What is it, and how can we use it in our homes?

Have you ever seen a piece of art and spent a lot of time appreciating it? Our own Miriam Oehrlein noted how much she liked a photo because of the composition.


What is composition and why does it matter?

Composition - noun

2. a work of music, literature, or art.

     example: “Chopin’s most romantic compositions”

  • the artistic arrangement of the parts of a picture
  • example: “spoiling the composition of many of the pictures”


The techniques artist use to follow composition OR go against it, affect the emotions and feelings of the viewer. Most renaissance artists wanted to achieve the “ideal” of artistic composition for their time. Following the “rules” was a part of their gold standard. Modern artists like Salvador Dali will purposely break the “rules” to invoke a different perspective from the viewer.


What comprises compositional techniques?

Here are just a few things that affect the composition of art work:

Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is a composition guide that states that arranging the important features of an image on or near the horizontal and vertical lines that would divide the image into thirds horizontally and vertically is visually pleasing. The objective is to stop the subject(s) and areas of interest (such as the horizon) from bisecting the image, by placing them near one of the lines that would divide the image into three equal columns and rows, ideally near the intersection of those lines.” – Wikipedia


Rule of odds

Odd numbers are more interesting to the human brain than even numbers. Even numbers and too much symmetry equals boredom for the brain or feeling of being too contrived. Odd numbers feel more natural and provide more cognitive stimulation.


Rule of space

The use of space around an object to suggest movement. An imbalance of space is a way to give work a sense of motion.



Too many things can take the eye away from the subject. Less extra stuff means the viewer focuses on the main item.

The Lute Player by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is an example of both Rule of Space and Simplification. At the time of his work Caravaggio was known for his extreme simplification and radical lighting.

Paul Cezanne’s still life. A series of triangles are used to provide visual composition.

Geometry and symmetry

Similar to the rules of odds, triangles appear to be more aesthetically pleasing to the human eye than other shapes. Human faces that are considered attractive are a series of equilateral triangles. Paul Cezanne was known to use triangles in his still life compositions.


Creating movement

An art piece is thought to be more appealing if it inspires movement. A “static” or “flat” composition is quickly overlooked and does not hold the viewer’s interest. A well-composed piece should lead the viewer around the piece, touching all of the elements before leading out of the picture. It’s been thought the ideal direction and movement goes from the bottom left, diagonally across, curving over the top and back around to the beginning point. Many classical works have this flow as a standard.

Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is an example of many of the techniques we’ve discussed. What do you see in this painting?


The next time you’re viewing a piece of art, consider some of the compositional techniques we covered and tell us what you saw.