Asymmetry

Compositions do not need to be completely symmetrical to appear balanced.

Asymmetrical balance can be created through careful arrangement of visual weight within a work of art or design. Asymmetry gives the artist or designer a greater range of freedom and can be used to create more interesting and varied work.

While the body of this vase (Deruta, Italy, 1935) is symmetrical, the different positions of the handles makes the design asymmetrical.

The handle on the left is higher up and further from the centre of the vase. This gives it more visual weight than the handle on the right.

This is balanced by the red forms that sit just to the left of the centre line. The final composition is more interesting than a symmetrical arrangement of these elements but the vase still appears stable.

Deruta vase with asymmetric handles, 1935, Italy, 20th century, De Agostini
Deruta vase with asymmetric handles, 1935, Italy, 20th century, De Agostini

Asymmetrical balance has been used in this woodcut, The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province (Utagawa Hiroshige, 1858).

Visual weight on the left of frame comes from the cliff, the detailed texture of the branches and leaves and from the larger but simpler shape of Mount Fuji in the distance.

This is balanced by the breaking wave and rocks on the right. Although the composition is not symmetrical, the use of similar shapes, sizes and levels of detail keeps the visual weights balanced.

The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province, from Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, Utagawa Hiroshige, 1858, woodblock print, V&A Images / Alamy Stock Photo
The Sea at Satta in Suruga Province, from Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, Utagawa Hiroshige, 1858, woodblock print, V&A Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Avenue of Schloss Kammer Park (Gustav Klimt, 1912) shows asymmetry in the placement of the building at the end of the avenue of trees.

The large area of highly detailed and textured dark greens and blues of the trees is balanced by the smaller, less detailed but brighter yellow front of the building.

The angled avenue of trees draws our eye, providing the viewer with a more engaging and visually dynamic route towards the focal point in the distance.

Avenue in Schloss Kammer Park, Gustav Klimt, 1912, oil in canvas, Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Avenue in Schloss Kammer Park, Gustav Klimt, 1912, oil in canvas, Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937, oil on canvas, World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937, oil on canvas, World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Guernica (Pablo Picasso, 1937) shows a Basque town being bombed during the Spanish Civil War. At first the composition appears disordered and chaotic but Picasso’s painting is carefully balanced:

  • the central mass of figures is organised into a symmetrical triangle
  • the dark background behind the horse is balanced by the light background created by the open door
  • the woman and bull to the left of frame are balanced by the woman with raised arms on the right
  • the arm in the bottom left corner is balanced by the leg in the bottom right.