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What is harmony, subjective and objective?

Harmony / Subjective / Objective

In music, harmony refers to the agreeable blending of musical notes. Similarly, in art, harmony refers to the agreeable blending of elements. In other words, the elements of an artwork combine together to create a pleasing composition. In this way, harmony is associated with unity and controls variety. A piece with a lot of variety but no harmony would likely be overwhelming. Of course, since principles of design are only guidelines, some artists choose to intentionally "break the rules."

Fig 6.2. Vincent van Gogh, The Night Cafe.

Fig 6.2. Vincent van Gogh, The Night Cafe.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Harmony can be much more difficult to identify than the other principles of design because it is subjective. Subjective means dependent on an individual's impression or opinion. This is in contrast to principles and elements that are objective, meaning not dependent on an individual's impression or opinion. Symmetry, for example, is objective: an artwork either has symmetry or does not; there is not much room for debate. When it comes to harmony, however, what one individual finds pleasing may not be agreeable to another individual. Thus, while one person may find harmony in a work, another person may find quite the opposite.

Some people would argue that Vincent van Gogh's painting, The Night Cafe, uses color to create harmony. The combination of warm colors, along with repeated elements of texture and shapes, lend themselves to this interpretation. However, you might not find The Night Cafe pleasing. The same blending of elements that makes one person revere the work may actually deter another person. One of the most important things to understand in art appreciation is that the individual tastes of a viewer can dramatically alter his or her feelings toward an artwork. Still, even in an artwork that you may not personally find pleasing, there are often attributes to admire. Whether or not you "like" The Night Cafe, you can appreciate the color, texture, and mood created by the artist.

Reflection Question

Abstract painting of a man.

Do you think this painting has harmony? Is it pleasing? What principles of art (or lack thereof) lead you to this conclusion?

Header Art Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.