Drawing above by Vincent van Gogh - analysis by Myron Barnstone
Learning How to Analyze Drawings, Paintings, and Photographs
In Kimberly Elam's book Geometry of Design, second edition, she states that "Geometric analysis identifies the proportioning systems and regulating lines that contribute to the cohesive composition of a work of art, a building, a product, or a work of graphic design. While this analysis does not examine the concept, the culture, or the medium, it does reveal compositional principles and often confirms the positive intuitive response of the viewer through quantifiable means of proportion and alignment.
The value of geometric analysis is in the discovery of underlying ideas and principles of design that were used by the artist, architect, or designer. These are the key ideas of composition that guide design, and the arrangement of elements within a composition provide insight into the decisions that were made. The process of geometric analysis is one of investigation, experimentation, and discovery."
Learning how to analyze a master artist's work requires time, patience, and persistence. In the past, I have had several readers contact me to say that they couldn't detect any formal composition used in a work of art - therefore, it must have been created intuitively. Usually, this assumption results in error. Since many masterful designs trickle down multiple tiers, the methodology of the artist isn't always apparent on the first level of a design scheme. Additionally, decoding complex compositions can become even harder for the beginner student because a lot of artists stack and overlap Dynamic Symmetry rectangles in their work.
One mistake I often see made by artists is that they will lay a Rule of Thirds grid on top of a masterpiece and come to the conclusion that the artist must have used that design scheme because some of the elements line up. However, even though parts of the artwork might line up with the Rule of Thirds grid, this is not always a clear or accurate indicator that the artist used that design method. Further analysis is usually required.
Becoming proficient at analyzing composition is much like learning a new language; it takes time, effort, and the right skills. For instance, if someone handed me a book written in German, I wouldn't be able to read it in a few days. I would have to be taught the language first. Learning how to "read" a work of art isn't any different. The artist needs to be taught the language of design to understand art.
I have been analyzing drawings, paintings, and photographs for many years, and I'm still discovering new information every day. Not to be misunderstood, I'm not saying that an artist has to spend that much time researching design, but I do suggest taking the time to at least understand the basics of good pictorial structure. Once the fundamental principles of composition are learned, an artist can then decide if they want to pursue their studies further.