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relevant to artists and viewers of art Feb. 4 2009
By A. Navarro - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is about how pictures take on meaning from the forces acting between the "centers" within them. In Arnheim's words "Geometrically, the center is defined purely by location as the point equidistant from all homologous points of a regular figure. Physically, the center is the fulcrum around which an object balances. Perceptually, the "balancing center" is the point at which all vectors constituting a visual pattern are in equilibrium. In a broader sense and irrespective of location, any visual object constitutes a "dynamic center" because it is the seat of forces issuing from it and converging toward it." Simplistic compositional tips like "avoid the center of the picture" and the fulcrum principle(balancing objects on the left and right of the image according to their visual weight), by being integrated into the theories presented here, are put into a larger context and derive greater meaning.
Various topics are covered: how differently shaped frames(vertical rectangle, horizontal rectangle, square, circle) emphasize the geometrical center in different ways and how that effects meaning. How objects within a picture derive meaning from their location within it, and how they attract and repel each other. 2D and 3D interpretation of pictures. Symbolic or metaphorical meaning derived from vectors, the pushes and pulls of action within the picture. "Micro themes" located at the centers of pictures which summarize the story, pouring water in a bowl to symbolize conversation, a hand supporting another to symbolize the theme of support. I found the book very informative, giving me lots of things to look for in pictures, and ideas to try out in compositions.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Working-Artists' Essential Read Jan. 6 2010
By Visual Medicine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Professor Rudolph Arnheim passed-on in 2007-- too-early. His words have long been on my very short shelf of those convincing writers on the Experience of art, and is at the zenith of those few who can actually teach Learning To See (at distance).

This title concentrates on elements that, while eventually intuited by working artists, are here spelled-out so clearly that I caught myself sighing-and-startling several times. Could I be more emphatic, short of drooling?

It begs to be written-into, including lines onto the (simple) diagrams, so I am today purchasing a clean copy for my daughter (who accepted my pushing it into her hands only a month ago). I had passed it along too-soon.

Professor Arnheim has, in this one among many fine volumes, produced one of the finest books of the past century for art AND artists. Rare, indeed, given that it is never pompous and contains not a single color picture. Nearly impossible to cram more experience into such a small work; AND to discover that simple words can still provoke new meaning in my daily decisions in making images. His writing style is that of the helpful, kind (insider) friend to (the novice as well as the elite). He is to the point, softly-- minus the terse collegial congratulations often evident in academic art writings.

I am grateful for his contributions to my education and Life of the Mind. Had we ever met, I would have shook his hand too hard; new thoughts from his pen will be missed.
39 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More scientific than artistic April 20 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The book reads like a complicated mathematical college text book. The author either tries to impress you with his knowledge of the english language or confuse you with the ideology behind his observations in artistic composition. I found the book to be very confusing and at times boring enough to put it aside and read something else. The author does relate some good input when critiquing paintings but you need pay complete attention to the beginning of the book in order to understand his complicated formulas. It is definetely not an easy read, and not for the artist. This book is for the art critic who tries to find scientific formulas for the study of composition.
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