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Repetition and Variation

Good music repeats themes. So do good art and good narrative. As Art Deco is good art, each work contains themes, and these themes are usually repeated. Sometimes a theme isn't repeated because not repeating is actually more effective, but that's how art goes.

The most prominent repetition of architecture is the rectangle and the square. Just look at all those windows. Just look at the outline of the building and the shape of the roofline. It's geometry everywhere. Those squares and rectangles can exist in certain relationships because they are windows and doors and you can't do weird things to them.

With Art Deco, you can do the weird things because the fun shapes aren't the windows and doors.

The fundamental element of those shapes and arrangements is pleasing the eye by using a simple rule or two. Although you can arrange geometry in an infinite number of ways, like anything optimal, there's only a finite number of variations that are most pleasing to the eye. Art Deco takes and uses the geometric arrangements that are most pleasing while leaving behind those that aren't.

Here are some common variations.

- Same shape, same size, used in the same manner.
- Same shape, different size.
- Same shape, superimposed on itself, offset by a fixed amount
- Same shape, superimposed on itself, distorted by a fixed formula
- Same shape, spaced at fixed intervals
- Same shape, mirrored

Do that with the front door. I dare ya.

Shapes are varied, but not when they're separated. A shape is only varied in relationship to itself. You, the viewer, know that it's one shape varied because the shapes are joined by superimposition.

Another sort of repetition and variation comes from the intersection of shapes. When you have many shapes in identical arrangements, you get identical intersections. Thus you have one set of shapes, and implied from that, a second and third set of shapes. Joining three rings together to make a curved triangle is a classic result of this technique.

Finally, there are visually implied shapes. At one level, shapes are triangles and squares, but on another level, these shapes form bigger shapes if your eye skips across the lines, and those implied bigger shapes repeat throughout the work.

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.

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