Asymmetry in Picture Plane

The manner of the eye's natural movement from lower left to upper right and from upper left to lower right is examined. This is an experiment which leaves no visual traces behind, performed entirely by the observer upon his intrinsic direction of vision but it is extremely relevant to the way one creates and views art. One can either think mistakenly that one has a neutral canvas and employ it arbitrarily, or one can realise this asymmetry and employ it and react upon it - for instance, by a chosen forced downward movement in something which appears in the upper right hand corner. Even in a classical painter like Tintoretto this can be seen marvellously.

".../it was found that, in scanning a field, without exception the motion of the eye was from left to right (W. to E.). And this was true even in the case of left-handed subjects, and Orientals whose habit of reading was right to left or from top downwards. In the same experiments it was found that the diagonal in a rectangle, from lower left to upper right (S.W. to N.E.) was read in an upward direction, while the mirror image of this diagonal, from lower right to upper left (S.E. to N.W.) was followed by the eye in a downward direction (see fig 1). From the use of the words: right,"recht", "derecho", "destra", "droit" to imply good, correct, skilful, forward, and the words left, "links", "izquierdo", "sinistra", "gauche" to imply clumsy, incorrect, adverse, retrograde, evil, it is clear that people do distinguish between right and left. No mathematician making a graph would put minus to the right of zero. However the psychological importance of the sensation of rising or falling is far greater to the human intelligence than the direction from left to right. The associations that arise in connection with this effect are sometimes surprising. In the painting DAWN FLIGHT, 1959, the structure of the field shows a divergence from the left. Most observers, if their eyes are compelled to follow an upward movement, associate this movement with the motion of the sun (not shown), and recognise it as dawn. The same observers, shown the mirror image in which the eye follows the convergence downward to the lower right, recognise it as sunset. In images which can be viewed as flow, the downward direction will seem perfectly normal, but when these same images are viewed in the opposite direction this flow may well be understood by the observer as flying upstream, so to speak."6

The asymmetry in the eyes' natural direction of motion - from lower left to upper right and from upper left to lower right - is first exhibited in diagrams: each is the mirror image of the other: then made concrete in a painting and its mirror image reversal - the painting being appropriately called DAWN FLIGHT and rising in the eyes'natural direction. Its mirror image might be thought to be the setting sun. They have opposing characters - the first taking off - optimistic, the second contracting, depressing.


1959, Howard Wise Gallery, New York, 'Orientation, Direction, Cheirality, Velocity and Rhythm', page 73, figure 1 and 3.


1959, Howard Wise Gallery, New York, 'Orientation, Direction, Cheirality, Velocity and Rhythm', page 72,figure 2.


.X. FREE FALL by S.W. Hayter
'The Renaissance of Gravure, the Art of S.W. Hayter', P.M.S. Hacker, Clarendon Press Oxford, 1988, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 11 Oct-27 Nov 1988, Fig.80.
The 'Free Fall' here is suggested not by a single line or converging lines but by a system of gently descending curves in which the falling objects are embedded. Its colour also stresses the direction of movement, being a light golden above a heavy purple below.

6 S.W. Hayter 'Orientation, Direction, Cheirality, Velocity and Rhythm. 'The Nature and Art of Motion' (edited          by Gyorgy Kepes). Studio Vista, London and New York, 1965.