In his Notes of a Painter Henri Matisse writes about his approach to composition, saying that “a moment comes when all the parts have found their definite relationships, and from then on it would be impossible for me to add a stroke to my picture without having to repaint it entirely.”
For Matisse, the primary aim seemed to be to create an experience in those who would look at and, in a sense, interact with his paintings. In the same essay, he makes a reference to the art of ancient Egypt, noting that the Egyptian statue “looks rigid to us, yet we sense in it the image of a body capable of movement and which, despite its rigidity, is animated.”
In my own studies of the works of the Egyptians I’ve found many instances of this approach to composition where “all the parts have found their definite relationships.”
For me the image below illustrates this concept. It’s as if the invisible abstract shapes (made visible here with the use of white and yellow lines) that are used as a guides for the position of the figure are also supporting the subject matter.
For example, the same triangles that help determine the position of the wings can also serve as a visual symbol for strength, and the circle that revolves around one of the triangles can support the idea of the eternal. The same eternal that is represented by the ankh symbol that the figure holds in its left hand.
As another example, the illustration below has a straight yellow line. This line directly connects the figure’s eye with the tip of the upwardly directed wing, but first it must pass through the central point (or intersection) of the same ankh symbol. For someone who was designing this winged figure the idea or feeling may have been that if the figure could directly experience what this ankh (also know as the key of life) represents then it would directly assume the ability to fly (of course metaphorically). The straight line itself can be taken as a metaphor for direct, unmediated experience.
For the past thirty years I’ve been interested in the question of visually communicating ideas and feelings using nothing more than interrelated color-areas, textures, lines and points.
I’d be interested in hearing from others who think that contemporary experience designers (web designers and others) could learn from the visual compositions of the past.