Dynamicsymmetryart.com is a comprehensive online resource for the artist, photographer, and graphic designer that wants to learn more about the art of composition. Unlike so many other art and photography websites that offer the same tips, tricks, and rules, Dynamic Symmetry Art is about separating fact from fiction, revealing the painter's secret geometry, and providing easy-to-apply design techniques for anyone that has a strong desire to create masterful work.
What Is Dynamic Symmetry?
DYNAMIC SYMMETRY means a specific form of composition—a way of building a picture or other object in good proportion so that it is pleasing to the eye. Dynamic Symmetry is the method by which the Greeks built their temples and their gods. Dynamic Symmetry means a composition of spaces or areas, one in harmony or sequence with another. To learn more, see the "Frequently Asked Questions" section below.
Why Haven't I Heard of Dynamic Symmetry?
Because of the 20th century Modern Art movement in America, classical art training was eliminated from art schools including most universities. As a result of this shift towards teaching based solely on "artistic expression" and "creativity," very few art instructors were adequately equipped to teach their students design. However, over the past 15-20 years, classical skill-based art training has resurfaced and is making a significant comeback because of the atelier movement and organizations like the Art Renewal Center and the Da Vinci Initiative. To learn more, see the video below.
*The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist (Limited Time Offer) Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Composition in Art Is Here in One User's Guide!
Tired of getting nowhere with the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, and Leading Lines? Even though these popular "rules" of composition are recommended by most artists and photographers today, they won't teach you how to create respectable designs!
The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist is the perfect book for the modern artist and photographer that wants to learn more about classical design. By taking a closer look at the widely accepted rules and myths of composition, this user's guide will put you on the right path for creating masterful art. This PDF contains 402 pages.
The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist was written to expand, clarify, and piece together information previously published in the books The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry by Michel Jacobs, The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry by Jay Hambidge, Geometry of Design by Kimberly Elam, The Painter's Secret Geometry by Charles Bouleau, Classical Drawing Atelier by Juliette Aristides, Classical Painting Atelier by Juliette Aristides, Pictorial Composition: An Introduction by Henry Rankin Poore, and the drawing DVD series by Barnstone Studios.
Image above by Michel Jacobs demonstrating the simple application of Dynamic Symmetry
Frequently Asked Questions
I'm new to Dynamic Symmetry. What is the best approach to learning more about this system of design?
For all artists new to Dynamic Symmetry, I highly recommend reading "The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry" by Michel Jacobs. This book is beautifully written and easy to understand. You can download a high-resolution PDF copy here. To download the 1956 print edition, click here.
I noticed that "The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry" by Michel Jacobs was written over 90 years ago. Has the application of Dynamic Symmetry changed since then?
Dynamic Symmetry and the application of Dynamic Symmetry is the same today as it was 2000 years ago. In other words, "The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry" by Michel Jacobs is just as valid today as it was in 1926.
Did Jay Hambidge create the Dynamic Symmetry system of design?
Although many new to Dynamic Symmetry are under the impression that Jay Hambidge created this system of design, it's actually thousands of years old. Hambidges' contributions were one of rediscovery, not invention.
Why don't you recommend the books by Jay Hambidge, Charles Bouleau, and Christine Herter for the beginner art and photography student?
Most beginners will find these books too technical, and they don't teach the artist how to apply Dynamic Symmetry to their art. I recommend starting with Michel Jacobs' book, "The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry."
How is "The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist" different from other books on composition?
Do I need to apply all the techniques mentioned in your user's guide to create a well-composed drawing, painting, or photograph?
Even though my user's guide is written for all artists, there is no need to use every technique listed in the table of contents. To give an example, even though I explain how to use the 14 line armature of the rectangle, photographers will never use it. The photographer would limit their designs to the basic armature of the rectangle. However, the artist that draws and paints will find the 14 line armature indispensable.
Are there any other methods of composition that I can study if I'm not interested in learning Dynamic Symmetry?
Yes. I recommend reading the last half of my user's guide as well as "Pictorial Composition: An Introduction" by Henry Rankin Poore. Both of these books have a large volume of design techniques that don't involve the application of Dynamic Symmetry.
Do photographers apply Dynamic Symmetry in the same manner as the artist that draws and paints?
No. Because the act of photographing is intuitive, the photographer cannot apply Dynamic Symmetry like the artist. However, this doesn't mean photographers can't incorporate the same classical design principles into their images. To learn more, see the article Dynamic Symmetry for Photographers.
Do I need to tape design grids to my camera to get a well-composed photograph?
Regardless of the Dynamic Symmetry product claims you might find online, professional photographers don't compose their images using a Dynamic Symmetry grid attached to their camera nor are they photographing with these grids in mind. Additionally, this approach to applying Dynamic Symmetry does not give the photographer a real-world view of how to best utilize classical design principles. To learn more, see the article Dynamic Symmetry for Photographers.
Why don't you offer a grid pack for digital cameras, phone cameras, iPads, iPhones, etc.?
While most photographers will view camera grids as a gimmick, this is not the only concern to consider before using this method. For example, attaching a design grid to a camera's viewfinder prevents the photographer from concentrating on the scene or subject they are photographing because they are always preoccupied with lining up visual elements. In turn, this visual distraction limits the photographer's creativity because they aren't considering any other alternatives for their composition besides the design scheme they have chosen to tape to their LCD screen.
Additionally, and more importantly, photographers that rely on design grids attached to their camera will never develop the necessary intuitive design skills to shoot without this visual crutch. Simply stated, taping design grids to your camera is not the most effective approach for applying Dynamic Symmetry in photography and is, at best, a technique best reserved for the "beginner" student. To learn more about this method, please see my user's guide.
Can photographers learn to visualize the Dynamic Symmetry grid while taking pictures?
It's highly unlikely that any photographer can visualize the full armature of the rectangle while trying to concentrate on the scene or subject they are photographing and I would be wary of those that claim they can. As mentioned above, while design grids do have their place in the process of analyzation, master photographers don't use camera grids to create their "art." With that said, the goal of the photographer shouldn't be to memorize the Dynamic Symmetry grid but instead develop the necessary skills to be able to recognize a masterful image intuitively.
How many photographs of a scene should I take? Some photographers suggest shooting only one image while others claim more is better.
A classically trained artist will rarely, if ever, draw only one sketch before transferring their design to the canvas. They might do 3, 5, 10, 15 drawings or more. Photographers should approach composition in the same manner by shooting a series of images (as opposed to just one). My suggestion is to read the book "Magnum Contact Sheets." This book will give you a realistic representation of how master photographers work. When I do an online search for "Dynamic Symmetry" I see a lot of images with design grids that look complicated. How can I possibly understand what all those lines mean?
Without training, most artists and photographers won't be able to interpret design grids or learn how to apply them to their work correctly. Every artist that wants to learn more about composition should start with the basics and then move on to more advanced design techniques. Unfortunately, displaying images with complicated design grids won't teach the reader anything about Dynamic Symmetry. Furthermore, many of these compositional analyses are misleading because they are based on the assumption that every artist uses Dynamic Symmetry for their designs - which they don't.
What do you mean by intuitive knowledge? I've heard you mention this several times on your website.
Because photographers don't have the time to create elaborate design schemes like an artist that draws and paints, they have to be able to recognize a masterful composition in a fraction of a second. Intuitive knowledge is learning a set of art and design skills and then having the ability to identify those compositional elements while taking pictures. This approach, of course, is not the same as relying solely on intuition - which means artists and photographers are doing what "feels" right without possessing any of the necessary art and design skills.
Many artists feel that design grids are restrictive and prevent them from being creative. Is this true?
The Modern Art philosophy that technical training inhibits creativity in art is completely absurd. In truth, not having the skills of design, or any of the other necessary skills that are required to become a master artist is, in fact, restrictive. In other words, without skills, there is no way an artist can be truly "creative."
If I draw enough lines on top of an image isn't something bound to line up? (referring to a design grid)
I've heard this remark hundreds of times on photography website forums. However, to put this question in its proper context, just because I can't read music doesn't mean I should assume the little black notes on a sheet of paper are irrelevant. What many artists and photographers fail to realize is those "lines all over the place" give a work of art structure, theme, variation, and harmony. Furthermore, the lines aren't randomly placed.
I recently heard a photographer talk about the photographer's toolbox. What is this?
The phrase "toolbox" is used by artists that draw and paint - also known as the artist's toolbox. Some workshop instructors that teach classical art skills to photographers refer to it as the photographer's toolbox. Basically, the "toolbox" is a set of skills or techniques that the artist or photographer should learn, master, and apply to their art. For example, some of the techniques in a toolbox would be the armature of the rectangle, figure-ground relationship, notional space, aerial perspective, perspective, gazing direction, overlapping (creating the illusion of the third dimension), radiating lines, etc. All of these concepts are discussed thoroughly in The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist.
My art teacher told me that composition in art is intuitive. Is this true?
Despite what most of us have been told over the past 100 years, composition in art is NOT intuitive and creating designs solely based on intuition, or your "feelings," rarely works. The fact is, composition must be studied, mastered, and applied if the artist expects to create a respectable and consistent body of work in their lifetime. Furthermore, any art teacher, workshop instructor, artist, or photographer that claims composition is intuitive is either intentionally being misleading or simply uninformed.
Do you think some people are born artists?
Becoming a master artist takes hard work, skills, and knowledge across many disciplines. And while some of us can, over time, develop a passion for learning the arts, nobody is "born an artist."
Do you think artists can create masterful compositions relying solely on their intuition?
A highly trained artist who has mastered design will always far surpass the artist that relies solely on intuition to create their compositions. This applies to photography as well.
Why don't you recommend the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, and Leading Lines?
The Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, and Leading Lines won't teach an artist or photographer anything about the art of composition.
I've read a lot of articles on photography websites about composition, and they always recommend "breaking the rules." What are your thoughts on breaking the rules of composition?
While there is nothing wrong with breaking the rules in art, a lot of artists and photographers misinterpret the concept because they aren't trained in design. For example, when an artist or photographer discovers an image that doesn't line up with a Rule of Thirds grid, they naturally assume the artist or photographer is breaking the rules. However, in most cases, they aren't breaking the rules at all, but instead are using the Dynamic Symmetry armature of the rectangle. Furthermore, a lot of artists and photographers use the phrase "breaking the rules" of composition as an excuse not to learn design.
Why don't you recommend photography websites for learning more about the art of composition?
99.9% of photography websites don't have anything to do with learning classical art skills.
Why don't you talk about photography post-processing software?
I don't find the topic interesting, and far too many photographers are obsessed with the technical aspects of photography instead of learning how to create art. Additionally, if the composition is weak in a photograph, no amount of digital manipulation will save it.
Why don't you recommend photography books for composition?
All of the photography books I have read on composition only discuss the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, and Leading lines. These simple rules won't teach an artist or photographer anything about design. Photographers should read art books instead.
What books do you recommend for artists and photographers that want to learn more about the art of composition?
The books listed below represent a complete course in the art of composition.
"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 student or photographer, 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
"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