Composition In Art

In a general sense any piece of music or writing, painting can be referred to as a composition. “If you’re a musician, then you know that musical works can also be referred to as “compositions”. There is a structure to a song. Each musician plays “their part”. If a musician plays at the wrong time or plays the wrong notes, then the song becomes a mess. Each part is carefully crafted so that the song is the best that it can be. In some songs, the guitar may have more parts and dominate the song. In others, it may be the piano.

We can compare this musical analogy to art-making. Just like a song, each work of art that we create has a structure (or should have a structure). As artists, we plan this structure and execute it as we create the art”- Matt Fussell.

The term usually refers to the arrangement of elements within a work of art. An artist arranges the different elements of an artwork so as to bring them into a relationship satisfactory to them and, it is hoped, the viewer.

What Is Composition in Art ?

The term composition means ‘putting together’ or ‘the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole’ to describe the arrangement of the visual elements in a painting or other artwork. It is how the elements of art and design (line, shape, color, value, texture, form, and space) are organized or composed according to the principles of art and design— balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, unity and variety—and other elements of composition, to give the painting structure and convey the intent of the artist.

Composition is different from the subject matter of a painting. Every painting, whether abstract or representational, regardless of subject matter, has a composition.
There are distinctions between conventional and unconventional compositions, and most of the conventional ones can be achieved with the techniques such as rule of thirds, rule of odds, rule of space and simplification, among others.

Rule of thirds is linked with the division of an image into thirds horizontally and vertically in order to avoid bisecting which is not very visually pleasing. This rule also helps in determining where the focal point should be placed in order to achieve a dynamic composition.

Rule of odds relates to a number of subjects on an image, and reflects the idea that odd number of subjects is more interesting than an even number.

Rule of space provides the contextual background for the represented topic and is often relative to spatial illusion.
Simplification is another postulate that basically suggests that each image should contain only the necessary subjects as too many may distract the viewer from the depicted theme.

Good composition is essential to the success of a painting. Done successfully, good composition draws the viewer in and then moves the viewer’s eye across the whole painting so that everything is taken in, finally settling on the main subject of the painting which is known as the focal point.

“Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painter’s command to express his feelings.”

Henri Matisse in “Notes of a Painter.”

Creating Focal Points
A focal point is the area or areas within a scene that command the visual attention of the viewer. In most cases, focal points include the main subject. Every work of art should have at least one focal point. They should be limited. If your work has more than one focal point, then there should be one that dominates the others.

Focal points can be created in a work using a variety of techniques. These techniques include :


deals with difference. This could be difference in value, color, texture, size, etc. When we include an area of strong contrast, it pulls the viewer’s eye to that location in the work and creates a focal point.


When we isolate a subject or an element in a drawing or painting, then this element naturally commands attention and becomes a focal point.

Placement :

We are visually pulled to the center of shapes. If we think of the picture plane of our work as a shape such as rectangle, then we can expect our viewer to be pulled to the center. If we place a subject close to or exactly in the center of our picture plane, then this subject becomes a focal point.

The Unusual:

Anything out of the ordinary commands our attention. In the same way, anything that we include in our work that isn’t expected or is drastically different from the other elements within the scene will become a focal point.

Convergence :

Convergence refers to the act of guiding a viewer’s eye within a work using visual cues. These may be lines, shapes, contrasting colors, etc. Each element that we include may guide a viewer’s gaze to the focal point. Sometimes, we are drawn to an area within a work simply because the artist has manipulated elements to force our attention to a specific area.


  1. Rancière J., (2006), The Politics of Aesthetics, p.116.

Written by Hiba Mohammed.

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