Wednesday, December 28, 2016

306: Intuitive Composition

–AS a contrast to abstract elements in my new, looser painting style I thought I should improve my linear composition skills. (For a discussion of other aspects of composition go here and here).

I searched my library and found a book on the golden mean I bought decades ago but never read. I dove into the book with enthusiasm remembering that a few of my favorite painters, such as Wilson Hurley, were enthusiasts of the ideas surrounding the theory.

I was just a few chapters into the book when I began to question the soundness of the argument. The book had vellum overlays purportedly proving that artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer were devotees of sacred geometry. But the analysis began to look like intuitive design with an overlay of imaginary patterns. Such a phenomenon manifests when we approach a painting with an expectation and project that expectation onto the art.

Due to my disappointment in the approach, I was delighted to discover five essays about the golden mean on James Gurney's blog. His reasoning is excellent, and his sources are compelling. Read the five articles here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.

As Gurney insists if you enjoy using the discipline of any aspect of the golden mean, by all means, use it. I certainly feel it was useful in Wilson Hurley's work. It is certainly good to know about the principles. Some aspects, such as the Fibonacci sequence, are useful concepts. Sometimes it is enough for the viewer to perceive intention in a painting regardless of the means that intention is expressed.

The reason so many like the golden mean, its mathematical precision, makes it less useful for my purposes. Especially since I like to maintain a lively sense of rhythm dependent on the unexpected placement of hierarchical focal points. Making such focal points conform to a precise geometrical arrangement is just too constricting for my purposes. For me, it is much better to study compositional theories but rely on intuition.

Brad Teare, — December 2016


  1. hi Brad, I nearly went insane with the golden mean, etc. I bought phi calipers to layout everything and check photos, even facial measurements. i downloaded an app that can layout a canvass and position key points. I felt making canvasses in the golden section were the best way to get the composition accomplished.

    1. It can be a bit too much. Especially as James Gurney mentioned the ratio of 1.63:1 is close to many other easier methods of dividing shape.

  2. I think these must be useful to you.
    Thank you for your interest.


Thanks for your comments!


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