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Saturday, June 11, 2011

An Argument for Principles of Composition

We live in an era of artists rebelling against boundaries.  It's nothing new-- questioning boundaries is a driving force that keeps humans evolving.  But too often a principle gets mislabeled as a boundary and consequently gets abandoned, to the detriment of the artist.

There are artists among us who consider composition principles boundaries.  These folks complain that if they spend their energy concentrating on the principles while painting, they'd give up.  And some argue that principles serve only to inhibit the creative process.  They complain that they're not interested in making great works of art, just finding some joy in life.  They just want to paint and not be bothered with having to think about it.

A boundary is a wall or a line of demarcation.  It's intention is to define two sides of a place or thing or to limit access.  It's purpose is to divide.

A principle is a fundamental of how something works.  Its function is to hold something together, not to limit or divide.

To reject learning and using principles of composition is to limit the scope of ones creative potential.  The boundary is not the principle itself, rather the projection we place on it when we make assumptions about it rather than to take the effort to explore its possibilities.


William Cook said...

The most basic principal of composition is that the eye can be directed in precise ways to circulate around in a work of art, so that the artist achieves the goal of communicating through visual means. The great artists know this from DeKooning to Caravaggio and do not violate it.

To violate this principal or any of its support principals through choice (or ignorance) is to doom an artistic effort from the start.

I suppose one could consider this in itself the setting up of a boundary that instantly divides one from achieving success.

I agree--the artist has no choice but to follow these principles of composition for the sake of communication.

On the other hand, if the purpose is not directed outward to "viewers", the sky's the limit--everyone loves making sensless mudpies once in a while.

And this is not to say that Mark Tobey (the Northwest School) made mudpies even though his work was inwardly directed. He did not violate anything, and his works communicated meditative serenity loudly--a most interesting mix.

What an interesting topic! Thanks for the distinction.

James Kissel said...

On WetCanvas I've bumped heads with a number of artists that believe that principals of composition set boundaries and/or are rules which they rejects. You cannot know how comforting it is to read your thoughts for the principals of composition.

I look forward to Saturday and your next posting.