2005 volume 34(2) pages 169 – 189
doi:10.1068/p5033

Cite as:
Locher P, Overbeeke K, Stappers P J, 2005, "Spatial balance of color triads in the abstract art of Piet Mondrian" Perception 34(2) 169 – 189

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Spatial balance of color triads in the abstract art of Piet Mondrian

Paul Locher, Kees Overbeeke, Pieter Jan Stappers

Received 8 January 2003, in revised form 16 March 2004; published online 2 March 2005

Abstract. We examined the interactive contribution of the color and size of the three areas occupied by the primary colors red, yellow, and blue in adaptations of abstract compositions by Mondrian to the perceived weight of the areas and the location of the balance centers of the compositions. Thirty-six art stimuli were created by experimentally changing the colors in the three areas of six original works so that the resulting five variations and the original constituted the six possible spatial arrangements of the three colors in the three locations. In experiment 1, design-trained and untrained participants determined the location of the balance center of each composition seen on a computer screen and rated the apparent weight or heaviness of each color area. In experiment 2, untrained participants determined the location of the balance centers of the compositions when projected to their actual size. It was found that, for both trained and untrained participants, the perceived weight of a color, especially red and yellow, varied as a function of the size of the area it occupied. Furthermore, participants in both experiments perceived shifts in the locations of the balance centers between the originals and their altered versions. Only the trained participants, however, perceived significant shifts in balance centers among the five variations of the compositions, demonstrating their superior sensitivity to the contribution of color to balance structure. Taken together, the findings demonstrate the existence of a color - area - weight relationship among color triads in abstract displays and the influence of this relationship on color balance in abstract compositions.

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