“Bad” composition

170310MockTudorWithExplosionSmall

170310 Mock Tudor with Explosion (2017) oil on canvas

Still thinking about what it is that interests me in the idea of “bad” or “failed” or “dysfunctional” composition. Making this painting helped to clarify things that are not, in themselves, “bad” composition:

  • Displaced objects or patterns. eg. the path that does not meet the doorway; the rows of stones that are close to the path on one side but further from the path on the other. The “wrongness” of their positioning is within the picture world, and would appear displaced regardless of the angle of view or composition of the image.
  • Crude rendering, inaccurate mimesis. eg. the wobbly brush work on the house and fence, the cartoonish rendering of the clouds and trees.
  • Deviation from single-point linear perspective and/or aerial perspective. eg. the side of the house is drawn in perspectival lines converging at a vanishing point just above the horizon line within the picture, but the front of the house is rendered using isometric perspective made from parallel lines that don’t appear to converge at all.

Any of these things can and do appear in pictures that are “well” composed, meaning pictures in which the design seems to achieve a desired balance and/or dynamism, guides the eye around the picture and (if it is representational) presents the subject matter in a way that seems intentional.

By comparison, things that I think might be closer to what I’m thinking of as “bad” composition:

  • Coincidental alignment. eg. the cloud aligned with the top of the tree on the right, making it appear that the cloud is sitting on or attached to the tree. This is similar to when a person is photographed directly in front of a distant tall building, and the building appears to be sprouting out of the top of their head.
  • Confusion of obscured form. eg. the tree on the left appears to obscure a sharp dip in the horizon line. It’s perfectly possible that a real location could have such a dip, but by covering the dip and showing only the two disparate levels, the tree seems to be demarcating a rupture in the image itself. This is all something that would be avoided in photography, unless the photographer was seeking a deliberately jarring effect.

On reflection, both of these could be made to work in a composition, if their unusual effect was desired. When I talk about “bad” or “wrongness”, I suppose it must necessarily depend on breaking some kind of conventional “correctness” which the viewer may or may not have in mind. Perhaps the picture could establish a correctness and then partially break it. I might try that next time I’m experimenting with these ideas.

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