As discussed in the previous chapter, artists can successfully manipulate line, value, color, space, and motion/time in order to effectively communicate their narratives. These elements of design can be created in an analytic style (naturalistic, true to the world as seen), an expressive style (freer in form and emotion), or in a combination of the two. But once the artist has mastered these elements, the hardest step is ahead. S/he must arrange the lines, shapes, masses, colors, and spatial elements into coherent, harmonious images that work as a whole. This is called “composition:” the arrangement of elements into a unified whole.

A successful composition is often based on the following:

·    Balance: the left and right sides of the image must be in balance. The visual weight should be equally balanced. One side should not look heavier, more massive, or overpower the other. Think of a seesaw. People of equal weight should balance each other out. If an image is heavier on one side, it will be lopsided.

·    Symmetry: for every object on the left, there should be a matching object on the right. This is formal balance. Objects need not be identical; they can vary in shape or color, but they need to match up in a believable fashion. One way to judge the symmetry within a work of art is to pretend to draw a line down the center; is there a matching of objects between left and right? If the artist deliberately tried to create a work with one side heavier or more crowded than the other, we call that composition asymmetrical or designed with informal balance.

·    Unity/Repetition: objects in a composition should share elements of design such as line, shape, form, texture, value, color. There should be a repetition of basic shapes. Most objects should be squared, circular, or triangular. There should also be a repetition of line and line direction, i.e. objects composed of organic lines or objects that diagonally point in the same direction. Most objects should have similar color, i.e. a painting with flowers in shades of pink and red, or a kitchen table covered in baked goods all in shades of golden brown. Obviously, objects in a painting need to be related thematically. There must be a narrative reason for their presence in the same composition.

·    Variety: objects in a composition should be distinctive. If everything in a painting were identical, the composition would be boring, too predictable. Objects must be diverse for us to have a visual interest in them. There needs to be at least some diversity in shape and color or contrast to enhance our appreciation of the differences of units.

·    Rhythm: objects should be well spaced across the surface of the composition, a unity in movement. Akin to the beat in music, there should be a repetition of  lines, colors, shapes, or objects in an even spacing or arrangement.