In the visual arts, composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ‘ingredients’ in a work of art, as distinct from the subject. It can also be thought of as the organization of the elements of art according to the principles of art.
The term composition means ‘putting together’ and can apply to any work of art, from music to writing to photography, that is arranged using conscious thought. In the visual arts, composition is often used interchangeably with various terms such as design, form, visual ordering, or formal structure, depending on the context.
Line and shape.
Lines are optical phenomena that allow the artist to direct the eye of the viewer. The optical illusion of lines do exist in nature and visual arts elements can be arranged to create this illusion. The viewer unconsciously reads near continuous arrangement of different elements and subjects at varying distances. Such elements can be of dramatic use in the composition of the image. These could be literal lines such as telephone and power cables or rigging on boats. Lines can derive also from the borders of areas of differing colour or contrast, or sequences of discrete elements. Movement is also a source of line, and blur can also create a reaction.
Straight left lines create different moods and add affection to visual arts. A line’s angle and its relationship to the size of the frame influence the mood of the image. Horizontal lines, commonly found in landscape photography, can give the impression of calm, tranquillity, and space. An image filled with strong vertical lines tends to have the impression of height and grandeur. Tightly angled convergent lines give a dynamic, lively, and active effect to the image.
Compared to straight lines, curves provide a greater dynamic influence in a picture. They are also generally more aesthetically pleasing, as the viewer associates them with softness. In photography, curved lines can give graduated shadows when paired with soft-directional lighting, which usually results in a very harmonious line structure within the image.
There are three properties of colour. Hue, brightness, and value. Hue is simply the name of a colour, (red, yellow, and blue, etc.) Brightness refers to the intensity and strength of the colour. The lightness and darkness to a colour is the value. Colour also has the ability to work within our emotions. Given that, we can use colour to create mood. It can also be used as tone, pattern, light, movement, symbol, form, harmony, and contrast.
Texture refers to how an object feels or how it looks like it may feel if it were touched. There are two ways we experience texture, physically and optically. Different techniques can be used to create physical texture, which allows qualities of visual art to be seen and felt. This can include surfaces such as metal, sand, and wood. Optical texture is when the illusion of physical texture is created. Photography, paintings, and drawings use visual texture to create a more realistic appearance.
Lightness and darkness is what creates value in visual art. Value deals with how light reflects off of objects and how we see it. The more light, the higher the value. White is the highest or lightest value while black is the lowest or darkest value. Colours also have value, for example, yellow has a high value while blue has a low value. This is a very important element of design, especially in painting and drawing, to be able to create the illusion of light with contrast. Contrast is needed to understand two-dimensional artwork.
Forms in drawing and painting convey the illusion of three-dimensional form through lighting, shadows, value, and tone. The more contrast in value, the more pronounced the three-dimensional form is. Forms with little value appear flatter than those with greater variation and contrast.
Space is the area around, above, and within an object. Photographers can capture space, architects build space, and painters create space. This element is found in each of the visual arts. It can be positive or negative, open or closed, shallow or deep, and two-dimensional or three-dimensional. In drawing or painting, space is not actually there, but the illusion of it is. Positive space is the subject of the piece. The empty spaces around, above, and within, is negative space.
In the next post on the subject of composition we will investigate the rules and principles that surround a composition.