The Supreme Importance of Composition - What to Leave Out - The Art of the East - Practical Advice to Students - Principles of Composition - Composition of Many Figures - Great Artists who Have Broken all Conventional Rules
Composition is the chief weapon given to the artist, by whose aid he may hope, not only to meet the endless variety and constant change of Nature, on terms that are not altogether hopeless, but even to discount these charms and gather them into that synthesis which we know as a fine picture or design.
Fortunately, the number of combinations to be made in a picture by means of composition are almost as varied as Nature herself, and certainly as varied as there are temperaments and characters in mankind. This is enough for the artist.
The Importance of Composition
But for this constant note of change, Nature, with all her opulence of detail, would soon become monotonous, and bore rather than inspire. So with the artist it becomes his business to discover how to conceal the fact that the four sides of his canvas or paper is bounding a scene that represents at most but a few minutes of time, and by his art in composition to suggest that what he has to depict is in no way confined, but of enduring interest, with some hint, at least, of that infinity which is perennially attractive to most minds. being another of the main objects of his pursuit, by composition he can bring together a selection from a number of objects individually beautiful or interesting, and arrange them so as to show off their beauties to the best advantage or to produce additional charms. It is in the selection that he great European picture to show the effect of study of Japanese art.
The spacing of Whistler's " Music Room," perhaps the first
It is very gay and beautiful in colour, and painted with extreme completeness makes, and in his manner of setting them off the other, that the final test of the quality of the artist lies.
In a picture it is really the composition that attracts us to it; so that one may say that a picture is effective or pointless in its appeal according to its composition when viewed as a whole.
Here, as I have insisited before, the great truth holds good - that a few simple masses accurately opposed to one another in in-tersting proportions are of more account artistically than a collection of a number of objects, no matter how beautiful they may be intrinsically or individually.
The Art of Leaving-out
For this reason the artist must be careful to select only what he really needs to convey his motive as forcibly as he can, and ruthlessly leave out whatever does not in some way add to it. The knowledge of what to leave out is one of the most important results of experience. So much so, that it has been said that the great artist can be better known by what he leaves out than by what he puts in.
Most of the more common rules of composition have been founded on the practice and tradition of the great Italian artists of the Renaissance, with the result that rules, admirable in themselves, and in the use of those who first employed them, have often been converted into bonds when taken up and enforced by those of an academic cast of mind, so tending to strangle that initiative which is of the most vital importance to art in all periods. Therefore, here it may be well to recall that saying of the painter Fuseli, which, by a not uncommon irony of fate, will probably live longer than any of his paintings, "The manner of a great painter is the style of a lesser man." Perhaps the leading principle of composition - speaking in the pictorial sense of a space confined by four definite sides - one which applies in every direction to form and to colour as well as to light and shade, is that which demands that one mass shall always be largest, and that no two masses shall be exactly equal in size and shape.
Examine the art of the East or the West, that of the Academician or the latest impressionist, I do not think you will find anyone important who fails to observe these conditions in a greater or lesser degree.
So here I think we have one of the fundamental rules. But, as Sir Joshua Reynolds has pointed out, "There are some rules whose absolute authority, like that of our nurses, continues no longer than while wo in a state of childhood." Of such is that rule of contrast, present in most forms of primitive painting, which always opposes the light side of an object to a dark background, and vice versa. With a Larger ex-perience we find just the contrary process of adding light and dark to dark, as, in the practice of such a painter as Veronese, give a superior grandeur by the effect of breadthh so obtain.
The Best Is the Simplest
All the early work of a student tends, perforce, to be imitative of some other man's work which he has seen and admired; so, unless the ideal set before him is a high one, and has stood the test of time, his inclination will be to copy chiefly the tricks of what is most popular at the moment and equally the result will most likely be at least one degree worse than the original model he has chosen. The best is always the simplest in art, and for that reason I think it is quite unnecessary to fear that such examples will prove to be above the heads of beginners.