” Composition is what’s left over after you’ve eliminated everything it’s not. Composition is not how; the hows of painting are technique, the different ways pigments are applied to achieve different effects. Composition is not subject matter; the identical composition can be equally effective as still life, figure, or landscape. Composition is not drawing; otherwise, nonobjective art would not qualify as art. Composition is not color; if it were, Rembrandt’s etchings wouldn’t be art. What’s left?
Composition is where– simply putting the right mark and the right color in the right place.
You’ll find the secret to good composition in your kitchen drawer with your everyday silverware. That drawer is partitioned off into a grid that illustrates the prinicple of alignment. Knives, forks, and spoons each have their own compartment ( the principle of proximity). The drawer may hold dinner forks and salad forks; regular knives and butter knives; teaspoons, tablespoons, and soup spoons ( the principle of theme and variations).
Next to the silverware drawer there’s probably a junk drawer containing all those odds and ends that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. Compared to your silverware drawer, it’s a mess. The junk drawer is comparable to the order found in nature. There may be some kind of organization to it, but it’s not apparent to rational man.
Every organization is a hierarchy in which some things are more important than others. Similarly, a well-composed painting is an organization chart of its elements. The viewer knows right away what’s important and what’s not.
Yes , a painting may look as if it were uncomposed in the same way a dance may appear spontaneous. Watch the title dance number ,
Singing in the Rain. We recognize (at least on an intuitive level) that Gene Kelly’s dancing is composed. A work of art is always composed, and it requires considerable artifice to make it look spontaneous. ”