H1 Active/Passive


Johannes Vermeer. The Love Letter, 1669/70. The Rijksmuseum

Active/Passive relationships are relative. If a composition has a singularly powerful area of visual attention, it is typically considered a focal point. A focal point provides an entry point and a means to help navigate a composition. Active/passive relationships may either begin with a single focal point or with a much broader visual zone and then evolve .

Active/Passive relationships involve dynamic vs. far less dynamic elements in a composition. Loud vs quiet and perhaps even quieter. A bright red square against a light, neutral background evokes a dynamic contrast of active vs. passive areas. However, the same light, neutral background would instead become highly active if black were to consume 90% of this background.

Examples on display starting from the upper left: ■ The Love Letter by Vermeer presents a contrast between the two active figures in the background and the passive interior space that frames the space leading up to the figures. ■  5 Reasons is comprised of an active cluster of torn paper and a large, dark numeral. The wine stain behind to numeral as well as the surrounding text, present a secondarily active level of interest, with the wood panel serving as the most passive component. The wine stain and the text also serve as an active/passive go-between (aka, transition) from foreground to background. ■ Figaro is Alive! contrasts a benignly appearing sheet of musical score with arcing, red lines to indicate the emphatic vibrance that explodes a few seconds following Mozart’s seductively quieter opening.

Examples shown below, ■ Unity & Rhythm in 50 Minutes presents a hierarchy from active to passive starting with the bright green Unity&Rhythm text commanding the most active attention, followed by “50”, the text at the very top, followed by the lighter word “minutes” that have been placed within the larger “0”. ■ 2020 Void has two or three active zones: the strip of blue sky and the traffic patterns before and after the interruption of normal traffic. The yellow sky represents the passive background of everyday, urban acceptance  ■ Window Above the Water contrasts active and intense with passive and relatively quiet.

Active/Passive 1: From dynamic to quiet and points in between



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