September 2023

Formal Elements and Personality

Standard of Ur, Battle (War) side view, 2550-2400 BCE. Image courtesy Smarthistory

It’s the beginning of the school quarter, and I’m interested in knowing what formal elements have an impact on my students. I’m really influenced by the composition of a work of art, and I know that this has to do with my own personality. I’m an organized and neat person, and so I think a lot about the way that things are arranged and ordered (both literally and metaphorically) in my life. As a result, I notice the arrangement of shapes and forms a lot, and I like to consider whether that arrangement is appealing or unappealing to me. I am drawn to the organized composition of the Standard of Ur (The History of Art: A Global View, p. 74), for example, due to how the trapezoidal-shaped object is visually balanced, since it has decoration on both sides of the object: one side has scenes relating to peace and the other has scenes relating to battle. Furthermore, the balance of the object is even more apparent because each side has the same layout with three registers (horizontal bands). These bands are also organized and neat, since each register is about the same size in its length and height. I like how the spacing of the registers is equal on both sides of the object; that visual consistency is appealing to me in its organization.

Some of the repeating figures are evenly spaced from each other, too, such as the soldiers in the central register of the scenes dedicated to battle. Another example of fairly even spacing is seen in the seated people on the top register of the peace scene. All of these compositional features suggest organization and neatness to me, and I personally am drawn to them for that reason.

Standard of Ur, Battle side (top), Peace side (bottom), 2550-2400 BCE

What formal elements are you drawn to? Does it relate to your personality or are you drawn to the formal elements for another reason?


Email Subscription



This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.