Juliette Aristides on Composition: (From the Book Classical Drawing Atelier)
"The priests, scholars, mathematicians, and philosophers of ancient Egyptian and Greek civilizations spent much of their time searching for answers about the inner workings and purpose of the universe in which they lived. In their studies of the natural world, both the Egyptians and Greeks found a sense of order, what the Greeks called “cosmos.” This order—such as the rotation of the planets and the passing of the seasons—showed, on a grand scale, that aspects of the universe were both periodic and predictable.
Similarly, these two civilizations focused much of their thought on the development of mathematics. This study had practical applications, such as helping them build their pyramids and temples. However, particularly for the Greeks, the study of mathematics had philosophical implications as well—for the Greeks reasoned that order denoted intelligence, and that intelligent human beings must be created from an intelligent source, for intelligence could surely never be derived from unintelligence. Their deductive logic led them on a quest to understand this creator intelligence, which many refer to as “unity” and represent mathematically by the number 1.
What is known about the Greeks and suspected about the Egyptians is the discovery of a proportional ratio that is responsible for the order of design found in much of nature and man. The Greeks called this the “golden ratio” or the “golden section” (among other things) and their analysis of the golden ratio unveiled such astounding mathematical and philosophical characteristics that they aptly referred to it as the “logos,” that is, the unifying principle of the universe. Greek mathematicians and artists considered the golden ratio to be responsible for the beauty within visual design and audible sound, and it was applied extensively in Greek art forms, such as sculpture, architecture, pottery, and music.
If today’s artist has the objective of creating beautiful composition in his drawing and painting, he would be advised to study the work of the Greeks regarding the elements of design. Piero della Francesca, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, and other master artists understood this principle well. As artists, they were also students of design and devoted much of their creative energy to studying the geometrical proportions of man and nature. Without understanding the elements of design, artists have to rely solely on their intuition when composing a picture. While intuition and feeling are, of course, a major defining element for an artist, they alone are not enough to consistently achieve a mastery of composition that rivals that of nature. Intuition and feeling without the knowledge and judgment of design principles are a liability in art—for without the knowledge and the know-how of design principles, the composition can easily appear chaotic and disjointed."