To my mind, this can often be a problem. What one person sees, another simply does not. Who is right? Or rather, is anyone wrong?
When we show our work to others, we have to accept certain types of specific criticism - for example, if the perspective is all wrong - this is straightforward and difficult to argue with. If tone values have not been properly assessed - this can cause all sorts of problems with, for instance, the effectiveness of aerial perspective, or even the atmosphere of a piece. When painting the figure, if the proportions are all wrong, this cannot be easily contested! So we have to accept this type of criticism, and learn from it.
HOWEVER, where the design or composition of an image is concerned, things are trickier. Design/composition issues are rather abstract, and what feels like a wonderfully-well designed piece to one person, may not appeal in the same way to another.
Picking a painting apart is a very difficult thing to do, for both tutor and artist, because everything happening within the rectangle depends on everything else and modifies and affects everything else. All we can do sometimes, is try to see what is going on beyond the subject matter....and then have the courage to change the things which are not working as well as they could be - hopefully for the better.
The thing is, even if you haven't been taught a thing about composition, you are inevitably "composing" when you begin to paint. You cannot put down one shape or line without creating a composition of some kind. But without doing any research or learning, we all have a limited sense of design which might well be dominated by particular - and not necessarily helpful - "rules" picked up along the way.
Gradually, by reading and learning, you will gain the confidence to be your own best critic - the only one who really counts!
Over the next few blogs, I will try to pick apart a few paintings, which may help those of you confused about the whole issue of "design" or "composition" to begin to see the thinking and structure behind the obvious surface imagery. A painting needs to be much more than just a shopping list - 3 apples, 1 copper pot, 1 wine bottle, 1 tabletop. No matter how well you have painted those apples, or that pot - there are many more concepts and ideas to use, which will turn a shopping list of objects into a powerful image.
In the meantime, on the subject of who is right and who is wrong..........I'd like to show you a work which shows very unconventional design choices. Paul Millichip, who is sadly no longer with us, painted this interesting image:
|"Fete du Throne" oil on canvas 24x36". Morocco|
At first glance, one could argue that it is rather unbalanced and breaks lots of compositional "rules". The figure is running - which provides movement, but it is running OUT of the picture. The doorway is arguably too close to the left edge. The large area of light wall seems out of balance with the rest.
However - let's do a bit of analysis.
The eye is cleverly drawn to the figure by the dark line at the base of the wall on the left, by the darkness of the doorway, and by the linear, dark shadows of flagpole and flag on the wall, both of which point directly to the figure.
The figure is dressed in white, which links visually with the flash of white on the ground, which counteracts any sensation of the figure moving out of the picture, in fact, it draws our eye back into the picture.
There is a massive curving shape of light yellow on the wall, which is subtly, but positively echoed by the arms of the figure. I am inclined to feel this was deliberate....if not deliberate, then certainly brilliantly instinctive, since these are the only curving forms in the image and just see how important they are. without those echoing shapes, the picture would be much weaker.
The doorway makes a sharp, dark punctuation mark. But more than this, the dark, right-hand edge of the doorway links visually with the back leg of the figure, and the small dark shadow on the ground, forming the start of an important L-shape which holds the eye in place. The horizontal base of the L is echoed across the image with other vertical marks, so strengthening the "hold" within the rectangle: