Ideas of Composition in Artwork and Design

In final month’s “Studying to Look” column we explored shade, a delightfully complicated component of artwork and design. Like form, worth, house, kind, line, and texture, shade is taken into account a structural part of visible works, a primary constructing block of artwork and design. On this week’s column, we’ll concentrate on how these parts are mixed to create a visible impression or affect. We name these the ideas of artwork and design or ideas of composition.

The ideas of composition emerged within the late nineteenth century and rose to prominence as a language to deal with the formal parts of early and mid-twentieth century summary and experimental artwork.  Whereas the quantity and grouping of ideas of composition range from supply to supply, they embrace some mixture of the next:

  • stability
  • motion
  • rhythm
  • emphasis
  • distinction
  • repetition
  • proportion

(Unity is sometimes included as a precept that describes the general concord of a composition created by implementing different ideas successfully.) By nature, these ideas overlap and intertwine to kind the entire of a visible composition. It’s practically unattainable to debate one among these ideas with out referencing others. Let’s have a look at a number of examples.

Ideas of Composition in Artwork and Design
Over the Previous Route into Egypt, illustration for “Driving All the way down to Egypt” by Norman Duncan, by way of JSTOR

This portray by Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970) could also be initially compelling in its imagery and the story it appears to inform. If you happen to’ve learn our dialogue of shade, you would possibly discover how shade helps inform the story. The violet smudges on peachy floor learn rapidly as night shadows on blown sand. However these colours are working tougher than that. At the side of different parts, akin to line, texture, and form, they don’t simply inform a narrative of a night trip by means of the desert. They inform us that it’s windy and that the figures are shifting away from the viewer. Harris has used these parts to create a composition with visible curiosity by means of ideas like rhythm and proportion. The proportion of the figures to one another—even the proportion of the pack animals’ hooves to the prints they’ve left within the sand—present readability of scale and point out motion from the foreground into the background. The gestural marks used to counsel prints within the sand additionally create a way of rhythm, the back-and-forth trudge of a journey on foot, the dance of wind throughout the floor of the sand brushing the prints away.

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As they overlap and intersect, these ideas of composition can initially be tough to differentiate in representational photos. Fortunately, artists, designers, and educators have spent appreciable time creating works that illustrate these with easy, foundational parts. The Fleet Library at RISD’s assortment of Arthur Loeb prints on JSTOR illustrates most of the ideas of composition with primary shapes and colours utilizing silkscreen prints produced by Loeb and his instructing assistant, Holly Alderman, whereas Loeb was a senior lecturer at Harvard College. As a twentieth-century chief within the discipline of design science, it’s becoming that Arthur Loeb (1923–2002) information us by means of these design ideas.

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Two silkscreen prints by Arthur Loeb. The one on the left is a repeating pattern of royal blue hexagons, and the one on the right is a repeating pattern of softer blue hexagons with orange hexagons printed over them so that they partially overlap.
Two silk display screen prints by Holly Alderman and Arthur Loeb, 1978, by way of JSTOR/JSTOR

A few of Loeb’s compositions are deceptively easy, just like the sample on the left, created from a single form repeated and spaced evenly throughout an oblong board. But even this engages the ideas of composition. Right here, the hexagons are equal in dimension and evenly distributed throughout the web page creating a way of stability, nevertheless easy. The hexagons are a vibrant blue, creating clear distinction with the white board that permits us to see the shapes as fully distinct from one another and their background. The repetition of those blue hexagons creates a recognizable sample that one can think about extending past the perimeters of the print. Observe how a composition utilizing only one form and one shade may be described by means of every precept of design.

The print on the precise above was seemingly created with the identical screens used to print the blue hexagons. Whereas it introduces a little bit of complexity to the composition, it additionally permits us to deal with a key characteristic of the ideas of composition: they’re extra totally understood as pairs of opposites, two ends of a scale from sameness to distinction. A composition may be balanced or imbalanced. It might probably have excessive or low distinction. It may be fully composed of repeated parts or wholly distinctive ones. It might counsel dynamic motion or be fully static. Evaluating the blue hexagons on the left to the overlapping hexagons on the precise, we will start to see how tipping the scales can change a composition dramatically. Distinction has been lowered within the composition on the precise, creating a better relationship between the shapes and their background. The extra layer of lighter, semi-transparent hexagons appears to sit down on prime of the blue hexagons, creating emphasis that didn’t exist within the flat blue sample. This layering additionally coaxes the attention to bop backwards and forwards between blue, yellow, and tan, giving the shapes a way of motion and rhythm that the primary print lacks.

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These ideas may be utilized simply as simply when artists create compositions with higher selection of their colours, shapes, and features.

A silk screen print by Arthur Loeb featuring five yellow triangles overlapping with five dark green triangles.
Silk display screen print by Holly Alderman and Arthur Loeb, 1978, by way of JSTOR

In contrast to the hexagon compositions, this picture is devoid of general patterns of equal-sided polygons. Steadiness is created not with equally weighted objects distributed evenly throughout the picture however with a diagonal line bisecting the background. There’s a lighter layer of shapes layered over an equivalent set of darker shapes, however this time they don’t overlap the identical means from form to form, interrupting the repetition and making a extra syncopated rhythm.

The next print makes use of very related colours, shapes, and strategies however arranges them to create a brand new composition that engages ideas in a wholly completely different means than the print above.

A silk screen print by Arthur Loeb featuring five blue triangles overlapping with several yellow triangles.
Silk display screen print by Holly Alderman and Arthur Loeb, 1978, by way of JSTOR

The place the stability was created within the final picture by an general diagonal line, the load of the shapes on this picture is about barely off heart to the left, and stability is disrupted. But the motion we noticed within the earlier picture is stilled with extra constant repetition, and a sample emerges. If the primary picture was jazz, this one is a march.

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Having seen how these ideas come collectively to kind summary compositions by means of shapes and colours, take into account the next picture. This can be a extra complicated composition than the Loeb prints, however the ideas apply in the identical methods.

An illustration from the book Woman in Modern Ornamentation featuring several elements of design.
From Das Weib im modernen Decoration (Girl in Fashionable Ornamentation) by Julius Klinger, by way of JSTOR

Shapes, colours, and features are nonetheless organized to present a way of sample, distinction, stability, and extra, although now the shapes are recognizable as individuals and objects. Within the largest, leftmost picture, see how the repetition and placement of the inexperienced flower-like shapes create a way of rhythm. The scale of the small buildings in comparison with the bigger determine places emphasis on the particular person and creates a way of proportion. Steadiness, motion, and repetition additionally issue into this picture—by yourself, take into account how. Study, too, the sample samples to the precise. How are these ideas employed otherwise to take what is actually the identical motif—lady, object, lady, object—and remodel it into distinctive compositions?

KEYWORDS: ideas of composition, repetition, stability, motion, proportion, rhythm

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