Design by IDEA Society



Are There Rules in Art? - Composition
Article Index
Are There Rules in Art?
Geometrical Perspective
Aerial Perspective:
How many focal points?
What does art say?
All Pages



How are the parts of a painting organized? Practically all paintings have areas (not necessarily objects) that, for their brightness, shape or color, attract our attention (figs. 26, 27). Like the parts of a mobile, these areas must be carefully balanced. But a moving object such as a horse or a bird is not in equilibrium: it moves into the space before him, and leaves the past behind (fig. 24), even before it has taken to flight (fig. 29)

Fig, 26. The prominent features of figs. 20 and 21

In the classical portrait, the person to be depicted was placed in the center of the picture. In a more expressive mode, she may also claim the space in front of her, into which she looks, and may perhaps move later (fig. 30). The figure, as a rule, looks into the center. In the painting of a group, (fig. 31) most persons do so as well. But if a person is offset and looks in the outward direction, a strong imbalance and tension arise. In fig.32, the model, which happened to be blind, is seated facing the wall, close to the picture corner. This strong centrifugal element is opposed by the figure at the right side of a painter in front of her easel. Although small, this figure contrasts strongly with her surroundings, is located right at the border, and looks downward, not at the model. Therefore she balances to some degree the model. The picture, in the absence of people in its center, gives a strong feeling of incommunicability between people.

Fig. 32 illustrates how the model, and all the other objects, assume their autonomous function as part of the pictorial surface. While the naive observer gives his attention to the objects only, from the compositional point of view, the spaces between objects, called negative spaces, become equally important (Fig. 33) and must be carefully designed. With increasing abstraction, the difference between positive and negative space vanishes.

Kitagawa Klee

Fig. 27. The black (left) and light (right) areas are carefully balanced.

Fig. 28 (Degas)

Fig. 29 (Chi Pai-shih)

Fig. 30 (Gauguin)

Fig. 31 (Giotto)

Fig. 32 (KH)

Fig. 33. (Picasso) shows the importance of negative space.