27 February 2009

special studies research : structuring rhythm

483A : project 1 : Structuring Rhythm, brian prince

Rhythm is everywhere.

It’s hard to put it in a box. From brushing our teeth to writing a love note, human life requires rhythm. Rhythm is a looping pattern. It’s a repetitive movement or procedure with uniformed recurrence of a beat, accent, or the like. But not always.

In search for rhythm’s origin, the list tops with music and poetry — music, for it’s pattern of regular or irregular pulses consisting of strong and weak melodies and har monies; and poetry, for it’s rhyming patterns and line breaks. Rhythm and Blues can almost be classified as both put together. But what does Rhythm and Blues look like? Often overlooked is visual rhythm, a rhythm that is not sound and a foot-tapping instigator, but a rhythm that enters through your eyes. As the idea of Rhythm is so big, this paper will break down a few elements in which I believe make up the structure of rhythm, or rhythm’s behind-the-scenes blueprint. I chose to explore visual patterns, deconstruction, the grid, and syntax in the context of graphic design’s general flow.

While studying wallpaper, my mind was opened to the endless variations in which pattern can be viewed. It was at this beginning point that I realized how big of a concept pattern is. At first impression, my thoughts were that patterns are only decorative characteristics, space-fillers, serving to only please an asthetic and not a design function, when really, they are much more complicated than that. Wallpaper originated from a practical, utilitarian function in tapestries which where used to keep the drafts out of upper classmen’s palaces. The intricate and dramatic designs were symbols of royalty. It’s no wonder that floral embellishments have made their way back into design. Ornate flourishing is in itself creating rhythm and “the structural analysis of pattern is central to modern design theory.” (I. pg. 185) Just as in ancient patterns on wall coverings that flow from a central motif, today the practice of pattern-making shares the same artistic values spawning from a central core. Pattern starts with the very simplest of marks. It progressively gets more and more complicated as you manipulate and duplicate the mark. Whether it’s a dot or an single ornate flower, it’s a combination inter-weaved together which forms a texture greater than itself. With the simplist of tweaks, the texture can be read completely different. To me, that’s the power of rhythm.

Contrary to creating a pattern, deconstruction takes complexities and simplifies them to their purest form. This too is a valid contribution to the structure of rhythm. The act of deconstruction is defining the individual parts of the original. Going backward or deeper into ones research will result in the undiluted beginnings. It’s like reading a definition to a word you don’t know, but then finding words in that definition that you don’t know, so you find yourself looking up a deeper meaning. This also plays on the idea that with the slightest of tweaks, something completely new can be created. In graphic design this is important because when I deal with the source, I’m able to communicate more efficiently. Breaking down an idea or the logic of a given problem allows the designer to anaylize the literal applications and origins as opposed to studying a translation. In order to study visual rhythm in the sense of graphic design, it’s important to understand deconstruction. It allows me to re-examine what I read or what I’ve heard and listen to the details “rather than the traditional scholarly labor of excavation.” (II. pg. 3) The way language is strung together using text is essentially impure. Examing text on its own makes a clear argument for itself and truly allows for an open sight of the big picture. A famous poet and painter from the Beat generation, Brion Gysin, explained that no one owns words. Anyone from anywhere can put together any words and they become their own. He also devised the cut-up method of poetry which is taking existing writings, cutting them as to rearranging them, thus creating your own. Text is concealed by language and we have to abuse it in order to find the original. This applies to graphic design in a huge way considering we are merely designers arranging already-created elements onto a page. Deconstruction also teaches me to liberate the true meaning of a problem. If I were to borrow an element or a typographic style, I better know where it’s coming from. I can’t just say I like it because I think it’s cool. The greatest thing about graphic design is that we always create something new in the end because the arrangement will more than likely be unique.

The third element covering the structure of rhythm is the foundation for all graphic design elements, the grid. The grid is the very casing in which scale, color, type and image are held. These are the fundamental elements in design but I’ve always felt that it’s more than that. The purpose of my research of the grid in regards to rhythm is to illustrate how rhythm affects the four concrete fundamental elements with an emotion. The placement of content in the structure of a grid creates a harmony with the reader and the content. Not only does this apply to a single layout on a single page, but can relate to something as minimal as the strokes in a logo to something as broad as a large text book. The grid may seem like a universal uniform that is very rigid and unforgiving, but the reality is it allows for the most fluid, freeing kind of work. It’s all about how you use it. If you were to translate a newspaper spread like the Stocks section into music, you might get a very rapid and busy monotone, but a magazine article might sing to you in scale and white space. This is rhythm in a still space. This is the freedom the grid allows the designer. Appropriately, Andy Warhol says, “Space is all one space and thought is all one thought, but my mind divides its spaces into spaces and thoughts into thoughts into thoughts. Like a large condominium.” When you can accomplish balance and flow in a rhymic way, you capture your audience. I believe the reader needs highs and lows to get excited and to take a break from the content. Just like life, communication needs rhythm. When you open a book the story doesn’t normally begin until about the tenth page. There is a syntactic build up that gets you there. By definition, syntax is a system or orderly arrangement. A pattern or language, more or less, is the confinement of design, but how you deconstruct and arrange it is the rhythm.

In order to liberate rhythm in graphic design, I believe it needs to be taught as one of the major elements in graphic design. From complicating to simplifying, from restricting to liberating, graphic design has the vitality of life and their common denominator is rhythm.

As the elements discussed in this paper function in our daily lives, so does rhythm. In my attempt to divide rhythm into these categories it’s really just a scratch on the surface. I felt that defining the structure would set up a good argument in defining rhythm in the graphic design world. What I really discovered is that it’s merely impossible to structure rhythm when rhythm structures everything.

to download the pdf click ://here.

I. Lupton, Ellen & Phillips, Jennifer Cole. Graphic Design the New Basics.
New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008.

II. Wigley, Mark. The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993.

III. Tufte, Virginia. Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style.
Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press LLC, 2006.

IV. Weiss, Jason. Back in No Time: The Brion Gysin Reader.
Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.

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