Repetition and Rhythm

Bridget Riley Video:

Repetition works with pattern to create a sense of activity.  While the artist's choice of color is a factor in the painting below by Robert Straight, the repetition of circular and branch forms gives the composition a sense of movement and visual excitement.  At the same time we have a sort of natural tendency to look for similarities which helps our brains sort and make sense of the world.  Through using similar elements we can work with that natural tendency to create unity within the composition.

In the following work by Louise Bourgeoise repetition has the opposite effect, it's calming. There's also some sense of movement and, depending on how you look at it, gives the sense that the shapes are moving toward or away from the viewer.

This repetition of elements of design creates unity within the artwork and contributes to Rhythm.
Rhythm is the continuity, recurrence or organization of movement in space & time.  It is usually associated with music and can have a strong emotional impact.  It is much easier to detect rhythm aurally than it is visually.  This makes rhythm something that is usually more felt than understood in an academic sense.

As in music, visual repetition is the basic method of achieving rhythm in a layout.  Regular repetition is accomplished by repeating a visual element at regular intervals. By repeating an element multiple times, you can create a relaxed piece; the reader knows what to expect, and is comforted by this. This relaxed feeling can be used to complement a message that is intended to be calming.

 Repeating rhythm
And as with music, there are various types of repetition, regular repetition, as above, alternating, progressive, syncopated and you could think of more. Alternating rhythm is simply an alternating repetition using two or more elements.

Here's an example from Bridget Riley.

Bridget Riley - Arrest

In a progressive rhythm the elements change gradually across the composition.  Syncopated repetition involves repetition in more complex patterns. By repeating an element several times, then repeating that pattern multiple times (three elements spaced evenly in a group, and then three of these groups spaced evenly but more distantly, for example), a less relaxed layout can be achieved.
Syncopated rhythm
And it doesn’t have to be the same element.  Dissimilar visual elements can be repeated in pattern as well, making for even more complex rhythm and more dynamic feeling in a design.

One composition or space may have several different rhythms. Rhythm can be achieved through the arrangement of similar elements in a kind of varied repetition.  Each element might be a slightly different size or color so as to lead the eye.

Here's another Robert Straight:

Robert Straight
Here's Gabriella Barouch:

Here's another Bridget Riley:

Bridget Riley - Arcadia

Here's a colorful example by Yakov Agam.  There is a large outdoor Agam piece on UAB's campus, just so you know.

Yakov Agam

As with all the fundamentals of composition, rhythm can be manipulated to create a disharmony in a design, and such disharmony can be used to manipulate the emotional impact of the design, and strengthen a discordant message.

Arhythmic repetition

Here's a Collaborative Work,Diana Orinda Burns, Robyn Gibson & Kir Larwill

More Bridget Riley, she's good at this:
Bridget Riley - Nataraja

It is important to constantly remember that design is not about making something pretty, it is about complementing the message of the content and achieving clarity. Using rhythm, either to create a more relaxing feel or to add to the dynamism of a layout, we can change the mood and subsequently the impact the piece has on the audience.


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