James Gurney analyzes composition
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    James Gurney analyzes composition

    He just finished up a good, and very technical series on composition. It's definitely worth a read. I wouldn't mind seeing some of these heat maps on old master works--or even golden age illustrators.

    http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/20...on-part-1.html

    http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/20...on-part-2.html

    http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/20...on-part-3.html

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    A great read! And once again an argument against purely mathematical composition. Thanks for sharing!

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    Great and informative again from Gurney. Looking forward to getting his book because he has this stuff in it.

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    He's going up against a very traditional book which has proven it's worth. I think that's kinda low of him to trash it like that, he just took 1 picture and 2 subjects to throw a whole book down the drain by making assumptions.

    What the book says:

    “One’s vision involuntarily makes a circuit of the items presented, starting at the most interesting and widening its review toward the circumference, as ring follows ring when a stone is thrown into water.”


    What he says:

    "I was curious to find out whether these claims had any basis in fact.

    1. The eye does not flow in smooth curves or circles, nor does it follow contours. It leaps from one point of interest to another. Curving lines or other devices may be "felt" in some way peripherally, but the eye doesn't move along them."

    That's pretty harsh of him and he's bending the truth about what the book says, the book isn't wrong and he isn't any more right. What the book says is actually what happened on his pictures, the only claim which could still stand is that it's not happening that circular, but the book doesn't claim it happens like that, it says it happen "like" a ring from a stone thrown into the water. Also, 1 picture isn't enough to prove something. That the eye finds a focal point and then moves around from subject to subject isn't something new either, people have been doing these eye scans for a long time for photography.

    Last edited by Kaycy is tanning; September 20th, 2009 at 01:17 PM.
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    That's really informative. Sheds new light on how I could approach composition. Maybe putting more people into my pictures would help .

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    In Gurney's first painting example, the first participant in the experiment FIRST rested his eyes on that pillar, which he'd placed along the golden mean line. The composites later on don't show all the green points of where all the people first looked. That'd be interesting information to post. And all the red dots of the last thing for them to see.

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    I can't say that I found any of his pictures compositionally interesting, which may explain the eye tracking results desperate to find something of value.


    I didn't think it was possible to be called an artist when you have nothing to say. It's like being a writer who publishes individual words as books and expects to be praised for it.
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    KIT,

    Every artist worth their salt should be attempting, with due rigor, to shred every "tenet" passed down to them in books. By this method we become independent thinkers, able to judge truth or falsity on our own. And through aesthetic tests of our own design, we develop convictions about aesthetics that are unshakable. And unshakable conviction is the hallmark of good work.

    The unquestioning followers of book learning never do anything worth looking at, either in art or in life.

    Poore's book is worth attempting to shred. Which is as great a compliment to it as I can give. And Jim has paid it the compliment of publishing his attempts to shred it, thereby confirming for a new generation Poore's importance. Which is to say, confirming the place of importance of Poore's ideas in the great discussion of art that has spanned two thousand years of human progress.

    I have ordered Jim's book, and I look forward to attempting to shred it as well.

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    Ooooh burn. But seriously, that's a good point, they should've used some other examples from art history - big names pieces to see if the effect is different. Or, for example, a portrait where there's only one big face to look at.

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    You should undelete that, Kev.


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    "By following the blue line second by second, you can precisely reconstruct the viewer’s experience."

    This is an error. We can reconstruct their eye path but not their experience. However, he does correct it throughout the rest of the article. "Each person confronts an image actively, driven by a combination of conscious and unconscious impulses, which are influenced, but not determined, by the design of the picture."

    This is great. "As pictorial designers we shouldn’t think in abstract terms alone. Abstract design elements do play a role in influencing where viewers look in a picture, but in pictures that include people or animals or a suggestion of a story, the human and narrative elements are what direct our exploration of a picture."
    Mr. Gurney isn't talking about decorative design. In decorative design, the placement of faces at geometric postions, and having the whole figure constructed according to geometrical positions in many places will make the picture look more beautiful, but it won't make it more dramatic.
    So he's not bashing abstraction, just calling people's attention to other things. He mentions "conscious and unconscious impulses", so the abstract elements trigger simple impulses within the nervous system, but recognizable elements, like human faces, trigger profound impulses throughout the viewer, for obvious reasons. Abstract elements set the stage, the figures act out the drama.

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    Boiled down, what he tries to say is in the last portion of the articles. That a narrative is more powerful than perfect composition. But wrong composition can cause trouble (like the light spots on the tree). Composition should somehow be followed so that you place things where they are most likely to be seen. But having a picture that tells a story is more important. That's what I read from it and that's great advice.

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    The question is "In what order do people look at elements in a picture"? Poore and a lot of other guys tell us "In a heirarchical order. The most important thing first, then the next, then the next..." Their definition of "the most important thing" is: the element which is placed at a certain geometrical point. Then the eye searches out the less important things according to their placement along various lines, etc.
    The real answer is that people don't look at a picture in any predefined order, but instead search out the dramatically related elements. The picture is a mystery, the elements are clues, the viewer is a detective. Upon first seeing the picture the viewer's imagination is activated by the abstract design(main idea) of the image, they feel a simple emotion, they notice "something is going on here". This intitial feeling is augmented by the representational objects in the picture. They sense the drama then search out the actors in the story. The dramatically related elements aren't heirarchical but instead interact, each piece related to the main idea.

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    Quote Originally Posted by armando View Post
    "By following the blue line second by second, you can precisely reconstruct the viewer’s experience."

    This is an error. We can reconstruct their eye path but not their experience. However, he does correct it throughout the rest of the article...
    I didn't interpret his comment to mean that with these tools you can now somehow predict a viewer's visual experience, if that's what you mean. I don't see how you could until after this software is run. Certainly any emotional impact would be hard to gauge and this graphic doesn't make it any clearer. I read "experience" in his statement as just a way to recreate that particular session.

    The thing about his example image, Marketplace of Ideas, is that it has no particularly circular path or fluid structure, so it's no wonder that the viewer's eye jumps around so much. The eye is essentially trying to pull it all together. In the other images also the main points of interest are spotty, localized, and not evenly connected. I'm not saying that they should be, but I think it explains the results more than he's telling.

    The software is quite interesting, but I'm curious about it's application. It seems to only be useful after the work is done, analyzing a completed image. Maybe it could be checked on preliminary sketches, or as a learning tool.

    Composition discussions are fun. It's like a recipe for gumbo; everyone thinks they know the best way to make it.

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    A lot of composition theory is based on belief. Something like this is really important to get over this. Everyone who has worked with a client before knows that most of the time the way they view the image is a lot less abstract than the way the artists sees it. Which often leads to difficulties and misunderstandings. I found a lot of composition "rules" dont work with normal people.

    What this experiment tells me is only what I knew before from experience:

    - Composition can only control the way the eye travels to a certain degree
    - Focal points are as much about psychology as they are about contrast (we look at stuff that is interesting to our subconsciousness)
    - The golden sections does not work for composition (why should it?)

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    any idea what Mr. Kev said?
    just curious

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    Probably trash talking me.

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    When I came across these posts, I was quite interested in what he found. I often think to myself that I'm probably not normal, because when I look at an image, I don't look at what is supposed to be a traditional focus point. From watching this, I guess I'm not the only one. Actually the raptor heatmap resembles my experience a lot, including the double take on the lichen spot. It seems that we often confuse watching art as a bunch of colored spots and watching art as images that mean something. Clearly, traditional focus point wisdom works better with more abstract images. When presented with situations (faces, danger, predators) our instinct takes over esthetics and we start searching for stuff that makes sense.

    Also, while the green spot for when people start looking is slightly relevent (it's where they were looking before the image appeared on screen and capture began) the red dot is not really relevent because it's when they were looking when the image disapeared and the capture stopped. It's not when they decided to look away. I assume that they didn't know exactly when the image would vanish, so where they were looking at that moment is not more relevent than where they were looking 3 seconds before.

    Other information that is not provided but it would be interesting to see: Were any of those tested training in art? I would assume their test subject to be a neutral and varied as possible, but, well, we don't have any protocol information. Also, I wonder how different their behavior would be if they had been captured for say, 32 seconds instead of 16, would they spend even more time at the same spots, or would the heat maps be more even all over?

    Blackspot, I don't think James was going for "bestest composition of the world evarr" thing, his images are built to fit with other images and tell a story, and they tend to do a terrific job of it.

    I'm glad we now have tools that allow us to study composition and how we experience art in a more objective manner. It's a side of the art world that I always found a little esoteric and superstitious.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Qitsune View Post
    Blackspot, I don't think James was going for "bestest composition of the world evarr" thing, his images are built to fit with other images and tell a story, and they tend to do a terrific job of it.
    I was a bit harsh. The dinosaur picture was more like a portrait composition - the main focus central and looking at you. There was little in the way of dynamics. How do you look at a portrait? That the main focus was on the lichen, does help your idea about the beginning and end of the viewer's experience or maybe because they were finely painted that it look the viewer's eye away from the main subject. I would have liked to have seen a more dynamic composition implying action; if the dinosaur was half off the picture about to pounce on a terrified prey, where would the eye focus be? A more static picture will let the viewer stray and maybe enjoy the lesser parts of the picture. Neither is right or wrong.


    I didn't think it was possible to be called an artist when you have nothing to say. It's like being a writer who publishes individual words as books and expects to be praised for it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Qitsune View Post
    Other information that is not provided but it would be interesting to see: Were any of those tested training in art? I would assume their test subject to be a neutral and varied as possible, but, well, we don't have any protocol information.
    http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedai..._different.php

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    Wow, maybe conventional wisdom in composition vs laypeople is every more skewed than we thought!

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    There was a very interesting study a few years ago about the difference in cognition between a grandmaster and an amateur during a game of chess. A grandmaster looked at a lot fewer possible moves than the amateur. You can imagine why.

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    That's very interesting. Anyone else get - Psychologists don't see the bigger picture?


    I didn't think it was possible to be called an artist when you have nothing to say. It's like being a writer who publishes individual words as books and expects to be praised for it.
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    i think you should undelete it too kev, bu tthen I always find what you say interesting. I am looking for basic threads on composition, some of the artists in EOW were asking if I knew any. oddly the first thing that came to my mind was Kev and Chris Bennett's advanced composition discussion, which of course I saved, On the other hand if one is just starting to think of composition as a whole... that would be a bit off a rough place to start, as would this... any suggestions on links that might help folks get up to speed?

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    I don't know how to undelete a post, or view a deleted post. So I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but I believe it was about the philosophical debates between artists through time, and how Gurney is participating in that tradition.

    At least Icarus tried!


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    With Kev's permission, I've restored the post. It's a good one.


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    put in your usual pithy and succinct fashion. yep thats what it said, more or less.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kev ferrara View Post
    There was a very interesting study a few years ago about the difference in cognition between a grandmaster and an amateur during a game of chess. A grandmaster looked at a lot fewer possible moves than the amateur. You can imagine why.
    I think we read about the same thing. It's called chunking (and a wikipedia link).

    An everyday example would be walking. Our cognitive power is used to navigate and adapt our high level chunks (walking, sidestepping obstacles, balancing on slippery surfaces) that we learned years ago to get from point A to B without having to think about how to coordinate our legs in average situations. It also makes it possible to carry things while walk or read a book/map. the next step of high level abstraction would be stuff like parcour or basically anything related to kinaesthesia of high performance sports of all types.

    The same happens when you learn to ride a bike or car, and basically everything else in your life; also learning to draw, brush control, colour theory, composition, etcetera.

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