COMPOSITION PRINCIPLES IN ART
Updated: May 5, 2018
In 1926, a young Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky wrote: Point and Line to Plane, a classic and influential book in 20th-century´s modern art.
While in the University that was the first Art book I read to understand composition of non-objective art, this study of the dematerialization of an object, helped me research more into the basic composition principles:
Balance, Contrast, Movement, Unity, Rhythm, Focus, Pattern and Proportion
Balance: Balance is the sense that the painting "feels right" and not heavier on one side. Having a symmetrical arrangement adds a sense of calm, whereas an asymmetrical arrangement creates a more dynamic feeling. A painting that is not balanced establishes a sense of unease.
Contrast: Paintings with high contrast - strong differences 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 light and darkness, variation can be differences in shape, color, size, texture, type of line, etc.
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. You can use leading lines (a photography term applicable to painting) to direct the viewer's eye into and around the painting. Leading lines can be actual lines, such as the lines of a fence or railroad, or they can be implied lines, such as a row of trees or curve of stones or circles.
Unity: Do all the parts of the composition feel as if they belong together, or does something feel stuck on, awkwardly out of place?
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 color.
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.
Pattern: A regular repetition of lines, shapes, colors, or values in a composition.
Proportion: How things fit together and relate to each other regarding size and scale; whether big or small, nearby or distant.
Here an exercise done by the videographer Celia Gomez about Symmetry (Balance) on the series Sherlock Holmes. (the emphasis/focus, therefore, is in the middle of the frame)
Nonetheless in another entry will like to talk about the principles of composition in film, showing some neat examples.
definition source: thoughtco