Line? (Part 2)

So the question is, what is line? I have been using lines to construct graphics and illustrations, but I really need to pursuit a deeper understanding from this basic unit.

In Rudolf Arnheim’s chapter of ‘Space’ in Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, he categorizes line into 3 different ways: object line, hatch line and contour line (Rudolf, 1969, p. 219). Using Paul Klee’s The Script (Fig. 1) as example, Arnheim (1969, p. 219) explains the lines could serve as one-dimensional objects. In this case, Christian Leborg (2004, p. 11) suggests that a line is perceived as “a number of points that a are adjacent to another” (Fig. 2) in his Visual Grammar. While the visual combination of lines are perceived as an unified whole via the law of similarity (Wertheimer, 1923, p. 301), “the lines cease to be individual objects and acts as hatch lines.” (Rudolf, 1969, p. 219) They could serve as the visual component as in shading, in both two-dimensional drawing (Fig. 3) and three-dimensional forms. The simplest form of the contour line could be understood as close loops. The line has progressively been changed to two-dimensional object from one-dimensional object (Arnheim, 1969, p. 220). Usually, the inner area of loop gives a weightier impression than outside. In addition, the contour line is also the starting point to perceive the relationship of figure and ground. This somehow reminds me Andy Warhol’s painting style, blotted line (Fig. 4), at his exhibition in Art Science Museum, Singapore last year. In which, its inconsistent thickness of the outline distinguishes the figure from the ground.


Fig. 1. Paul Klee, The script, illustration from Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, 1969 (Berkeley CA: University of California Press)

Fig. 2. Christian Leborg, illustration from Visual Grammar, 2004 (Norway: Abstrakt Forlag)

Fig. 3. Sun Cho, Thousands of Strokes, 2013.

Fig. 4. Andy Warhol, The French Look, 1950.

Arnheim (1969, p. 222) further argues that “the contour of the induced inner surface varies with the distances.” Some of the masterpieces obtain their weaker influence of the boundary line by keeping outlined units smaller. On the other hand, the internal reinforcement, i.e., folds of clothing, layers of colors, are required to enhance its influences. The weight of stroke also plays an important role to give rise to the spatial influence. It’s interesting to look at Paul Klee’s works. Employing thin lines (Fig. 5 and Fig. 6), Klee further reinforces the enclosed surfaces by enhancing color changes, patterns and textures; the forms of design and application of texture are relatively decreased in conjunction with the thicker lines (Fig. 7 to Fig. 10). The thicker lines manage to induce the solidity influence.

FIg. 5. Paul Klee, Hauptweg und Nebenwege, 1929.

Fig. 6. Paul Klee, Polyphony 2, 1932.

Fig. 7. Paul Klee, Heroic Roses, 1938.

Fig. 8. Insula Dulcamara, 1938.


Fig. 9. Zeichen in Gelb, Paul Klee, 1937.

Fig. 10 Paul Klee, Die Vase, 1938.

You might also want to look for part 1, part 3 and part 4 respectively.

Arnheim, Rudolf (1969) Art and Visual Perception: A psychology of the creative eye. Berkeley CA: University of California Press

Leborg, Christian (2004) Visual Grammar. Norway: Abstrakt Forlag


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