I'm new to Dynamic Symmetry. What is the best approach to learning more about this system of design?
For all artists new to Dynamic Symmetry, I highly recommend reading The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry by Michel Jacobs. This book is perfect for artists and photographers that want to learn more about design. I noticed that "The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry" by Michel Jacobs was written over 90 years ago. Has the application of Dynamic Symmetry changed since then?
Dynamic Symmetry and the application of Dynamic Symmetry is the same today as it was 2000 years ago. In other words, "The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry" by Michel Jacobs is just as valid today as it was in 1926.
Can you recommend any other books on Dynamic Symmetry that will help the artist and photographer learn more about this system of design?
I've read every available book on Dynamic Symmetry over the past ten years, and I've only found a few that I'm willing to recommend. You can find my recommendations in the menu bar on my website under the tab "Recommended Books."
Are there any other books I can read to improve my compositions if I'm not interested in learning Dynamic Symmetry?
Yes. While Dynamic Symmetry is a wonderful tool, it's not the only means of creating an effective composition. I recommend the last half of my user's guide as well as Pictorial Composition: An Introduction by Henry Rankin Poore. Both of these books cover a lot of other design concepts in addition to Dynamic Symmetry.
Can you recommend any videos on Dynamic Symmetry and design in art?
The Barnstone Studios DVDs and Instant Downloads are the best videos available on Dynamic Symmetry and classical skill-based art techniques. While, of course, you can find other videos on Dynamic Symmetry, none compare to the quality and value of the Barnstone Studios series. For those new to Dynamic Symmetry, I recommend lesson 7 & 10. You can purchase these two videos in a bundle package deal - created specifically for Dynamic Symmetry Art. Click here to learn more.
Why don't you recommend the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, and Leading Lines?
The Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, and Leading Lines won't teach an artist or photographer anything about the art of composition.
Did Jay Hambidge create the Dynamic Symmetry system of design?
Although many new to Dynamic Symmetry are under the impression that Jay Hambidge created this system of design, it's actually thousands of years old. Hambidges' contributions were one of rediscovery, not invention.
Why don't you recommend the books by Jay Hambidge, Charles Bouleau, and Christine Herter for the beginner art student?
These books won't teach the artist how to apply Dynamic Symmetry to their art, and most will find them overly technical.
Do I need to apply all the techniques you mention in your user's guide to create a well-composed drawing, painting, or photograph?
Even though my user's guide is written for all artists and photographers, there is no need to use every technique listed in the table of contents. To give an example, even though I explain how to use the 14 line armature of the rectangle, photographers will never use it. The photographer would limit their designs to the basic armature of the rectangle. However, the artist that draws and paints will find the 14 line armature indispensable.
Do photographers apply Dynamic Symmetry in the same manner as the artist?
No. Because the act of photographing is, in many ways, intuitive professional photographers don't apply Dynamic Symmetry while taking pictures but instead use it as an analytical tool in post-processing to improve their visual literacy skills. To learn more, see the article Dynamic Symmetry for Photographers.
Do I need to tape design grids to my camera to get a well-composed photograph?
Regardless of the product claims found online, professional photographers don't compose their images using a Dynamic Symmetry grid taped to their camera nor are they photographing with these grids in mind. Additionally, this approach to applying Dynamic Symmetry does not give the photographer a real-world view of how to best utilize classical design principles. To learn more about these design techniques, please see my user's guide.
"I hope we will never see the day when photo shops sell little schema grills to clamp onto our viewfinders, and the Golden Rule will never be found etched on our ground glass." - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Will using a design grid attached to my camera guarantee that I get an excellent composition?
Absolutely not. There are many other visual elements to consider for creating masterful compositions. These include figure-ground relationship, proper overlapping, aerial perspective, visual hierarchy, balance, etc. The armature of the rectangle (Dynamic Symmetry grid) is only one element. To learn more about these design techniques, please see my user's guide.
Can photographers learn to visualize the Dynamic Symmetry grid while taking pictures?
It's highly unlikely that any photographer can visualize the full armature of the rectangle while trying to concentrate on the scene or subject they are photographing and I would be wary of those that claim they can. With that said, the goal of the photographer shouldn't be to memorize the Dynamic Symmetry grid but instead develop the necessary skills to be able to recognize a masterful image intuitively. How many photographs of a scene should I take? Some photographers suggest shooting only one image while others claim more is better.
Among photographers, there is a continuous debate on how many photographs of a scene they should take. Some claim one image is enough, while others advocate for shooting more. However, one important point to keep in mind is that a classically trained artist will rarely, if ever, draw only one sketch before transferring their design to the canvas. They might do 3, 5, 10, 15 drawings, etc. Photographers should approach composition in the same manner by shooting a series of images (as opposed to just one). When I do an online search for "Dynamic Symmetry" I see a lot of images with design grids that look complicated. How can I possibly understand what all those lines mean?
Without training, most artists and photographers won't be able to interpret design grids or learn how to apply them to their work correctly. More importantly, the many Dynamic Symmetry examples found online are misleading because they are based on the false assumption that every artist uses Dynamic Symmetry. While analyzation is a critical step in learning classical skill-based art, these examples are not final validation as to how the artist or photographer designed their work.
What do you mean by intuitive knowledge? I've heard you mention this several times on your website.
Because photographers don't have the time to create elaborate design schemes like an artist that draws and paints, they have to be able to recognize a masterful composition in a fraction of a second. Intuitive knowledge is learning a set of art and design skills and then having the ability to identify those compositional elements while taking pictures. This approach, of course, is not the same as relying solely on intuition - which means artists and photographers are doing what "feels" right without possessing any of the necessary art and design skills.
I recently heard a photographer talk about the photographer's toolbox. What is this?
The phrase "toolbox" is used by artists that draw and paint - also known as the artist's toolbox. Some workshop instructors that teach classical art skills to photographers refer to it as the photographer's toolbox. Basically, the "toolbox" is a set of skills or techniques that the artist or photographer should learn, master, and apply to their art. For example, some of the techniques in a toolbox would be the armature of the rectangle, figure-ground relationship, notional space, aerial perspective, perspective, gazing direction, overlapping (creating the illusion of the third dimension), radiating lines, etc.
Do I need to analyze photographs to become a better photographer?
The act of analyzing art, also known as deconstructing composition, increases your visual literacy skills and will help elevate your photographs from snapshots to "art." Martine Franck talks about this in her essays on the art of photography.
Why don't you recommend photography workshops?
Most master photographers won't reveal or discuss real design principles, and they tend to approach teaching subjectively. Furthermore, a photographer should never have to spend thousands of dollars to learn a few street photography "tips" or the basics of composition. Everything a photographer needs to know about creating masterful images can be learned from reading art books, analyzing art, and practice.
My art teacher told me that composition in art is intuitive. Is this true?
No. Despite what most of us have been told over the past 100 years, composition in art is not intuitive and creating designs solely based on intuition, or your "feelings," rarely works. The fact is, composition must be studied, mastered, and applied if the artist expects to create a respectable and consistent body of work in their lifetime. Furthermore, any art teacher, workshop instructor, artist, or photographer that claims composition is intuitive is either intentionally being misleading or simply uninformed.
Do you think a great work of art is a matter of personal opinion?
No. While the content of a work of art might appeal to the viewer on a subjective level, a well-composed work of art (a masterpiece) is objectively traceable. If it weren't, a classically trained artist wouldn't be able to learn and develop new skills.
Do you think some people are born artists?
Becoming a master artist takes hard work, skills, and knowledge across many disciplines. And while some of us can, over time, develop a passion for learning the arts, nobody is "born an artist."
Do you think artists can create masterful compositions relying solely on their intuition?
A highly trained artist who has mastered design will always far surpass the artist that relies solely on intuition to create their compositions. This applies to photography as well.
I've read a lot of articles on photography websites about composition, and they always recommend "breaking the rules." What are your thoughts on breaking the rules of composition?
Although there is nothing wrong with breaking the rules in art, a lot of artists and photographers misinterpret the concept because they aren't trained in design. For example, when an artist or photographer discovers an image that doesn't line up with a Rule of Thirds grid, they naturally assume the artist or photographer is breaking the rules. However, in most cases, they aren't breaking the rules at all, but instead are using the Dynamic Symmetry armature of the rectangle. Furthermore, a lot of artists and photographers use the phrase "breaking the rules" of composition as an excuse not to learn design.
Why don't you post articles about Dynamic Symmetry on photography websites?
I have found most photography website forums to be ineffective for sharing information about classical design because they generate too much negative feedback. For this reason, Dynamic Symmetry Art will never post articles on any photography website.
Why don't you recommend photography websites for learning more about the art of composition?
Most photography websites are only concerned with camera gear, post-processing software, collecting social media "likes," and writing articles on the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, and Leading Lines. These websites and "rules" won't teach the photographer how to see as an artist and don't have anything to do with real art and design skills.
Why don't you talk about photography post-processing software?
Far too many photographers are obsessed with the technical aspects of photography instead of learning how to create art. Additionally, if the composition is weak in a photograph, no amount of digital manipulation will save it.
Why don't you recommend photography books for composition?
In over ten years of research, I've yet to come across any photography book on composition that was worth recommending or exploring further. Unfortunately, most photography books only discuss the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, and Leading Lines. Photographers should read art books instead.
What are Gestalt Pyschology Principles in design?
The Gestalt Principles, also known as Gestalt Psychology Principles, are a group of "laws" stemming from 1920s’ psychology that explains how humans see objects by grouping similar elements, recognizing patterns and simplifying complex images.
The Gestalt Principles (“Gestalt,” a German word meaning a unified whole”) represent the studies of early 20th century German psychologists Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler who wanted to understand how humans typically gain meaningful perceptions from chaotic stimuli. Wertheimer, Koffka, and Kohler identified a set of laws addressing this natural desire to seek an order from disorder, where the mind informs what the eye sees by making sense of a series of elements as an image, or illusion. Some of the Gestalt Principles include Figure-Ground, Law of Closure, and the Law of Proximity.
In most cases, artists and photographers shouldn't overly concern themselves with Gestalt Psychology Principles because most of the classical skill-based art techniques mentioned in books on classical art and design discuss all of the same principles - but in a more easily understood and unified manner. Additionally, in my experience, the few that teach Gestalt Psychology Principles tend to misinterpret the meaning of the "laws" when it comes to teaching design.
"James Cowman's user's guide on composition and Dynamic Symmetry, in particular, was one of the greatest milestones on my journey of becoming a better artist. Dynamicsymmetryart.com is undoubtedly the best resource on the subject out there, which I keep recommending to anyone interested in taking their compositions to a new level. It shocks me that even otherwise excellent artists today often know nothing about these old systems and rely mostly on their intuition to create their compositions. It's time that artists rediscover and revive the lost knowledge of the old masters and bring art back to its former glory. Jame's user's guide is a unique and invaluable resource in this effort." - Storm Engineer
"Jim offers something that is almost impossible to find online: a truly one-of-a-kind resource. His information about Dynamic Symmetry is meticulously researched and comes from a place of knowledge and genuine interest, not sales, as so many educational sites do. Reading his surprisingly accessible work has helped me to grow artistically in a deliberate and satisfying way. I return to Dynamic Symmetry Art regularly and always learn something new." - Rebecca Isenhart
"The information provided in The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist has been a tremendous resource for me as an artist and photographer. My photography work has improved tremendously, and all of my clients agree! I'll continue to share this user's guide with all of my peers and other creative artists." - Zine Massey
"I just graduated from the BFA in Graphic Design at the Federal University of Pernambuco, in Brazil, and one of the chapters of my monograph was about composition. As a motion designer, the proper layout of elements is a very important phase in my creative process, so any tool that helps with making decisions on that is very valuable. What I love about your studies is that it's full of images and resources, it's a gold mine in my opinion. Thanks for providing so much information at an affordable price." - Eveline Falcão
"The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist deserves to be a physical book in Barnes & Noble & on my coffee table!" - Elliot McGucken
"The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist is, without a doubt, one of the most comprehensive e-books ever written on the topic of design in art. Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced art/photography student, this user's guide is indispensable. I recommend it to all of my artists and photographers and have it linked to my website The Artist Angle." - Jennifer Finley "Though I am not a newcomer to photography, I am far from being a professional. So too, it has only been in the past few months that I discovered dynamicsymmetryart.com. I was transformed from being concerned with camera equipment, f-stops, shutter speed, ISO to considering how I would apply the principles of classical art training to my photography.
As I began reading about the old world masters, including da Vinci, Degas, Rembrandt, and Renoir, I learned that Dynamic Symmetry structurally changed paintings from being passive to active and dynamic. Furthermore, I didn’t realize that a small, yet renowned, group of photographers were well known for using Dynamic Symmetry in their photographs of city life and people. My journey began by reading. The Dynamic Symmetry Art website has numerous resources that gave me a crash course in art and composition. I had to learn about the visual properties of different kinds of rectangles and how each can be divided into compositional elements. Then I began using the Dynamic Symmetry grid overlays in Lightroom to analyze and crop my photos. I have found dynamicsymmetryart.com extremely beneficial, and it has contributed immensely with my efforts to improve as a photographer. Thank you for your commitment to art and art education." - Warren Wish
"With the passing of Myron Barnstone, we lost a great resource on the application of the Rectangles of the Masters and the Golden Section in creating art. But the website dynamicsymmetryart.com is carrying on that work Myron so thoroughly believed in and taught. Dynamic Symmetry can be used in the simplest of ways as well as being infinitely complex if one desires. Great minds such as Leonardo da Vinci recognized the power that this compositional tool offers. Dynamicsymmetryart.com is an amazing reference for artists who are open to exploring the benefits of using Dynamic Symmetry in their work. It applies to all the arts and resonates at a primal level of understanding harmony and beauty. Much thanks to James Cowman for his dedication to furthering this information to the public." - Master Artist and Teacher, Dot Bunn, Red Stone Farm Studio