What is artistic design?

Yesterday when my November copy of Professional Artist magazine arrived, I read a thought-provoking article by Matthew Daub entitled “Design is not a dirty word”.  He is a professor teaching Fine Art at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.  What he had to say made me long to have had a teacher like him when I was in school.  He starts off by letting his newest students do an initial drawing from a still life he sets up, and then over the course of several classes, lets them discover the importance of composition and all of its components in their work.  He finds it is an ongoing proposition to get his students to think about a piece holistically rather than as pieces put together.  He doesn’t espouse the golden triangle or the rule of thirds, but seems to feel that we must find our own essential intuition that tells us when something is right .  As he says “composition is personal, not formulaic – not the product of do’s and don’ts, but the expression of the artist’s will  that, at its finest, can defy accepted norms and practice”.  He encourages his students to look at the compositional choices of what the overall shapes are, where the subjects are on a page, and even how much of an object is there to find their own clarity for a drawing.

I like this composition

He also seemed to have some of the same experiences academically that I did, albeit a few years earlier where the elements of composition were at best neglected and at worst scorned.  What happened for me in reading this article was that it made me smile.  It gave me encouragement that some of my hard-won artistic choices were heading in the right direction.  Leaving extra space around a preliminary drawing was a great idea which would allow me to alter the composition if I felt it needed it.  He said that 1/4″ was “absolutely important” which I thought funny considering I had just made that 1/4″ adjustment in my latest drawing (albeit inadvertently).  And changing the course of a drawing in midstream was fundamentally sound if I felt that was what the picture needed.  I now understand that  my trying to find the balance of positive and negative space in my work is merely the discernment of the elements of composition crucial for me to feel that a piece can stand on its own.  All of the stumbling and bumbling I did on my own was just finding out the truths about composition and design for myself.  And in some way I felt it supported my need to step away from a work to be able to “see” it again and judge it as a whole.  Perhaps this is why,  when I look at a piece a few months later,  I often have altered feelings about it.  I am seeing it  compositionally differently.  Maybe at some point it won’t take as much time to make these judgements.

Professor Daub seems to be a teacher who encourages his students to  discover for themselves the elements which will make their art great.  Successful composition seems to be a great leg up in the process.  So thank you Professor Daub.  I only wish I could have met you earlier.  I think it might have saved me a lot of angst over the years.

*These are my thoughts and interpretations of his article.  I would encourage everyone to read it on their own if they can.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sonya Johnson
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 13:27:06

    Really interesting post, Ruth. I don’t think our newsstand carries this magazine, but the article certainly sounds worth a read based on your summary. And, while I’ve read plenty of books and articles on composition that discuss the “usuals” – golden mean, rule of thirds, etc., I find myself working more intuitively when it comes to composition (at least in landscapes) the more I paint. Rules are fine, and good for beginners, but rigid adherence to them can result in work that is too “safe” (for lack of a better term) sometimes.

    I also like the composition in your painting; to me, it shows an understanding of design that successfully flaunts the “rules” ;).


  2. ruthsartwork
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 16:29:03

    Thanks Sonya. You might be able to read it on line next month. I checked and it wasn’t there yet, but his article last month was.



  3. lesliepaints
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 22:12:38

    Thank you for the tips about Professor Daub. I teach composition and when I begin a class with students that have not had much exposure to it, I always feel they think I am spouting rules and I always have to back up and remind them that these are not “shoulds” and “should nots” but ideas in design that have been tested over time by many artists for centuries. I came to composition feeling the same way, at first, until I actually tried using some of the suggestions and designing them into my own work. I am collecting a handbag of ideas for future paintings. One leads into the next and I see where I can go in the future. It is the way we have been taught and wired for so long and that is to believe that there is a right and wrong to everything instead of understanding that we are creating our own voice. Pretty cool post and I like your door and ivy! 🙂


  4. ruthsartwork
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 11:03:19

    Thanks. Occasionally I have “deep thoughts”. LOL I’ll keep an eye out for when his article becomes available on line and repost it, hopefully when next month’s magazine comes out.


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