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Composition in Art by Amrita Tiwary

COMPOSITION IN ART Research by Ms. Amrita Tiwary

A good composition is one where the artist controls the movement of the viewer’s eye to a beneficial result. We can do this by a number of means, such as reinforcing the focal point with the ‘Rule of Third’, ‘Implied Lines’, ‘Contrast of Value’ and ‘Selective Color Saturation’.

Composition is the term used to describe the arrangement if the visual elements in a painting or other artwork. Done successfully, good composition draws the viewer’s eye in and then moves the viewer’s eye across the whole painting so that everything is taken in, finally setting on the main subject of the painting. It is how the Elements if art and design – line, shape, colour, value, texture, form and space – are organised or composed according to the Principles of art and design – balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, unity/variety – and other elements of composition, to give the painting structure and convey the intent of the artist. Composition is different from the subject matter of a painting. Every painting, whether abstract or representational, regardless of subject matter, has a composition. Good composition is essential to the success of a painting.


The elements of composition in art are used to arrange or organise the visual components in a way that is pleasing to the artist and one hopes, the viewer too. They help give structure to the layout of the painting and the way subject is presented. They can also encourage or lead the viewer’s eye to wander around the whole painting, taking in everything and ultimately coming back to rest on the focal point. In Western Art the elements of composition are generally considered to be: Unity, Balance, Movement, Rhythm, Focus, Contrast, Pattern & Proportion.

  • Unity: do all the parts of the composition feel as if they belong together, or does something feel stuck on, awkwardly out of place?

  • Balance: It is the same that the painting “feels right” and not heavier or one-sided. Having a symmetrical arrangement adds a sense of calm, whereas an asymmetrical arrangement creates more dynamic feeling. A painting that is not balanced creates a sense of unease.

  • Movement: There are many ways to give a sense of movement in a painting, such as the arrangement of objects, the position of figures, the flow of a river. Yu can use leading lines (photography term used in paintings) to direct the viewer’s eye into and around the painting. Leading lines can be actual lines such as lines of a fence or railroad, or they can be implied lines, such as a row of trees or curve of stones or circles.

  • Rhythm: in much the same way music does, a piece of art can have a rhythm or underlying beat that leads your eye to view the artwork at a certain pace. Look for the large underlying shapes (squares, triangles, etc.) and repeated colour.

  • Focus (or emphasis): The viewer’s eye ultimately wants to rest on the “most important” thing or focal point in the painting, otherwise the eye feels lost, wandering around in space.

  • Contrast: Paintings with high contrast – strong difference between light and dark, for example – have a different feel than paintings with minimal contrast in light and dark, such as in “Whistler Nocturne” series. In addition to the light and dark, contrast can be differences in shape, colour, size, texture, type of lines, etc.

  • Pattern: A regular repetition of lines, shapes, colours r values in a composition.

  • Proportion: How things fit together and relate to each other in terms of size and scale, whether big or small, nearby or distant. The elements of composition in art are not the same as the elements of art, though composition is sometimes included as one of the latter.

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 organisational of the “elements of art” according to the “principles of art.”

The composition of a picture is different from its subject, what is depicted, whether a moment from a story, a person or a place. Many subjects, for example “Saint George and the Dragon”, are often portrayed in art, but using a great range of composition even though the 2 figures are typically the only one shown.

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. In graphic design, for press and desktop publishing, composition is commonly referred to as page layout.


There are numerous approaches or “compositional techniques” to achieve a sense of unity within an artwork, depending on the goals of the artist. For example, a work of art is said to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye if the elements within the work are arranged in a balanced compositional way. However, there are artists such as “Salvador Dali” who aim to disrupt traditional composition and challenge the viewer to rethink balance and design elements can be achieved with a number of techniques:

  • Rule of Thirds: The rule of thirds is a composition guide that tastes that arranging the important features of an image on or near the horizontal and vertical lines that would divide into thirds horizontally and vertically is visually pleasing. The objective is to stop the subject(s) and area(s) of interest (such as the horizon) from bisecting the image, by placing them into three equal columns and rows, ideally near the intersection of those lines. The rule of thirds is thought to be a simplification of the “golden ration”. The golden ration is thought to have been used by artists throughout history as a composition guide, but there is a little evidence to support this claim.

  • Rule of Odds: The ‘rule of odds’ suggests that an odd number of subjects in an image is more interesting than an even number. This if you have more than one subject in your picture, the suggestion is to choose an arrangement with at least three subjects. An even number of subjects produces symmetries in the image, which can appear less natural for a naturalistic, informal composition. An image of a person surrounded/framed by 2 other persons, for instance, where the person in the certain is the object of interest in that image/artwork, is more likely to be perceived as friendly and comforting by the viewer, than an image of a single person with no significant surroundings.

  • Rule of Space: The ‘rule of space’ applies to artwork (photography, advertising, illustration) picturing object(s) to which the artist wants to apply the illusion of movement, or which is supposed to create a contextual bubble in the viewer’s mind. This can be achieved, for instance, by leaving “white space” in the direction the eyes of portrayed person are looking, or, when picturing a runner, adding white space in front of him rather than behind him to indicate movement.

  • Simplification: Images with clutter can distinct from the main elements within the picture and make it difficult to identify the subject. By decreasing extraneous content, the viewer is more likely to focus on the primary objects. Clutter can also be reduced through the use of lighting, as the brighter areas of the image tend to draw the eye, as do lines, squares and colours. In painting, the artist may use less detailed and defined brushwork towards the edges of the picture. Removing the elements to the focus of the object taking only the needed components. Shallow Depth of Field: In photography, and also (via software simulation of real lens limitations) in 3D graphics, one approach to achieving simplification is to use a wide aperture when shooting to limit the depth of field. When used properly in the right setting, this technique can place everything that is not the subject of the photograph out of lens. A similar approach, given the right equipment, is to take the advantage of the Scheimipflug Principle” to change the place of focus.

  • Geometry & Symmetry: Related to the rule of odds is the observation that triangles are an aesthetically pleasing implied shape within an image. In a canonically attractive face, the mouth and eyes fall within the corners of the area of an equilateral triangle. Paul Cezanne successfully used triangles in his compositions of still life’s. A triangle format creates a sense of stability and strength.

  • Creative Movement: It is generally thought to be more pleasing to the viewer if the image encourages the eyes to move around the ‘image’, rather than immediately fixating on a single place or no place in 0particular. Artists will often strive to avoid creating compositions that feel “static” or “flat” by incorporating movement into the image. in image A, the 2 mountains are equally sized and positioned beside each other creating a very static and uninteresting image. In image B the mountains are differently sized and one is placed closer to the horizon, guiding the eye to move from one mountain to the other creating a more interesting and pleasing image. This also feels more natural because in nature objects are rarely the same size and evenly spaced.


  • There should be a center of interest of focus in the work, to prevent it becoming a patterns in itself.

  • The direction followed by the viewer’s eye should lead the viewers gaze around all elements in the work before leading out of the picture.

  • The subject should not be facing out of the image.

  • Exact bisections of the picture space should be avoided.

  • Small, high contrast, elements have as much impact as larger, duller elements.

  • The prominent subject should be off-centre, unless a symmetrical or formal composition is desired and can be balanced by smaller satellite elements.

  • The horizon line should not divide the artwork I 2 equal parts but be positioned to emphasize either the sky or ground; showing more sky if painting is of clouds, sunrise/set, and more ground if a landscape.

  • Use of detailed areas and ‘rest’ areas can help to aid the eye in where to look. Creating a contrast between detail and lack of detail is important.

These principles ‘can’ be means of a good composition yet they ‘cannot’ be applied separately but should act together to form a good composition.

Also in an artwork, it is suggested that spaces between the objects should be the same to create a more interesting image.



Making connections to “examples of real world mathematics” in art through composition.

Art since the early Renaissance times has included mathematics, especially geometry, in creating the most pleasing compositions for drawings, paintings and architecture. Artists still use these methods today to create interesting compositions that hold a viewer’s interest and put emphasis on the focal point to the work. Two main examples are the use of the “Rule of Thirds” and the “Golden Mean or Ratio.”

The “Rule of thirds” simply divides the canvas/paper into thirds with a ‘tic-tac-toe’ type grid. The four points where the lines intersect naturally create the points of the most interest on the canvas. The artist situates their focal point on or near one of these points to create a pleasing composition.

The “Golden Ratio” is another mathematical way artists use to set up engaging compositions. It is based on the mathematical sequence discovered by the mathematician Leonardo Pisano Bogollo, who lived between 1170 to 1250 in Italy. “Fibonacci” was his nickname, which roughly means “son of Bonacci.”

As well as being famous for the Fibonacci Sequence, he helped spread through Europe the use if Hindu-Arabic Numerals (like our present number system 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) to replace Roman Numerals

By definition, the first 2 numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence are 0 & 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous 2. In mathematical terms, the sequence Fn of Fibonacci numbers us defined by the recurrence relation and can be written as a rule mathematically.

Xn = xn – 1 + xn – 2 or Fn = Fn – 1 + Fn – 2  


The “Golden Ratio” highlights a spot very close to the “Rule of thirds” method determined to be the point of interest.


The Fibonacci sequence is a consistent and infinite sequence that is found in nature. Here is a surprise – if you take any 2 successive (one after the other) Fibonacci Numbers, their ratio is very close t the Golden Ratio which is approximately 1.618034….

Recent studies have linked the Fibonacci sequence follows the patterns in nature, uniting math, science & nature design. For example, sunflower that figure in the famous Fibonacci Sequence. Nature, it seems, his certain mathematical underpaintings.


Composition in Art is essentially the arrangement of visual elements using various principles and techniques. It is often used to describe the overall design of a painting.

A well composed painting will intrigue and invite the viewer and help communicate the Artistic Statement.



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