Artistic Composition Part 1 - Plato's Rule Head

Visual Artistic Composition Part 1- Plato's Rule


Good composition in art tends to be a mystery to many beginning artists. Unfortunately, many new artists approach composition as guesswork.  Your artwork should never be the product of guesswork. 

Composition can actually be a bit structured.  It can be studied and practiced and improved.  Learning the basics of artistic composition coupled with practice, will lead to you to make well thought out decisions about your own compositions.

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  When we think of visual art, we seldom think of Plato.  Plato, however did present some philosophy on visual art... 

Plato's Rule   

One day one of Plato's students asked him about composition in art. Plato's response was, "Find and represent the variety within the unity".  We know that variety and unity are both principles of art.  Most of the principles of art deal with composition. 

But, variety and unity are almost opposites.  We know that we need variety and unity in our artworks, but how do we combine together to create good composition? The answer is we must push our work to create variety but keep the variety confined to being unified.


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Video Transcription
Welcome back to another video tutorial brought to you by  Today we're going to address the first part of composition.  This will be a three part series.  And we're going to be talking about Plato's rule.  And here's an image of Plato.  Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher.  One day one of his students was asking him, "Plato, what makes a great composition in art?"  Plato said, "Find and represent the variety within the unity."  So he said to find and represent the variety within the unity.  Well, what does that mean?  Well, we know that variety and unity are opposites when it comes to the principles of art.  And the principles of art are so important when it comes to composition.  So, we need to combine variety and unity together.  So, in other words, we need to have unity with variety, and have variety within unity.  So, let's look at a few pieces of artwork.  We're going to look at three.  Here's one that we're going to look at.  Here's another.  And, here's the third one that we're going to look at.  Let's look at this first one, first.  This is a pretty general composition.  We 've got three objects.  They are all right in the center.  This is definitely unified.  There's not a lot of variety here, though. So, this would be an example of excessive unity, which is not good.  In fact, if we take a block and lay it over the top of where those objects are, we can see that they are all in the same place.  No variety, just unity.  Now, let's look at this one.  Clearly, what's missing here is unity.  These guys are on their own islands here.  But, we've got variety.  So, this is an example of excessive variety, but not a lot of unity.  If I were to put boxes over the top of that, we can see that they are really separated from each other and there is a lot of space in the middle, so that's no good.  So, let's take a look at this third example.  Okay, right here it's very clear that we have unity.  The objects are touching each other.  But, there's variety too.  If you look at the size, there's definitely some variety going on.  So, this is what Plato was talking about-variety within unity.  So this is what you want to shoot for.  If we put the box over the top there, you can see, we've got variety within unity.  It is still unified.  It is still together.  So, I hope this helps a little bit with your compositional issues.  Like I said, this is the first part of a three part series.  So, I hope Plato's rule will help you out with your compositions.  This has been another video tutorial  by

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