In all styles of painting and photography grids are part of the discussion. The big three are the Rule of Thirds, Linear Perspective, and the Golden Mean or Dynamic Symmetry. All of them function as a means to organize pictorial space, and the more experience you gain with composition, the more you might become curious about the reasons why artists rely on these concepts.
Since composition can be discussed in terms of finding a satisfying solution to visual challenges, it’s useful to study the differences between common concepts.
The Rule of Thirds, and a similar division of space using a 5:3 ratio (above), are often used as quick placement guides for major lines, horizon lines, or center of interest. It divides the space unequally and avoids static placement of elements, but does little for emotional content or eye movement.
The easily understood concept of Linear Perspective draws eye movement up, across, and "into" the canvas by creating the illusion of three dimensional space, then back out and down again. This is true regardless of subject matter, unless you are working in a style that embraces the flat, 2-demensional aspect of canvas with the express purpose of eliminating all idea of space. I would argue that even the most vocal advocates for eliminating the window into space idea could not completely avoid the visual sense of space without eliminating overlapping form or color contrasts. We are hard wired to place our bodies within our environment, and the brain will always translate visual sensory as dimensional space.
Dynamic Symmetry is about spatial relationships, the distance between things, balance, and as a means of directing eye movement through space that emphasizes what the artist feels is most important. It is about mathematical proportion, not limited to realistic painting, the nautilus shell, or ancient Greek ideals: Abstract artists were also concerned with the role of mathematical proportion, most notable Agnus Martin, who was obsessive about it in her goal to create abstract line relationships that were aesthetically pleasing. There have always been artists working with proportion, and those seeking to obliterate it as a response. Dynamic Symmetry is a tool that can be used beyond simple placement or illusion, and is important enough that artists should consider adding it to their accumulation of skills.
Here is a list of books for further study in the area of grids in composition. Some are easier reads than others, but I have them all in my resource library and I can recommend them:
Elements of Dynamic Symmetry by Jay Hambidge
Mastering Composition by Ian Roberts
Abstraction in Art and Nature by Nathan Cabot Hale
Classical Painting Atelier by Juliette Aristides
Classical Drawing Atelier by Juliette Aristides
Pictorial Composition An Introduction by Henry Rankin Poore
The Power of the Center by Rudolf Arnheim
Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne (deals more with composition than grids, but valuable)
Composition by Arthur Wesley Dow (deals more with notan, line, and basic design principles)
Resources on the Web that provide quick visual concepts:
Google Golden Ratio Calculator and you will find on line tools that will calculate proportions for you.
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