The word 'composition' refers to the way in which the various elements that constitute a picture are placed in relation to one another. The success or failure of a picture usually has more to do with how well it is composed than with how well each individual item within it is drawn.
So far I have dealt with the human figure drawn virtually in isolation, with just occasionally a little background to provide setting and atmosphere. But, as we saw on page 92, good pictures don't just happen through haphazardly shoving together everything you want to put in. Foreground, background and incidental objects, as well as the main centre of interest, all have a place within the picture area, and must therefore be intelligently arranged to create a unified whole. So, in setting out to create complete pictures involving the human figure, we have to consider some important practical aspects of picture composition.
Throughout the history of Western art a great many savants have set their minds to the task of providing the artist with a foolproof formula for composing perfect pictures. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322BC) wrote that 'a perfect work of art is so composed that, if any part be transposed or removed, the whole will be destroyed or changed'. As a basis on which to judge a picture that's fine; but it's of little use as a guiding principle in creating pictures.
More useful advice has generally been offered in the form of mathematical ratios. Of these the most enduring is the Golden Mean or Golden Section, formally described by Euclid in the 3rd century BC. The contention is that a line which is divided in such a way that the smaller part is to the larger as the larger is to the whole provides the most aesthetically perfect proportions. A rectangle of these proportions is shown on page 122, the lengths of the sides being in a proportion of 1:1.618, or approximately 8:13. It is often claimed that most of the great paintings of Western art since pre-Renaissance times show evidence that artists were aware of this theorem; however, when precise measurements are taken, important picture elements usually prove not to be placed exactly according to the dictum. Evidently, even if they set out with the Golden Section in mind, artists ultimately resorted to relying on their own aesthetic judgement.
Anyway, it defies credibility to suggest that good pictures can be achieved only through precise calculation and measurement. As in our discussion of human proportion in Chapter 2, we find that something which started off as an exact mathematical definition of beauty and perfection proves in practice to be no more than a useful guide. Picture composition, by its very nature, has more to do with intuition than with mathematics.
Linear perspective is an effective drawing system for representing three-dimensional objects in spatial recession on a two-dimensional surface. The system, as generally taught today, is a sophisticated version of the early-15th-century treatise Construzione Legittima, which is generally attributed to the early Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446).
Put simply, perspective is the art of giving a picture apparent depth, to enable things drawn on a flat sheet of paper to be perceived as solid, three-dimensional objects in space.
Many modern artists reject this system, some preferring to create a spatial illusion of their own, while others consider systematic methods for creating the illusion of a third dimension irrelevant. For an accurate representation of the physical world, however, a knowledge of the basics of perspective is essential.
First, it is necessary to establish a horizon - a horizontal line representing the furthest visible distance, where - owing to the
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