We use counterpoint in painting, too, but it works differently than in music. Instead of each part moving parallel and independent of the other, in painting elements move in opposing directions, each balancing the other. A vertical will counter a horizontal and vice versa; a diagonal will counter another diagonal moving in an opposite direction.
John Singer Sargent was a master of counterpoint. In his painting A Hotel Room, the verticals in the background are counter balanced by the horizontals on the floor.
Counterpoint in painting works to give visual stability. Georges Braque, who with Picasso invented the Cubist movement in painting, depended upon counterpoint as a major composing strategy. Without it his geometric breakdown of images would have had no grounding.
|Georges Braque "Bottle and Fishes" 1910|
Uses primarily horizontal/vertical counterpoint
|Georges Braque "Still Life with Mandola and Metronome: " 1909|
Uses primarily diagonal counterpoint
|Georges Braque "Pedestal Table" 1909|
Uses horizontal/vertical and multple diagonals in counterpoint
I sometimes wonder whether today's artists should learn to paint abstractly as a prerequisite to learning realistic painting. Take away the image and one gains an appreciation for composition because that's all we have left to work with. Add the image to a well composed piece and chances are you've got a strong painting.