Thursday, January 26, 2006

Composition Test: Answers, Results, and Conclusions

Yesterday I offered a test of the hypothesis that in visual art, a really good composition is so well balanced that should anything be moved, added, or removed, the overall effect will be ruined. You can see the test and comments here.

The original, untouched Diebenkorn compositions are

Example 1: Left
Example 2: Left
Example 3: Bottom

Today I tallied the responses. A few folks changed their choices, so it was slightly confusing, but I think I got it right now. I only counted someone's answers if they made a clear choice for all three examples. The results of the 15 people who did are below:

As noted in the chart, each correct choice is marked with an X. The one most folks got correct was Example 1. The one most folks guessed incorrectly was Example 2. Three of you got all three correct.

When the guessing first started I was confident my preconceptions would stand. The blogger going by training VS taste ???, who guessed first and immediately got all three correct, offered concrete, even logical reasoning for his/her choices. Such as

regarding second one, much of the drawing is about crossing of line (whether perspectival at bottom and the x or t's at the top. given that, it seems to make more sense that one also crossed the picture plane and by placing the x to the far right, the eyes are forced to cross the picture plane

But even this blogger noted "i don't think there are right or wrong answers here (or most anywhere)," a notion that ending up being supported again and again throughout the remainder of the voting.

Indeed personal taste does seem to be a factor in determining whether a composition is good or not. One blogger chose the incorrect choice for each example, and I know this blogger to be a very talented artist...perhaps one poised to change our general perceptions about compositions. Who knows?

There are a few assumptions/problems with this experiment that make it less than scientific, and most of them were highlighted in the comments. One interesting one that I hadn't considered was pointed out by heather lowe:

This is difficult because the images are so interesting beside one another and they have a definite influence on one another.The pair becomes something entirely unique, in my opinion.

Another assumption that I had considered was noted by auvi

I guess the underlying assumption is that Diebenkorn is better than Edward,
everywhere, all the time. Maybe that's not true.

I should acknowledge that I spent no time considering the composition when I made the changes. Perhaps I have some innate skills, but there was no analysis or attempt to "improve" upon the original. I merely wanted different types of changes (flipping, centering, vertical moves) to see if an analytical conclusion could be drawn. As training VS taste ??? pegged what was wrong analytically with each of my changes (almost frightfully so), I was intially convinced the hypothesis was true.

But again and again in the comments, folks prefaced their choices as a matter of preference, even training VS taste ???, suggesting that whereas some folks prefer logical compositions, others prefer compositions that defy logic and, as JT Kirkland noted, have "bit more excitement to" them.

As I also noted yesterday, perhaps a better test is to add or remove something from a composition (rather than just moving), as that's generally how the hypothesis is framed, although that opens a whole new kettle of fish regarding whether objects and their relationship to each other (i.e, narrative) plays a major role in whether we like a composition or not....but enough for today...the coffee shop awaits. Thanks to all for participating!


Anonymous training vs. taste said...

fun exercise yesterday - subjectivity can be trained and taste can be extended or contained

i look forward to your posts each day

1/26/2006 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

thanks, tvt.

And thanks for demonstrating that logic can, and often does, make for a composition that reinforces the exploration (i.e., that analytical approaches are sometimes a good thing). The push in some quarters away from analysis toward intiution exclusively seems somewhat misguided to me for this very reason (Tin can...Opener...Oh, look! Worms!!!)

1/26/2006 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Put my prize on a gift certificate please!

1/26/2006 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Your prize is the satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that you did a very good job, Mark.

Of course you'll have to pay state and federal taxes on that. ;-)

1/26/2006 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I did not want to rain on your parade yesterday (and I am on a 'no posting' diet just now) so I did not post my guesses. They were based on my methods of taking multiple choice tests wherein I rely on clues inadvertently left by the tester. I got them all right.

So, this might be about test taking and not about composition.

Not sure if that adds anything to the conversation . . .

1/26/2006 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

it's a fascinating topic Tim...can you share an example of a "clue" that pointed to the answer?

1/26/2006 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

hey, that was fun. more tests, please. 62% of the answers identified the correct the test must be scientific 'n junk.

1/26/2006 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

i want my winning prize. i dont care

1/26/2006 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

Give Bambino his prize. No fair.

(Tin can...Opener...Oh, look! Worms!!!) has got to be the nerdiest comment on this blog to date! Holy crap, I love it.

boys + math + game = _________________


1/26/2006 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Well, 62% of respondents hit the nail on the head...

...but I logged in at 0 for 3!

I guess this might explain why I always seem to like the pieces that other people find fault with. I feared I was just a contrarian, but it turns out I see differently! Whoooo Hooooo!

Another group hug is called for...STAT.

1/26/2006 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edna,

"boys + math + game = ________"

And the answer is: the BTK Serial Killer. His mathematical word puzzle games are legendary -


1/26/2006 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Give Bambino his prize. No fair.


don't worry about that Edna. ;-) He'll get his.

has got to be the nerdiest comment on this blog to date!

The whole idea of a blog is so nerdy in general, I'm not sure I can differentiate.

boys + math + game =

something I'm sure the President of Harvard would regret speculating on... ;-)

Another group hug is called for...


1/26/2006 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

Blogging a nerd does not make.

Can I be the tofu in your group sandwich? Can I be the ketchup on BTK's BLT?

I'm not getting any love on my own blog.


1/26/2006 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Blogging a nerd does not make.

Talking like Yoda does though, no? ;-)

1/26/2006 03:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleventh Hour said...

Look at the images again. All three have a nearly identical structure, leading us to a more specific conclusion about Diebenkorn's aesthetic (or Edward's).

1/26/2006 09:26:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

All three have a nearly identical structure,

Ahhhh...interesting observation!

yes, I see that now.

I didn't choose consciously them for that reason, but perhaps my choices still reveal something about my aesthetics...I do tend to be a bit formal.

1/26/2006 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

For example, the x shape that you moved from the corner to the middle. I could not imagine that happening the other way around. IE that you would move something from a non important spot to an important spot. Also, the tips of the x touching the edge of the picture. I can't imagine you would move something from a bland position into such a specific place and orientation. I can imagine it the other way, that is you taking something sitting in the corner with two tips touching the edge and moving it to the middle without any tips touching the edge. You moved from significant to trivial. Same with the three dots in #3. The dots forming a row is unexpected, forming a triangle is trivial. You wouldn't go the other way. (though now you might.)

Multiple choice tests often have these sorts of clues. One answer is more true sounding than the others because the test maker did not bother to create a sufficiently real alternative.

"it's a fascinating topic Tim"

now you're making fun of me : (

1/27/2006 01:44:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

sounds to me more like you're describing good compositional choices (good because they're daring or "significant"), Tim.

Then again, perhaps that's saying the same thing.

and I wasn't making fun of you...the idea that one can analyze such things is indeed something I find fascinating, but as Edna noted...I'm also somewhat nerdy ;-)

1/27/2006 07:37:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

This could go on and on, but the play of shapes and tension is what I spend the most time observing. I'll rub out and repaint to move something an inch, or alter a color a smidge (tech term sorry). It only matters to me, as it should I guess. This is to me the fun part of making.

1/27/2006 08:41:00 AM  
Anonymous George said...

FWIW, my answers were bogus intended to somewhat reflect RD's working manner which was somewhat like what Mark described for himself. Complicating the issue might be the choices of the images themselves which look like they are prints, implying he worked in reverse. In any case his working method was act, look, change until the composition resolved itself for him. For some paintings a resolution was hard fought and took a long time.

tim, you are one clever dude.

1/27/2006 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I didn't see this thread until now, but tried it out anyway. I was able to pick the correct one in all instances. I based my judgements on architect Christopher Alexander's process of picking those with more "life," based on geometric principles he outlines in "The Nature of Order."

His basic thesis is that there is such a thing as objective measures of beauty.

Now, had you modified the compositions according to one of Alexander's processes, it might have been much harder to distinguish.

1/29/2006 08:26:00 PM  
Anonymous mr.turkle said...

so... does it mean that nothing really matters? *sigh*

2/01/2006 12:54:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home