The Rule of Thirds and a McDonald's Hamburger
No matter where you go in the United States, you can purchase a McDonald's hamburger. From New York to Buffalo, Kentucky to Ohio makes no difference. In fact, I can guarantee you that the McDonald's hamburger you bought in Wisconsin is identical to the one you purchased in Florida; it will have the same taste, smell, condiments, size and so on. There is no difference from burger to burger.
Using the Rule of Thirds for design in art and photography is like purchasing a McDonald's hamburger. Every composition looks identical because the artist is continuously applying the same horizontal and vertical divisions in all of their work. Don't believe me? Need a few examples? Do a Google search on the "Rule of Thirds" and click on "images" at the top of the menu bar. What you will discover is, regardless of content, subject matter, etc., all the compositions have the same cookie-cutter appearance.
Is the Rule of Thirds Useful for Beginners?
One of the most common arguments from artists and photographers that use the Rule of Thirds for composition is that it's an excellent tool for beginners. Unfortunately, there isn't any truth in this rebuttal. The fact is, for any artistic tool to be useful (regardless if you're a beginner, intermediate, or professional), it has to be flexible enough for the artist to continue to grow and learn progressively. Because of its limitations, the Rule of Thirds doesn't allow an artist or photographer to expand on their designs or accurately fulfill their artistic vision. Essentially, it's a dead end "rule" right from the start.
Where Did the Rule of Thirds Originate?
Even though John Thomas Smith vaguely mentions the concept of the Rule of Thirds in his book Remarks on Rural Scenery written in 1797, this popular compositional tool is actually an oversimplified grid produced by the 1/3 and 2/3 horizontal and vertical divisions of the 14 line armature of the rectangle as described in the books Classical Painting Atelier by Juliette Aristides and The Painter's Secret Geometry by Charles Bouleau. To learn more about the 14 line armature, download The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist.
Related article: 5 Easy Steps for Learning Composition in Art and Photography
Related article: Classical Drawing Atelier: Introduction by Juliette Aristides
Related article: Classical Painting Atelier: Introduction by Juliette Aristides
Related article: Lessons in Classical Drawing: Introduction by Juliette Aristides
Related article: Lessons in Classical Painting: Introduction by Juliette Aristides
“Design created within rectangles which do not possess Dynamic Symmetry,
the qualities of life and growth, are always flat and dead.” - Jay Hambidge
The painting above, "Entombment" by Caravaggio, demonstrates the difference between the Rule of Thirds grid compared to the armature of the rectangle. While the Rule of Thirds might seem simple to apply to a composition, it by no means gives the viewer an accurate or respectable representation of how master artists, like Caravaggio, design their work.