Composition: Myths and Methods
James Gurney explains why composition isn’t about forcing elements into a grid
The key to composing an effective picture is figuring out the best way to express your main idea in visual terms. That idea could be a dramatic clash of characters, an emotion tied to an environment, or a mood created by a story. I like to begin a painting by clarifying the idea and then deciding which pictorial tools best convey it.
The problem with most compositional theory is that the thinking is backwards. Instead of starting with the central idea, many art teachers dwell on shoehorning the picture into some rigid, preconceived geometry. Some focus on a set of dogmatic notions about how the eyes move around a picture. Others focus on abstract design for its own sake, aiming for rhythm, flow, balance or harmony.
But painting is more than designing bathroom tiles, presenting food on a plate or arranging flowers in a vase. What’s the use of a pleasing, balanced arrangement if your story idea demands a design that's off-balance or arrhythmic? Painting is like any other art form: emotion and story should come first and they alone should drive the aesthetic choices.
In this workshop, I’ll start by roasting a couple of sacred cows and then I’ll offer some practical tips. Who's hungry?