composition rules

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Old 11 November 2009   #1
composition rules

Aren`t they just rules developed by art-critics to critique art and followed by artists to "please" the critics?
What bearing does following these rules actually have on the uninformed viewer?
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Old 11 November 2009   #2
Not at all. There are very concrete and significant reasons for the composition rules. I don't particularly like the word "rule" to be used when talking about composition, since composition is a very organic subject and sometimes brilliant composition comes from breaking all the "rules." I prefer to use the word "guidelines" instead, as that's closer to what they really are.

While classic composition rules could feel limiting if you want to be really adventurous, they are also safety nets for those who are very bad at composition, because those rules actually help artists construct images that have visual coherency, and that coherency is what the uninformed viewers respond to.
 
Old 11 November 2009   #3
Quote: ...sometimes brilliant composition comes from breaking all the "rules."

Well, there you kind of say it yourself. In science, theories need to be falsifiable. Meaning that a theory needs to be true in all cases to be valid. So either these composition guidelines you refer to are false or incomplete.
If you assume that compositions can be good both by following the guidelines or deliberately breaking them, the common factor would be deliberation. I think that this deliberation will always create coherency.

I think Douglas Adams says it a lot better than I can:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E8r_o2uKKQ

I found this really interesting. Following those principles, ANY rules would be valid.
You can even make them up.

However, I do believe that to some extent, these guidelines are a agreed upon set of rules to grade quality. Perhaps not so much in the world of art anymore, but certainly in movies. Since there`s a lot of money revolving around it, it needs to be predictable what the quality is and how much it is going to bring in. This both goes for spacial composition and temporal composition (editing).
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Old 11 November 2009   #4
It's really not nearly as arbitrary as you seem to feel--there are some very solid and rational reasons behind the classical composition rules/guidelines. It's the same with music theory--there are very compelling reasons for composers to study harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, melody...etc, and they all are "rules" of the music. Although some composers purposely broke those rules and still came up with brilliant works, it's hard to argue that those very rules that were perfectly fine for Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner...etc are merely arbitrary BS made up by critics. But then along comes mavericks like Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, John Cage...etc, and they broke a bunch of rules but were brilliant anyway.

I tend to feel that when people break the established rules, they will either fall flat on their face or they will do brilliant work. Based on my own observations, I think the really talented ones that break rules and succeed anyway, while the lesser talents try to be adventurous and break the rules, but end up with mostly disasters. This is why I said these established rules can be like safety nets for many who would otherwise fall flat on their faces.

It's really quite a complex subject, and I'm sure even among experts there will be disagreements.

I will say this though--it's far better to know the rules and then decide for yourself which ones are useful to you and which ones aren't, than not knowing the rules, having no point of reference, and unable to benefit from the hard-won knowledge, experiments, and revelations that all the artists around the world has collectively achieved over the last few centuries.
 
Old 11 November 2009   #5
Quote: In science, theories need to be falsifiable. Meaning that a theory needs to be true in all cases to be valid.


I'd think that just like in science, we just miss an "universal theory of composition". Untill that we have just sets of separate theories that are useful in some cases an in another cases they may not aply.

And just like in science, in everyday life you can cope with Newton's rules (and thats usually what any regural guy ever needs), but you can find execptions and situations when you should go for Einstein's theory of relativity or some quantum mechanics...

So I'd prefer word "tools" rather than rules or guidelines.
 
Old 11 November 2009   #6
To add, compositional “rules” and their complimentary “rules” are organizing devices (or disordering devices) that produce specifically perceived results that are, in general, statistically verifiable. In the visual arts compositional rules, guidelines, or devices comply with how we see things, how we process visual information, which is based on hard wired universal neurological rules (which some may classify as Laws).


The saying that ‘artists learn rules only to break them’ is a bit misleading to me. If composition rule–A states X and you do the opposite you are not breaking rule-A, you are simply not using it. You may decide to use a complimentary device of rule-A.


The rules of composition are not arbitrarily made up by art critics. Art critics may fabricate the significance and meaning of a work or body of work to boost it’s artificial monetary value. After all, art is a business like any other.
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Last edited by Quadart : 11 November 2009 at 02:23 PM.
 
Old 11 November 2009   #7
It is indeed quite intriguing stuff, research about how we perceive our world and how we work. I just finished reading "Theories of visual perception" by Ian E. Gordon. It was a fun, tho at times quite scientific, read. It covers diverse views (introductionary) on how exactly we make sense of things we see. But the bottom line is that there isnt a single theorie about how we actually do it.
Some parts can be explained physiological, but most of what we experience cannot be traced back to hard wired laws. If everything was hardwired, we wouldn`t be nearly as adaptable as we are.

As far as the difference between art and music is concerned, I believe they are fundamentally different. Music can have a much greater impact on a listener than any visual art (with perhaps the exception of dance). The reason why that is, I believe to be concienseness. Because it is really hard to attach meanig to music I think it can work in a more direct manner.
Visual arts are more prone to be "read". This makes, physiological, that more areas of the brain are needed to decypher what you are seeing. And thus, it will be less direct and lose potency.
Because of this difference in directness I think it is more meaningfull to attach "rules" to music than to visual arts.
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Old 11 November 2009   #8
Originally Posted by BasHe: But the bottom line is that there isnt a single theorie about how we actually do it.
Some parts can be explained physiological, but most of what we experience cannot be traced back to hard wired laws.

You need to do more reading/research.

Sure, we don’t know the exact electrochemical dynamics of how the brain synthesises visual information from the retina. That is beside the point. The fact is that the way visual information is processed is universally and systematically the same in one brain as it is in 100,000 brains, with test verifiable statistical results. In other words, we all ‘see’ things the same way and predictions can be made based on this continuity of perception across populations. This does not suggest that the reaction to what we see will be the same across the board.
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Old 11 November 2009   #9
Quote: As far as the difference between art and music is concerned, I believe they are fundamentally different. Music can have a much greater impact on a listener than any visual art


I'm not so sure about this. "Visual arts" is kind of huge area of arts and some of them may have more direct impact and the other may need some more thinking - even if we are talking about just paintings and not going to weird close contact performance thingies...

Anyway, mostly I think that impact of an art probaply depends on the audience (what ever the art) and it's level of knowledge and personal sensitivines to the different influences. For example musicians tend to hear the structures, cliches, mistakes and may find for example smooth background music just disturbing. Visual arts people see these things in images, or choreographies, bad angles, dialogue, timing...

I've noticed that we propably also have different sentivines to the different parts of composition: others react strongly on lighting (luminosity changes), others to perspective, others to color and some of us to the relative sizes of things in image.

It is easier to be affected by something you don't know so well, because level of "awesome" is not so high and for a moment you just don't see the whole "making of" path. Thats the bad part of knowing any art - its harder to get impressed - if not impressed because you also know how mutch hard work there is behind.

The good part is that I've found that many "rules" or "tools" can be quite easily transferred to an another form of art and used to advance your own thing.

Last edited by halen : 11 November 2009 at 05:31 PM. Reason: 1) smoother language and typos 2) better attitude
 
Old 11 November 2009   #10
Quote: Sure, we don’t know the exact electrochemical dynamics of how the brain synthesises visual information from the retina. That is beside the point.


actually, that was a point I thought was quite interesting in the chapter dealing with a neurological approach to visual perception. I wont go into details, but they traced hard wired receptors in the eye for detecting horizontal and vertical edge. It also mentioned neurons being triggered by a tresshold. And being more attentive to changes rather than a constant value.

Quote: In other words, we all ‘see’ things the same way and predictions can be made based on this continuity of perception across populations.


Yes you can make predictions. But why? This is where a great struggle is. Nativists believe we are born with the ability to see, so it would be hard wired. Empiricists believe we "learn" to see. Both would account for similarities in human vision accross subjects.
Again other researchers stress that a vision system would evolve through ecological factors, making it possible that vision similarities occur within cultures and are not general for an entire species.

Interesting cases about blind people that are at a later age able to see through some surgery have great problems adjusting. It seems that they cannot make sense of what they see untill they touch it, coupling what they know from what they feel to what they see.

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but I know perception is way more complicated than originally assumed. And a general concensus is far from being reached.
So far ive only read the one book on the subject I mentioned, but find it very interesting. If you have other suggestions for recources on the subject, I`m eager to hear.
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Old 11 November 2009   #11
Quote: Yes you can make predictions. But why? This is where a great struggle is. Nativists believe we are born with the ability to see, so it would be hard wired. Empiricists believe we "learn" to see. Both would account for similarities in human vision accross subjects.
Again other researchers stress that a vision system would evolve through ecological factors, making it possible that vision similarities occur within cultures and are not general for an entire species.


This just jumped to an another level of theory. Practical answer would be that those predictable things just make working easier and don't care why things are predictable. Ultimately this comes to the question why we are what we are and usually is agreed that both genetics and environment have their effect. Since in many things cultural differences can be drastic, there might be only few those things that are common to all.

If we go back to composition, it's maybe only the relations of human body that might be used as a starting point for universal composition (and thats because we accept familiar things easier). Maybe some other things too, point of view of standing human, "normal angle lens" etc. And because we also know that culture has an effect we can study that culture to know how to communicate our stuff.

Maybe you could find some books on marketing psychology, those might have some toughts on subject.

Just as a curiosity: Guys who are burying nuclear waste on the ground are also thinking these kind of things - they need to find some way to communicate DANGER to some culture 10 000 years from now.... Last time I checked they were thingking to make some kind of tomems with ugly faces and dying people...

Last edited by halen : 11 November 2009 at 06:55 PM. Reason: cleared the message
 
Old 11 November 2009   #12
Since you bring up editing...

A great book for editing is The Technique of Film Editing by Karel Reisz / Gavin Millar

It's an interesting discussion of the language of cinema narrative.
 
Old 11 November 2009   #13
Originally Posted by BasHe: So far ive only read the one book on the subject I mentioned, but find it very interesting. If you have other suggestions for recources on the subject, I`m eager to hear.

You can start with the classic Art and Visual Perception by Rudolf Arnheim.
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Old 11 November 2009   #14
Quote: This just jumped to an another level of theory.

Yeah...that was kindoff my intention. I found out that in pretty much any theory you can find things to apply to design. True, when you are going through the books they are quite abstract but quite usefull in the end. It might just be me, but I find the "why" usually more interesting than the "what". I like to draw my own conclusions.

One example is that one must consider ecological factors to which (in this example) the eye has developed over the course of evolution to make sense of how it works. In creature design this realization can help you design character which naturally belong to certain environments...obvious, you might think, but there is more to be found in these sometimes quite unrelated subject.

thanks for the book suggestions, i`ll look into those.
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Old 11 November 2009   #15
Originally Posted by BasHe: I But the bottom line is that there isnt a single theorie about how we actually do it.
Some parts can be explained physiological, but most of what we experience cannot be traced back to hard wired laws. If everything was hardwired, we wouldn`t be nearly as adaptable as we are.


I strongly disagree with that. As someone who is in the middle of finishing up the course material for an intense art workshop to be taught here at cgtalk, I spent a lot of time designing the course material for the week on composition (the course is 8 weeks long). There are some very compelling and very definite composition devices that work every single time you use them--they are almost as certain as science. For example, the concept of contrast, or the concept of strong silhouettes against a large negative space, or balancing large shapes with medium and small shapes, or having dominant shapes...etc.

I think it's not a good idea to think of composition as rules made up by people to dictate what is or isn't good composition. You should instead think of it as the research that human beings have made throughout the centuries on why some images look better than others, and then simply consolidated all those observations into a set of guidelines that explains all those observations. When you have researched a ton of images, you'll start to see many repeating patterns of compositional devices used, and that's the basis of composition guidelines.
 
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