Figure/ground is the understanding of how different elements in a composition work together, creating a focal point and allowing different viewers to see different things. The figure – the focal point – is made to stand out from the ground – the background. However, some art pieces are a little less easy to discern, and the figure can be hidden. I selected the cover of this poetry book as my example of ambiguous figure/ground. There are several possibilities for the figure and ground in this specific piece. You could argue that the text is the figure, with red text of the author’s name being the strongest focal point. This would make the sketch the ground of the photo. The red text brings your eyes to Pinocchio’s hands, which draws your eyes up to his chest, then neck, then face and eyes, and finally up his eyebrows and to the title of the book. You could also argue that the black text draws you in first, as the “AL” in “Alone” is contrasts highly with the white background, making it the initial focal point and thus drawing your eyes down the page in the opposite way as was done with the red text. However, what makes this piece even more ambiguous is you could also argue that the sketch is the figure in this piece. Since Pinocchio’s eyes are focused straight ahead, that is an easy first place to look, as eyes tend to draw the eye. The sketch, although it clearly stands out from the background, has some ambiguity in its soft, shaded edges. And, as is necessary in the use of figure/ground, we can imagine the rest of Pinocchio’s body, even though we cannot see it, because of our brain’s perception of the piece and its knowledge of human (or puppet) anatomy. This ambiguity makes the piece more interesting because it give it some tension. The red text is jarring, and your eyes might dart to the word “Alone,” or to Pinocchio’s eyes, all of which are kind of creepy, which fits well with the theme of the poetry included in the book. All in all, the font choices, colors, and slightly confusing focal point in the cover art gives an uneasy feeling to the books, only adding to the apparent desired effect of the author.
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