Friday, September 9, 2011

Open vs. Closed Composition

Before I reveal the winner of the giveaway I thought I would talk a bit about composition.  Now there are many elements within composition (symmetry/asymmetry, balance, harmony, etc.) but I just want to focus on open vs. closed, a basic understanding that I try to teach the kids.

So here are some pears. A great subject matter for Fall and this arrangement is a CLOSED composition.  Why is it closed, the focus is just on those 3 pears.  A closed composition tends to be kind of static, getting the viewer to focus on the subject matter within boundaries. Lots of still life's and portraits are considered closed composition.

Now let's look at this arrangement.  This is an OPEN composition. Parts of the pears are extending off the picture and you can imagine them beyond the boundaries.  Often lots of landscapes are very open compositions.
  Now it can sometimes get confusing when you look at a painting/picture that is considered a closed composition but the background is open.  I tell the kids to focus on what is going on in the foreground.

Here is a good example of what I'm talking about.  This composition is closed.  In fact, the manger defines the boundaries of where you should be looking, but the background could extend on.

Now here is another example of a closed composition, Cimabue's "Madonna Enthroned" (1280), a picture I took at the Louvre in Paris.  This is very closed with border/boundary built right in.  Although those angels are right at the edges their wings are painted complete and they themselves become the border, especially if you look at the arm positions of the 2 bottom angels, focusing your attention on the Madonna and Christ child.  This is good one to use to test your understanding!

Here is an example of an open composition, the focal point is on those dandelion seeds with the wishes printed on them but you can imagine lots of them being blown right off the page and into the wind.

Here is good example of an open composition by Edgar Degas "The Rehearsal" around 1874. You can imagine yourself in that rehearsal hall with dancers practicing all around you, your eye trying to take them all in.

So here is a good project to try with the kids.  Have them do both an open and closed composition of the same subject matter and display the 2 together.  For the closed composition you can just set up the still life but for the open you may have to get them to view it through a old mat or frame.  You can also add a photography component.  Get them to photograph an open composition and then paint the view.
Next time you are viewing a work of art or photograph ask yourself  "Is this an open or closed composition?"
On to the Giveaway results.  I had 61 entries total from both the comment section and email.

Using Random.Org we get:

Here are your random numbers:
Timestamp: 2011-09-09 16:55:25 UTC

So our winner (number assigned by time entered) is:

Dale Anne Potter:
Oh I would SO LOVE this DVD - I caught one of the episodes on PBS and wished I'd seen the others.
THANK YOU for this opportunity and for your FABULOUS blog (that I usually read via Google Reader)!
Sept 5th, 2011 6:03pm

So Dale if you could email me your shipping details at
I will get your new DVD series off to you right away.  Thanks everyone for entering and I'll see you next week.


  1. Thanks for making me aware of open/closed composition. Maybe I can use it while photographing my embroidery work, my mind is still pondering on the how to.

    Dale Anne congratulations with your fabulous price.

    Have a great weekend Gail and thanks for making me think about this.

  2. OMG - THANK YOU ever so much for picking my name!!!

  3. nice, i am starting 5th grade still lifes next week and i'll add this to my list of vocab! i usually just focus on positive/negative, so it'll be refreshing (at least for me ; )) to have new things to discuss. thanks for sharing.

  4. I have absolutely LOVED the lessons you have been sharing lately! They are so "basic" yet so important! I am teaching at a new school this year and I have a High School Art 1 class that is required for the students to graduate. This means I get a lot of kids in my class who know very little about art. I have been looking for some fun ways to teach the basics and your lessons will be perfect. I hope you continue to share more ideas like this!

  5. Good information on open and closed composition. I did not know the difference.

  6. I found this very helpful and easy to understand, especially as you illustrated your points with several pictures.
    Thanks :)

  7. Hey Gail-I worked your lesson into an oil pastel & watercolor still life lesson I just did with my students. I blogged about it here:
    Thank you for posting such a wonderful lesson idea. Brandie