Rhythm & Repetition

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.jpg (142898 bytes) Katsushika Hokusai The Great Wave Off Kanagawa
From "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji"; 1823-29 

Rhythm is a strong, regular, repeated pattern that forms a harmonious sequence or correlation of colors or elements, which usually develops from organizing the space between objects. This rhythmic flow, which is accomplished by repetition, acts as a unifying device for the composition and is often used to suggest movement. Alteration of large and small areas of negative (dark) space within a composition generates this sense of motion.

Alternating rhythm: This sense of rhythm consists of successive patterns in which the same elements reappear in a regular order. A common example of this alternating theme can be seen in the columns of a classic Greek temple. Photographically, alternating light against dark areas or using complementary colors, such as green and red, is a way to create this effect.
Progressive rhythm: This is produced through the repetition of a shape that changes in a regular manner, generating a sequential pattern. It is frequently accomplished with a progressive variation of the size of a shape, through its color, value, and/or texture.

Rhythm can be described as timed movement through space; an easy, connected path along which the eye follows a regular arrangement of motifs. The presence of rhythm creates predictability and order in a composition.

Rhythm depends largely upon the elements of pattern and movement to achieve its effects. The parallels between rhythm in sound/ music are very exact to the idea of rhythm in a visual composition. The difference is that the timed "beat" is sensed by the eyes rather than the ears.  

barnbaumdance.jpg (78443 bytes) barnbaummoonrise.jpg (65141 bytes)   

Bruce Barnbaum Dance of the Corn Lilies, 1991 Moonrise over Cliffs and Dunes,1992

Docu0001.jpg (2498315 bytes) BosqueinNovember1934.jpg (29024 bytes) Albert Renger-Patzsch. Buchenwald in Fall (or Trees). 1936 Bosquein November 1934

Linear rhythm refers to the characteristic flow of the individual line. Accomplished artists have a recognizable manner of putting down the lines of their drawings that is a direct result of the characteristic gesture used to make those lines, which, if observed, can be seen to have a rhythm of its own. Linear rhythm is not as dependent on pattern, but is more dependent on timed movement of the viewer's eye.  

Bridget Riley Drift No. 2 1966 Bridget Riley, Cataract III, 1967

Repetition involves the use of patterning to achieve timed movement and a visual "beat". This repetition may be a clear repetition of elements in a composition, or it may be a more subtle kind of repetition that can be observed in the underlying structure of the image.
Alternation is a specific instance of patterning in which a sequence of repeating motifs is presented in turn; (short/long; fat/thin; round/square; dark/light).

Gradation employs a series of motifs patterned to relate to one another through a regular progression of steps. This may be a gradation of shape or color. Some shape gradations may in fact create a sequence of events, not unlike a series of images in a comic strip.

Prolonged visual involvement through intricacy (contrast of detail) is a more unusual form of emphasis, not as commonly used in Euro-American design, though it is common in many other cultures. In this case, many points of emphasis are created that are to be discovered through close attention to the intricacies of the design.

Rhythm and Gradation

Rhythm and gradation are two important applications of repletion with variety.  Both entail the systematic repetition of intervals of change.

In rhythm one or more intervals are set up in short succession with that succession repeated throughout the composition.  Polyrhythmic compositions interweave a number of rhythmic patterns.  They gain richness in their compounding and contrasting of multiple rhythms.

Gradation uses intervals of change in a progressive series and sets a path for the eye to follow.  For instance, forms may grow smaller bit by bit or they might gradually shift their color or shape.


Repetition and rhythm:

-- Repetition: characterized by the regular recurrence of elements, nonrandom variation, requires multiplicity, it creates the opportunity for interval and rhythm. Rhythm: is the repetition of elements that helps add balance and harmony to the whole. If a web page has repeated colors and layouts, repeated content links, backgrounds, and icons, then it has rhythm and consistency.

Repetition with Variety

Repetition of the same or similar elements exerts order onto a composition. 

Too much repetition, too much order, however emits a visual drone that blankets interest.  Variety is needed to pique attention.

One or more of the formal and special characteristics of an element may be repeated, while one or more other characteristics may be varied. 

A single shape, say a sphere, may be used over and over, but its size and color may vary.  A series of elongated shapes may differ sharply in appearance, but if they are all parallel and facing in the same direction, they will appear unified.

Repeating not just compositional elements but also specific relationships between these elements can exert a strong unity. 

Proportion is a particularly good example of such a relationship. 

The same proportional ration, for example, when chosen to govern all of the individual scale relationships throughout the entire composition, effects order throughout the entire composition.