Usually when I write about attitudes in art, I’m writing about a mindset — usually my own, and usually not good. In our every day experience, attitude is all about how we think and feel. The dictionary defines it as, “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.”
There are, however, other definitions, although they seem to be largely overlooked in online references. The one I’m thinking most about today is attitude as a position or orientation, and thought I’d found some good information when I came across an article specifically about “attitude in design“. I was wrong. Well, it was an article about “design attitude” but that turns out to be something very different from what I’m getting to here.
At the heart of the article is a concept called “design thinking”, and while it relates to the overall idea of design — a method of arranging elements in a harmonious fashion — it seems to have more to do with our approach to relationships and life than to any specific elements of art. Interesting reading, so check it out if you’re so inclined.
Again, though, design thinking or design attitude was not at all what I had in mind when I sat down to write this post. My understanding of attitude in design is not at all about my thoughts and feelings. It’s all about positions and orientation, or that is, where we place our elements in the design process.
Denman Ross in his Theory of Pure Design illustrates four different attitudes for design. These four attitudes can easily be seen below, even in my rather uncertain drawing:
If you look closely, you’ll see that each quadrant is numbered — clockwise — from 1 to 4.
- Number 1 is the original design element. I began with the simple curved line; all other embellishments were added afterward.
- Number 2 is a “mirror image” of the design on the vertical axis. It’s the same element as before but with a different attitude. This is called an attitude inversion.
- Number 3 is called a “double inversion”. Again, it begins with the same design element but it’s been flipped both horizontally and vertically.
- Number 4 is another “single inversion”, with the original element being mirrored horizontally.
After placing the initial curved line, I went through these four attitudes of the design, placing dots, making additional curved lines, and at the end, going for a completely different color. Obviously nothing was measured and precise. I merely wanted to give myself an opportunity to actually use what I was learning in a design practice.
If I were creating an actual pattern, each attitude would be the same — but inverted or double-inverted, as necessary, to form the four quadrants.
What I learned from this is how a good — harmonious — design can be formed by taking one “attitude” or arrangement of elements, and repeating it in a series of different attitudes. I also learned that, as simple as this exercise was, it required a little thinking on my part. As I placed additional elements into each quadrant, I had to study the design to be sure I was putting lines and curves and dots in the right places.
Altogether this process leads to a “four-quadrant” design, an essential element in the design practice. It’s a method that’s often used to create informative diagrams in print advertising or promotional brochures. There’s even a website that will let you play with four-quadrant design techniques:
This four-quadrant design method is also useful for pure designs. These can become mandalas, and may be very complex. Take a look, for instance, at these single “quadrants” which can be “flipped” and “inverted” to form beautiful designs:
Images like this show us what is possible in design, and while “attitude in design” isn’t what we might think it is, it’s one more reminder that attitude is important in everything we do.