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Line in fine Art.

Usually single-color drawing (such as one made with a pen or pencil) with little or no solid areas, and no shading effect other than cross-hatching. Line art, unlike a painting or photograph, can be printed without conversion to a halftone image.

Also called line copy or line drawing.Line in fine art is an abstract concept, and the definitions tend to reflect that. Artists, when they do speak of such things, tend to be self-referential, that is, they explain what they themselves do in their own works. Thus, Mondrian's comments define his ideas of the function line should play in his own art.The above is a distillation from

Line is a very difficult concept to grasp fully as the various attempts by worthies of the Art world testify ( see side panels) and in photography it may be a case of knowing line when we see it or seeing it and attempting to capture or fix it. Some cultures notably Chinese and Japanese cultures place much emphasis on line often seeing calligraphy as an Art form in itself.

The Line of Beauty is a term and a theory in art or aesthetics used to describe an S-shaped curved line (a serpentine line) appearing within an object, as the boundary line of an object, or as a virtual boundary line formed by the composition of several objects.

This theory originated with William Hogarth (18th century English painter, satirist, and writer), and is an essential part of Hogarth's theory of Aesthetics as described in his Analysis of Beauty (1753).

According to this theory, S-Shaped curved lines signify liveliness and activity and excite the attention of the viewer as contrasted with straight lines, parallel lines, or right-angled intersecting lines which signify stasis, death, or inanimate objects.

The above from

"You must ascertain, by experiment, that all beautiful objects whatsoever are thus terminated by delicately curved lines, except where the straight line is indispensable to their use or stability;and that when a complete system of straight lines, throughout the form, is necessary to that stability, as in crystals, the beauty, if any exists, is in colour and transparency, not in form.

 As curves are more beautiful than straight lines, it is necessary to a good composition that its continuities of object, mass,or colour should be, if possible, in curves, rather than straight lines or angular ones"

John Ruskin

(8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900)

“The line has in itself neither matter nor substance and may rather be called an imaginary idea than a real object; and this being its nature it occupies no space.

Therefore an infinite number of lines may be conceived of as intersecting each other at a point, which has no dimensions and is only of the thickness (if thickness it may be called) of one single line."

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Notebook of Leonardo da Vinci (Arundel Codex)

The above from

Islamic art, in obedience to the Koran, avoided depicting natural forms so Architecture and the lines of calligraphy became dominant art forms.

It will be seen by the artwork  from the Chinese, Japanese, and Islamic traditions that art can be produced by line alone, this is rarely the case in photography.

I intend to proceed in my examination of line by offering some photographic examples of my own where line plays an important role in the overall composition of the image, sometimes line will be the dominant factor in the image’s success or failure at other times it will combine with others of the key concepts such as texture and shape.

I will begin with a photograph of a graffito drawn by a road and pavement surveyor in a mood of apparent playfulness.All these images open into lightboxes.

The figure below or is a drawing by the 18th century artist William Hogarth and it is an attempt to illustrate what he termed “the line of beauty.”

He deemed  the curve more beautiful than the straight line and the snake like curves of the lines across the circles, for Hogarth illustrated that beauty.

Beneath Hogarth’s drawing are several photographs of which he might have approved in that they illustrate, to a certain extent, the notion he was endeavouring to explain. Please note these images do NOT open into lightboxes

Much is written in photographic journals and websites about line in photography; what follows is taken from,

"PHOTO-COMPOSITION"By Arnold John Kaplan, APSA-AFIAP and can be found along with other articles here:

http://photoinf.com/General/Arnold_Kaplan/The_Magic_Of_Selective_Vis ion_-_Photo_Composition.htm

Kaplan is pretty thorough in his taxonomy of potential lines and their function in composition. I am less happy about the way he attributes meanings to line structures however it is, nonetheless, a very useful checklist


Implied lines are not actual lines that you can see in the picture area, they are 'implied' and are made up by the way objects are placed in the picture area. Sometimes actual items or objects do make lines such as, railroad tracks,telephone wires, etc.

These 'implied lines' can actually create a response in various ways:


It denotes Dignity, Height, Strength, and Grandeur. We find vertical lines in trees, tall buildings, fences, people standing up, mountains, etc. A tall building shows height, strength, dignity and grandeur. Trees show height and strength.


Denotes Repose, Calm, Tranquillity and peacefulness, such as a person lying in the grass sleeping, flowers in a field, the flatness of a desert scene or lake. You can make your photograph illicit these feelings if you look for them in the picture area and use them in your photographs.


This like gives the sensation of Force, Energy and Motion as seen in trees bent by the wind, a runner at the starting line or the slope of a mountain as it climbs into the sky. By knowing this you can create Force, Energy and Motion with your camera easily by tilting the camera to make objects appear to be in a diagonal line. A dignified church steeple when photographed at a slant will change to a forceful arrow pointing towards the sky and show motion.


Here is a line of great beauty and charm and nothing gives a better example than a beautiful female form with all it's lines and curves. Of course there are other examples: The curve in a river or a pathway through a flower garden.


This line goes further than just a plain 'curved line. It is called the 'Line Of Beauty". It is Elastic, Variable and combines Charm and Strength. It has Perfect Grace and Perfect Balance. You have seen this 'S' Curve hundreds of times in drawings and paintings and other works of art.


The line that leads your eye in to the picture area easily like a road or fence, a shoreline or river, a row of trees or a pathway. A successful 'Leading Line' will lead your eye in to the picture and take it right to the Main Subject or Center of Interest

An 'UN-Successful 'Leading Line'

will take the eye in to the picture but will ZOOM the eye right OUT of the picture if there is no Stopper to hold the eye in the picture frame; such as a tree, house or other large object on the right hand side of the picture frame which will STOP the eye from going out of the picture. The Center of Interest or Main Subject will act as a Stopper and hold the eye in the picture frame.


'Implied Forms' are a combination of 'Implied Lines' and they help to hold a picture together. The eye enjoys these interesting forms and will stay in the picture area to examine each one of them, if they are present.


Is made up of a continuous 'Curve' and it's circular movement keeps the eye in the picture frame. There are many circles in nature and man made objects.


This has a 'solid base' and will show Stability. It also has Height and Strength. A Triangle can show up in your viewfinder as three points in the scene, such as two trees on the grounds pointing to a cloud in the sky. Sometimes a fence in combination with a stream and a farm house can form the Triangle Composition.


Is a connection of 'Lines' meeting in the Center and it is also a expansion of 'Lines' leaving the Center. The Radii is usually found in Nature Subjects. The best example of the man made Radii is the spokes of a wheel.

The eye has two ways to go when it comes upon the Radii. It can either be drawn in to the picture area or it can be led out of the picture area.


A showing of 'Opposing Force' that will give the picture a feeling of Cohesion and Relationship. The horizontal bar of the Cross will act as a "stopper' while the vertical pole can act as a leading line.


This makes an attractive 'frame'. It can be used to accentuate important subjects. Many times it is a 'frame' within a 'frame'.  

All of the above is very basic stuff  but far from unimportant in that it is so often the clever use of line that underpins the formal structure of great photography. Below is a gallery of my own work where line is an important ingredient in the photograph’s success or failure