Thursday, September 13, 2018

Gruger on Composition

Following are some thoughts about composition by Frederic Gruger, from his 1929 article on "Illustration" in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

"The outward form given to an inward vision depends upon composition. Technical skill merely develops that outward form and is governed by composition which, in its character, must possess the emotional meaning of the vision and speak directly to the emotions. It has been said that the artist struggled with nature to learn the laws of composition, and after that he devised rules for it. One should know, then, the fundamental natural law so that he may, at need, disregard the rules.

"The meaning of emotional character of form in composition may be illustrated by referring directly to human experience. Mankind has looked with awe upon the mountains for countless generations. The effort to cross them taxes his utmost powers and has cost much in pain and death.

"The vast pyramidal forms of mountains stand in his imagination as a sign of majesty. In composition the pyramidal form is used sparingly, only when the emotion of majesty, of grandeur, is to be conveyed.

"Man has long looked upon tall trees with respect and has endowed them with personalities; he has bowed low before temples stately with tall columns. Tall lines in composition are used to express dignity.

"The sombre greys of storm clouds, full of thunder, have terrified us since the infancy of the race Cloud forms, subtly introduced into a composition, suggest impending evil.
Quote is from The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1929 - 14th Edition
The main monograph on Gruger is: Golden Age of American Illustration: F. R. Gruger and His Circle
Memory Games of Artist-Reporters
Gruger on Illustration


Timothy Bollenbaugh said...


Excellent post yesterday. Your observation on visual processing often applies to the whole mind as well.

Prose in today's post finds me recalling your previous post "Seeing without Interpreting" (
James C. Christensen had written of Subject / Design / Content which I think encapsulates the point today really well
("A Journey of the Imagination").


Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

Really enjoying the Gruger quotes, Jim. Thanks for sharing them.