Principles Of Artistical Composition
( Originally Published 1869 )
THE principles of delineation which were laid down in one of the preceding chapters, are generally applicable also to the regulation of artistical composition. For the purposes of the present disquisition at least, we may regard composition as but the plural of delineation. While delineation regulates the representation with propriety and effect of single figures, and of the different parts and proportions of each ; composition regulates the representation in a piece, with due effect and propriety, of the various separate figures and groups of figures of which it is constituted ; and the different branches of it in relation to the whole. The principles of composition, analogous to those of delineation, are, however, wholly independent of the tasteful qualities of the work, and of the infusion into and application to it of the principles of the picturesque.
The principles of the picturesque are nevertheless equally as applicable to efforts in composition, as they are to those in delineation ; they serve to give effect alike to the tasteful and poetical representation of individual forms and figures, and the tasteful and poetical composition of them when united into groups and collections.
It must, however, be remarked that as a number of men collected together into one body, will be often disposed to think and act very differently to what each person by himself would be led to do ; so, in an analogous manner, the principles of art applicable to the composition of figures in groups, vary from those which would be applied to the design of single figures by themselves. In either case the nature of the principles which regulate the movements is not changed, but the application of them is rendered different, from the alteration of circumstances.
As the principles of delineation have all alike their foundation in nature, so nature is the best, and, indeed, the only sure guide in the application and regulation of the principles of composition. Here, indeed, she instructs not by precept but by example. In the scenes which she presents, whether of men or of animals grouped in the busy world, or of landscape views, the composition will generally be found to be arranged not only according to the most perfect principles of art, but so as to afford to art the surest foundation on which to construct principles applicable for this purpose. In the ordering and disposition of a scene, whether the composition be epic or only pastoral, whether historical or merely landscape, and whether in painting, sculpture, poetry, or whatever other art, with due taste, and truly according to the principles of design, the difference is exhibited between the genius of an artist, and the mere skill of an artisan.
As will be seen by the illustrations referred to at the end of this chapter, the principles of composition are generally applicable to art of every kind, and the same principles are moreover applicable to each art.