Photograph above taken at Splashes of Hope Castle in Long Island, NY with a Leica M240
Composition Can't Be Taught?
One of the biggest myths about design in art that I continuously see on most photography websites is that composition cannot be taught. To give an example, I came across the posting below on the DPReview photography site a few months back.
“I have a good friend who has spent years as an extremely talented professional photographer and teacher of photography at a couple of universities. Yesterday, while we were discussing some aspects of photography, he stated that there are only two things to photography - lighting and composition. He asserted that lighting is simple, and can be taught to anyone; but, composition requires an innate ability that cannot be taught. By coincidence, last night, I started to read a photo magazine and stumbled upon an article that claimed that, while exposure can be learned, composition requires an inborn ability that cannot be taught. Obviously, some have a greater natural ability in the composition of photos, but how much does natural ability limit how far one can advance in learning to improve composition?”
The fact is, any artist or photographer that claims composition cannot be taught is either intentionally being misleading or simply uninformed. Composition can be taught and has been taught for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In fact, in Eastern European schools, children starting at the early age of seven are trained in the principles of design (Dynamic Symmetry and the armature of the rectangle).
Unfortunately, because so many modern artists and photographers aren't trained in design or offered actual design information in their education, whether it be at the university they attended, workshops they have taken, or books they have read, it's naturally assumed it's something that can't be learned. However, despite the many romanticized claims by a lot of contemporary artists, nobody is born with the ability to grasp all the principles of design.
Most importantly, any photographer or artist that relies solely on their "natural abilities" or their "feelings" when it comes to creating compositions will always fall behind the trained artist who has mastered classical design principles. As Michel Jacbos states in the book The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry, "One often hears of artists who refuse to be guided by any law or rule of science and who consider that they are law in themselves. If they were students of psychology, the would see that they are absorbing from others, I might even say copying, perhaps subconsciously, but they themselves would be the first to deny this accusation.
Another peculiar fact, those who do not know the laws of nature and who do not put them into their work often make a great success in their youth through their inherent talent, but in later life fall back in the march of progress on account of their lack of early training and absorbed knowledge.
Painting and drawing have been taught since the days of Ancient Greece by what is known as "feeling." This is all very well, provided that a sound knowledge of construction, of color, of perspective, and composition, all based on nature's laws, has been learned and absorbed before "feeling" is permitted to be expressed."
Why Design Is Not Intuitive (Click Below for a Demo Video)
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