"ART is a word which summarizes THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION. "
L. Ron Hubbard

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What is composition?

Every once in a while, a student asks me: "What is composition?" Or, "How can I know if I have a good composition?"

Composition, as it applies to the visual arts, most closely means combining the elements of art to produce the effect you want. Basically, art is a communication. And the basics of art include line, form, value, color, and ways of representing depth. So the student needs to develop proficiency in the basics, and to the degree that he has that and knows what he wants to communicate, he will have proficincy in composition.

The work of art is a communication, so it will have a different impact on each viewer. You, as artist, never totally control the effect. But you can put together the elements of art so that the communication received by the viewer approaches what you wished to say.

You will find there are many "rules" of composition. Just do a search on the internet and you will find lots of advice. Take notice, but don't allow yourself to be limited by any of the rules. Remember, these are not "physical universe" rules, like the law of gravity. They can be broken.

Your goal in painting is to combine the elements of art so they form a unique and satisfactory composition.

I've been attending a weekly drawing group and wanted to share with you two recent drawings, one being what I would call a "study" and one being a "composition." The study could be complete enough to call it a composition, but you can see that, in the composition, I was more conscious of how the figure interacted with the space, so that the space itself becomes more of an active part of the composition.

Sheila - Study
Lize - Composition

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What is a study?

Recently a student asked me "What is a study?" North Light Dictionary of Art Terms defines a study as "a drawing or painting  of a section or of a whole composition, usually detailed more carefully than a sketch." Charles Sovak in his book Oil Painting, Develop your Natural Ability (recommended)  says, "remember, no matter how beautifully you paint an object, it remains a mere study until it is artfully incorporated into a composition."

Study of a box by Pam Coulter
I think the distinction between "study" and "finished composition" has been somewhat blurred. Consider the fact that Monet painted "Impression, Sunrise" very quickly, generating the name of a whole artistic movement: Impressionism. It was hardly a finished composition in the sense that the "Old Masters" thought of it, so it was a study. Plein air painters today often follow the impressionist lead in the matter, finishing a painting in one session and on site. A study can be so attractive that it rivals or surpasses a finished work. Because of it's freshness and immediacy, it has charm. 

But, ok, what is a composition? (Is it unfair to end with a question?)