There is something incredibly satisfying about symmetrical balance in art. While you may not be able to define it (yet), most people know it when they see it. From architecture to paintings to photography to cinema, symmetrical balance is a tool used by artists of all mediums. Why is the technique used, beloved, and sometimes avoided by artists? What is symmetrical balance in art and composition? Let’s find out.

What is Symmetrical Balance in Art?

First, let’s define symmetrical balance

Symmetrical balance is used for different reasons depending on the artistic medium and subject. Before we dive into it, let’s take a look at the symmetrical balance art definition to get a better understanding of the technique. 

SYMMETRICAL BALANCE art DEFINITION

What is symmetrical balance?

Symmetrical balance is achieved in work of art when visual elements are arranged on both sides of a center line in equal weight. Symmetrical balance, also called formal balance, can be thought of as a mirror image of one half of a work of art on the other half. To determine if an artwork uses symmetrical balance, draw a line through the center of it and compare each side. If the weight and position of the positive and negative space are the same on both sides, symmetrical balance is achieved. 

What is symmetrical balance in art used for? 

  • Formality
  • Stability
  • Creating a focal point

Symmetrical balance is difficult to achieve by accident. When artists incorporate this type of balance into their work, it is with direct intention. What is symmetrical balance in art used for and why do artists base a piece around it? There are a few reasons. 

What is Symmetrical Balance in Art 

Creating a focal point

The visual nature of symmetrical balance draws attention toward itself. While this can take away from the naturalism or realism of a composition, it can be an effective tool at directing the viewer’s eye toward a specific focal point.

Symmetrical balance in artwork

Symmetrical balance in artwork

The equally balanced weight on both sides of a composition will more often than not direct their eye toward the center of the frame. This is especially true when artists use leading lines to create symmetrical balance. 

Wes Anderson, one of the masters of symmetrical balance in cinema, uses symmetry for this effect in his work. In nearly all of Anderson’s best films, you can find a shot that uses symmetrical balance to draw focus toward a character. In fact, it is one of the key characteristics of Wes Anderson’s directing style.

Wes Anderson symmetrical balance art examples  •  Subscribe on YouTube

As you can see, symmetrical balance is a huge part of Wes Anderson’s aesthetic. Anderson’s color palette, lighting styles and compositions create symmetrical balance in his work. Anderson also strives for the book-like visuals by using symmetrical balance to achieve formality. 

What is Symmetrical Balance in Art Used For?

Structure

Symmetrical balance requires an intentional and precise arrangement of space in a composition. This precision in balance can create a sense of structure and sense of order. 

Formality in symmetrical balance in artwork

Formality in symmetrical balance in artwork

This sense of order and formality is a big reason why many architects design their structures with symmetrical balance. A perfect example of this is the ancient Greek temple The Parthenon.

The Parthenon symmetrical balance in artwork

The Parthenon  •  Symmetrical balance in artwork

The Parthenon exemplifies symmetry in architecture. The structure was built as a temple for the greek goddess Athena. And it is proof of the precision and brilliant geometry used to create perfect symmetrical balance. 

What is Symmetrical Balance in Art Used For?

Emotional impact

As it pertains to cinema, symmetrical balance can be used to elicit specific emotions in an audience. For Stanley Kubrick, one of the best directors of all time, that emotion was uneasiness. 

The symmetrical balance in Kubrick’s work became known as the “one point perspective.” While this was used to draw the audience’s focus toward the center of the frame, it also was used for emotional impact. The effect was a sense of uneasiness due to the lack of naturalism in the composition. 

This uneasiness served well for the stories told in Kubrick’s best films such as The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange. Check out this supercut of symmetrical balance in Kubrick’s one perspective.

Kubrick ‘s One point perspective  •  Symmetrical composition

Within art, symmetrical balance can have its pros and cons. The effects we mentioned above can benefit an artist’s work depending on what they are trying to create and communicate. 

On the other hand, a symmetrical composition can be rather predictable and push the area of boring. If one side of the composition is exactly like the other, then one half of the frame is redundant. 

Redundancy in symmetrical balance art examples

Redundancy in  symmetrical balance art examples

The intentionality behind symmetrical balance can also reduce Naturalism and Realism in cinema. Since perfect symmetry is rather uncommon in the natural world, seeing it draws awareness to the human hand behind its creation. 

Symmetrical balance is a powerful tool that has a time and a place. Being able to determine when and where that time and place is in your work will help you use symmetrical balance is a technique rather than an overarching compositional rule. 

Up Next

What is Asymmetrical Balance?

Now that you understand what symmetrical balance is, let’s learn about its counterpart. Asymmetrical balance is used as commonly, if not more commonly, than symmetrical balance. Why is that? Read about asymmetrical balance and its effects in our next article.

Up Next: Asymmetrical Balance →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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