In my little book I have some words about portfolios, and applying the ideas of Balance, Unity, and Variety to them to build a portfolio that is both interesting and coherent. It occurred to me today that there's another axis along which we can in theory build portfolios, by analogy with how we make pictures.
An approach to making a picture is to arrange the visual elements in a hierarchy of interest, of visual prominence. Some element is brought forward as the main thing, the brightest object, the highest contrast area, the most arresting element. Other visual elements are subordinated. There may be other bright areas, other areas of saturated color, other interesting objects, but they are a little suppressed. Arguably, it is the artist's job to create this visual hierarchy, to make the picture read well and be easy to look at, coherent.
Backing out even a little further, let's consider musical composition. In a composition of any length and complexity, there tend to be themes, small melodies repeated and layered against one another. The piece will build to crescendos. There will be passages that are important, and passages that are less important, less dominant. Again we see this hierarchy appearing.
Should portfolios be organized in the same way? I think we tend to simply chuck all the best pictures into the portfolio, and try to arrange them for coherence, but we do our very best to deny that some pictures are more important or better than other ones. This is perhaps a mistake. Perhaps we should build a portfolio around a small handful of the important pictures, the pictures that summarize the portfolio most completely or illustrate the ideas most powerfully. Around these pictures we arrange pictures which support those ideas, that repeat and reinforce those ideas and visual themes, but in a subordinate way.
Possibly I am simply reinventing something perfectly well known by anyone with the relevant education?