Peter Paul Rubens, “Venus, Cupid, Bacchus, and Ceres,” designed in a root 2 Dynamic Symmetry rectangle.
When you're visiting an art gallery and a painting grabs your attention from across the room, have you ever asked yourself why? Is it the color arrangement, the subject matter, or the brush strokes? How about the medium used? Is it because the artist used watercolor or oils? While all of these artistic qualities can contribute to the success of a masterful work of art, more than likely, it was none of the above. It was probably the composition.
All art forms require composition. Think of a musician like Mozart. He is conforming to a particular arrangement of notes so that his music is pleasing to our ears. A skillful writer will learn how to structure their sentences so the reader can move fluidly through the chapters in their book. An artist that draws, paints, or photographs will require an effective arrangement of subject, shape, color, and value to make their art more powerful, more compelling, and more expressive. A well-designed work of art will achieve this goal.
Henry Rankin Poore once said, "Composition is the mortar of the wall, as drawing and color are its rocks of defense. Without it, the stones are of little value and are but separate integrals having no unity." Undeniably, composition is the glue that binds all of the various elements together in a frame. A haphazard composition, solely created using one's intuition, won't be as effective as a carefully planned design. A successful work of art will draw the viewer in, let them wander for a period of time, and allow them to exit gracefully. Simply put, composition is the foundation of all art.
Elements of Composition (from the book Pictorial Composition)
Composition is the orderly and harmonious grouping and arranging of lines and masses so that they will present a pleasing relation one to another. Unless the various parts of a design or picture are so arranged, they are simply isolated parts and have nothing of interest or value. For instance, if six matches or toothpicks are allowed to fall upon a sheet of paper, the effect, shown in Fig. 1 (a), will not be orderly and harmonious and therefore no pleasing arrangement will be formed. But if the sticks are purposely arranged as in (b), a hexagon will be formed. Placing one end of each stick against one end of all the others and spreading the bodies of the sticks out fanwise, as in (c), produces a sunburst. Placing them as in (d) forms a six-pointed star. Still, other orderly and harmonious arrangements could be made with the six matches, all illustrating composition.
Composition, however, also depends on the relative sizes and shapes of the outlined spaces; the relative tone values, sizes, and shapes of the masses of black, gray, and white; and the relative color values, as well as their light and dark values, and the sizes and shapes of the masses of colors.
The chief elements of composition are unity, balance, rhythm, harmony, and concentration of interest. Unity is the holding together of the parts. Balance is the placing of each part in its proper position so that no part will be unduly emphasized. Rhythm is the constant relation and orderly connect of parts. Harmony is the consistent arrangement of parts that have something in common, such as size, etc.
In the composition of pictures, however, the parts must also be so arranged as to keep the observer’s interest concentrated on the proper object or figure. Unless this is done, the picture will not convey the message or tell the story in the most graphic manner. Click here to learn more.
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What Others Are Saying About Dynamic Symmetry Art "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
"There’s been something missing in my photography for some time now. It felt like I’d hit a brick wall. I was finding great locations and taking beautiful photos, but again, something was missing. I had no idea what it was; I just knew it was there.
I found myself repeatedly falling back on the Rule of Thirds, but this was becoming more of a hindrance rather than a help. Then one day I had the good fortune to stumble across the website Dynamicsymmetryart.com. There is no better teacher or resource on the internet regarding Dynamic Symmetry and best of all everything is free! I can assure you, once you begin to delve into the rich offerings on this site you won’t have any need to look elsewhere.
I, for one, can’t thank Jim enough for all the time and effort he has put into this and for taking my photography to the next level. His website and Youtube channel are both superb, and I'd like to thank him for sharing the knowledge on what is a very fascinating subject." - Tim B
"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
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