Number 23 1948 Jackson Pollock 1912-1956 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased out of funds provided by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II and H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd) 1960 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00384

Cover art: Das BBrothers in Arms

Composition is a crucial concept in Art. It can be defined as the arrangement of elements within a work of art, however there is much more to it! In this article we will look at the definition of “composition”, rules for a good composition, if they should be always respected or no and how the approach to composition has changed. 

The term composition means “putting together”. It can be seen as the organization of the elements of art according to the principles of art. 

In a general sense, any work of art, be it a piece of music or writing, painting or sculpture, can be referred to as a composition. As mentioned before, the term usually refers to the organization of elements within a work of art. Artists are putting the different elements together in an artwork, an trying to bring those elements into a synergetic relationship satisfactory to them and, hopefully to the viewer as well. In the classical tradition, triangular or pyramidal compositions were used because they created a sense of balance and harmony by arranging the figures into a stable overall geometric structure. The idea of composition as the adjustment of the relationships of the elements of the work within the border of the canvas, remained unchallenged through the upheavals of the early modern movements such as cubism and abstract art. There’s obviously more to creating a successful work of art outside of mark-making and medium mastery. Therefore, composition plays an important role in how the art works are viewed and experienced by the viewers or the audience.

Looking closer at the related subject, musical works can also be referred to as “compositions”. There is always a structure to a song or a track. Each sound plays its’ part. If a musician plays at the wrong time or plays the wrong notes, then the song becomes a mess. Each part is carefully arranged so that the song is the best that it can be. In some songs, a certain instrument or sound may have more parts and dominate the song. In others, it may be another instrument or sound. This musical analogy can be compared to art-making. Another detail is that each element is usually carefully planned, otherwise the artwork can become a mess, in some cases this could be also done on purpose, that serves the concept of the piece of art. 

Overall, each work of art that is created has a structure or should have a structure which is planned and executed by the artists during the process.

Artists always need to check if there aren’t too many elements that are competing for attention. Since in some works a specific element may dominate and a different element may dominate in other works, it is very important to be aware of this hierarchy. In a work of art we wouldn’t expect to have all the elements included in the composition competing for attention. Instead, artists should focus the attention of their viewer on one or two elements within the scene. These elements become the focal points. Then, all of the other elements within the work become the supporting elements.

In composition, the possibilities are endless! There is a total creative freedom regarding how the elements are arranged within the pieces. However, even though the possibilities are endless, it doesn’t mean that the composition can be approached with a disregarding attitude without planning. The compositions must be crafted to one extent or the other, just as a skilled composer would do it. The principles of design in artistic compositions deal with the placement and arrangement of the elements, which are the basic components of the piece.

There are eight principles of design which we can define, such as:

  • balance and proportion which refer to the overall distribution of visual weight in a composition.
  • Movement, which refers to the illusion of actual movement in a drawing or painting, or it can refer to the movement that a viewer’s eye takes when experiencing the art.
  • Rhythm, which is usually defined through repetitions and the patterns of those repetitions.
  • Emphasis, which is used to define the focal point or points within a composition and variety, which also deals with difference.
  • And lastly, harmony and unity, which are so closely related that it’s easy to assume that they’re the same thing. Even though they are very similar, each should be considered separately in the compositions.
  • Unity deals with a feeling of “oneness”. This is usually accomplished in a work of art by using the medium in a consistent manner and to a level of completion.
“INSIDE & OUT” nº 17 – NARCISO Series – Arte-55

We can also think of unity in terms of artistic style. If the style and use of media are consistently used in a work and the work feels complete and finished, we usually can say that the work is unified. Harmony, however, helps to create unity in a work. While unity deals with the work of art as a whole, harmony deals more so with the individual parts of the work. If the individual parts of the piece all work together, then the art could be considered harmonious.

Finally, composition is not a subject of guessing.A great composition is not the result of luck and it’s certainly not about talent. Composition is about the understanding of how a viewer will visually interact with an artwork, it is about navigating the perception of the viewer through the piece.

Text by olha.korovina

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