(redirected from compositions)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Wikipedia.

composition, in art


in art, the organization of forms and colors within the work of art. In traditional sculpture this means the arrangement of masses and planes. In representational painting it means the grouping of forms on a two-dimensional plane in depth. In abstract painting forms are generally composed on planes parallel to the picture surface. In illusionistic works (see illusionismillusionism,
in art, a kind of visual trickery in which painted forms seem to be real. It is sometimes called trompe l'oeil [Fr.,=fool the eye]. The development of one-point perspective in the Renaissance advanced illusionist technique immeasurably.
..... Click the link for more information.
) with advanced perspectiveperspective,
in art, any method employed to represent three-dimensional space on a flat surface or in relief sculpture. Although many periods in art showed some progressive diminution of objects seen in depth, linear perspective, in the modern sense, was probably first
..... Click the link for more information.
, forms are arranged to accord with the laws of depth perception.

composition, in ancient and medieval law


in ancient and medieval law, a sum of money paid by a guilty party as satisfaction to the family of the person who was injured or killed. Failure to make the payment might justify retaliation in kind against the offender or his family. In earliest times, the payment was made as a result of a mutual agreement between the parties, but later it was imposed by law. In many societies the amount paid varied according to the rank of the person injured or slain. Composition reflected a transition from a system of feuds or blood revenge (see vendettavendetta
[Ital.,=vengeance], feud between members of two kinship groups to avenge a wrong done to a relative. Although the term originated in Corsica, the custom has also been practiced in other parts of Italy, in other European countries, and among the Arabs.
..... Click the link for more information.
) to one where socially dangerous acts are primarily a concern of the state rather than of private persons and their families alone. The exaction of the payment recognized the outrage to the person and the family as the prime offense, but it tended to discourage disorder by providing a substitute for retributive killing or other violence. When, in addition to composition, a fine had to be paid to the state, the dangerous act approached the modern conception of a crime (see criminal lawcriminal law,
the branch of law that defines crimes, treats of their nature, and provides for their punishment. A tort is a civil wrong committed against an individual; a crime, on the other hand, is regarded as an offense committed against the public, even though only one
..... Click the link for more information.
). This institution was known in all Germanic cultures, including Anglo-Saxon England, and was widespread in many parts of the world. It is still practiced in certain Middle Eastern countries. An example of composition is wergild [Old Eng.,=man's price], the payment made by a murderer to the family of a murdered person. Wergild was often paid to the king for loss of a subject and to the lord of the manor for the loss of a vassal as well as to the family of the deceased. The term composition is also used to refer to an agreement between an insolvent debtor and his creditor, whereby the creditor for some consideration, such as an immediate payment of a portion of the debt, waives the remainder and considers his claim satisfied.


The combining of various elements into proper position; to form an entity in terms of structure or organization.
See also: Design



(1) The construction of a work of art, which is conditioned by the content, character, and intent of the work and which to a large extent determines the perception of the work. Composition is the basic organizing element of an artistic form. Imparting unity and wholeness to a work, it coordinates parts with each other and with the whole. The laws of composition, formed during the process of artistic creation and the aesthetic perception of reality, represent to some extent a reflection and generalization of the lawlike regularities and interrelations of the phenomena of the real world. These lawlike regularities and interrelations are artistically transformed; the degree and character of their transformation and generalization are determined by several factors, including the type of art and the idea and subject matter of the work.

Literary composition is the organization—specifically, the arrangement and interrelation—of the diverse components of a written work. It includes the arrangement and correlation of characters (composition as a system of characters), events and actions (composition of the plot), inserted tales and lyrical digressions (composition of elements outside of the plot), methods of narration (narrative composition proper), and details of setting, behavior, and emotions (composition of details).

There are many devices and methods of composition. Events, commonplace objects, facts, and details that appear in disparate parts of the text may prove to be of artistic significance when taken together. A major aspect of composition is succession, or the order in which components appear in the text. Succession is the temporal organization of a literary work, or the unveiling and unfolding of the artistic content. Composition also includes the mutual correlation of the various facets of literary form (such structural concepts as planes, layers, and levels). Many contemporary theorists use the word “structure” as a synonym for composition.

Representing “an endless labyrinth of couplings” (L. N. Tolstoy, O literature, 1955, p. 156), composition completes the complex unity and wholeness of a work, consummating an artistic form that already is rich in content. “Composition is the disciplining force and organizer of a work. It has the task of making sure that nothing goes astray but becomes part of a whole, fulfilling the aims of the author.... For this reason composition usually has neither logical conclusion and coordination nor simple lifelike succession, although it can parallel it; its aim is to arrange all the pieces in such a way that they come together in a complete expression of the idea” (Teoriia literatury [book 3] 1965, p. 425).

Every work combines general methods of composition that are typical of a particular kind, genre, or tendency with individual methods peculiar to a particular writer or work. Examples of general methods of composition are thrice-repeated motifs in folk tales, recognition and aposiopesis in adventure stories, the rigid strophic form of the sonnet, and slow development in the epic and drama. An example of a method peculiar to an individual writer occurs in L. N. Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad, in which the major principle in the composition of characters is polarity, including the ostensible polarity between Nicholas I and Shamil.

In the contemporary study of literature the use of the term “composition” is more limited. In this sense an individual segment of a text functions as an element of composition, in which a particular method of representation is used, such as ongoing narration, descriptive passages, characterization, dialogue, or lyric digression. The most basic elements of composition combine to form more complex components (complete portrait sketches, descriptions of emotional states, and recollections of conversations). In an epic or drama the scene is an even more important and independent component. In the epic it may consist of several forms of representation (description, narration, or monologue). A portrait, landscape, or interior may be included in the scene; however, throughout its entire course one perspective is maintained and a definite point of view is upheld (the author’s, a character’s, or an outside narrator’s). Each scene may be presented as seen solely through the eyes of a particular person. Thus, composition comprises the combination, interaction, and unity of the forms of narration and definite points of view.

Composition of poetry, particularly of lyrical verse, is unique. It is distinguished by strict proportionality and interaction of the rhythmical and metrical units (foot, line, and stanza), syntax and intonations, and the elements that directly convey meaning (themes, motifs, and images).

In 20th-century literature, composition has become especially important. This new importance was reflected in the emergence of the montage, which was initially introduced in motion pictures and later was used in theater and literature.

In the plastic arts, composition unifies the individual elements involved in the construction of an artistic form (real or illusory representation of space and volume, symmetry and asymmetry, scale, rhythm and proportions, shading and contrast, perspective, arrangement of figures, and color solution). Composition organizes the internal structure of a work and determines the relationship of the work with its surroundings and with the viewer.

Composition in architecture has as its bases the harmonious correlation of conceptual and artistic principles, function, engineering, and considerations of urban design. Composition determines the appearance, the layout, and the interrelationship of mass and void in a whole city, in a complex of buildings, or in an individual structure. When the principles of composition are integrated with and artistically reflected in the principles of construction, they represent the structural interrelationship of load and support, or the architectonics of the structures.

In the fine arts, composition is the working out of the idea and theme of a work, the arrangement of objects and figures in space, and the correlation of forms, light and shade, and areas of color. There are various types of composition. In a stable composition the basic compositional axes intersect at right angles in the geometric center of a work. In a dynamic composition the basic axes intersect at acute angles; diagonals, circles, and ovals are the predominant forms. An open composition is characterized by centrifugal forces of diverse directions, which cause the viewer to focus upon the entire representation. In a closed composition, centripetal forces prevail, pulling the viewer’s attention toward the center of the work. Stable and closed compositions were prevalent in the art of the Renaissance. Dynamic and open compositions were typical in the art of the baroque period. Throughout the history of art important roles have been played by the formation of generally accepted compositional canons (for example, in ancient Oriental, early medieval, High Renaissance, and classicist art) and by the movement away from traditional and rigid conventions toward freer methods of composition. In the 19th and 20th centuries, artists strove for freer composition to express their creative individuality.

(2) A work of music, painting, sculpture, or graphic art; the end result of the creative labor of a composer or artist.

(3) A complex work of art incorporating different types of art (for example, a literary-musical composition).

(4) The composing of music. In institutions of music education (schools and conservatories), composition is taught as a special subject. The teaching of composition is closely connected with the study of various aspects of music theory, such as harmony, polyphony, instrumentation, and analysis of musical works.


Zhirmunskii, V. M. Kompozitsiia liricheskikh stikhotvorenii. Petrograd, 1921.
Tomashevskii, B. Teoriia literatury: Poetika, 6th ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Alpatov, M. V. Kompozitsiia v zhivopisi. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
Teoriia literatury [book 2], Moscow, 1964, pp. 433–34; [book 3] Moscow, 1965, pp. 422–2.
Lotman, Iu. M. Struktura khudozhestvennogo teksta. Moscow, 1970.
Lotman, Iu. M. Analiz poeticheskogo teksta. Leningrad, 1972.
Uspenskii, B. Poetika kompozitsii. Moscow, 1970.
Timofeev, L. I. Osnovy teorii literatury. Moscow, 1971.
Schmarsow, A. Kompositionsgesetze in der Kunst des Mittelalters, vols. 1–2. Bonn-Leipzig, 1920–22.




(in mathematics), a general term for an operation that forms from two elements a and b a third element c = a *b. For example, the function h(x) = f[g(x)] is the composition of the two functions f(x) and g(x). In mathematical analysis and probability theory certain other means of forming a third function h(x) = f(x) *g(x) from two functions f(x) and g(x) are termed composition; for example:



a means of word-formation. Unlike derivation, in which words are formed by means of affixes and phonetic gradations, composition involves joining words with full lexical meanings or the stems of such words into a complex whole—a compound word. Composition is also that branch of word-formation devoted to the analysis, description, and classification of compound words.

Composition may have a syntactic character when it reflects the models of syntactic constructions to the greatest extent possible, as in the case of the English “blackboard” and the German tiefblau (“dark blue”). It may have a morphological character when special morphologic means are employed and there are no direct parallels in syntax, as with the Russian vertolet (“helicopter”). It may be of mixed morphological and syntactic character when both these features are combined, as with the Russian senokos (“hay mowing”) and listopad (“the falling of leaves”).


The elements or compounds making up a material or produced from it by analysis.
(graphic arts)
The act of composing or combining type for printing, either by hand or by machine.
The composition of two mappings, ƒ and g, denoted g ° ƒ, where the domain of g includes the range of ƒ, is the mapping which assigns to each element x in the domain of ƒ the element g (y), where y = ƒ(x).
The determination of a force whose effect is the same as that of two or more given forces acting simultaneously; all forces are considered acting at the same point.


1. a work of music, art, or literature
2. the harmonious arrangement of the parts of a work of art in relation to each other and to the whole
3. a piece of writing undertaken as an academic exercise in grammatically acceptable writing; an essay
4. Logic the fallacy of inferring that the properties of the part are also true of the whole, as every member of the team has won a prize, so the team will win a prize
a. a settlement by mutual consent, esp a legal agreement whereby the creditors agree to accept partial payment of a debt in full settlement
b. the sum so agreed
6. Chem the nature and proportions of the elements comprising a chemical compound


function composition.


References in classic literature ?
This composition was considered to be the very finest effort of the evening.
Having been instructed in the use of the indefinite pronoun "one" as giving a refined and elegant touch to literary efforts, Rebecca painstakingly rewrote her composition on solitude, giving it all the benefit of Miss Dearborn's suggestion.
It may often happen on the stage, that an actor, by possessing in a preeminent degree the external qualities necessary to give effect to comedy, may be deprived of the right to aspire to tragic excellence; and in painting or literary composition, an artist or poet may be master exclusively of modes of thought, and powers of expression, which confine him to a single course of subjects.
It is but the result of writing with the understanding, or with the instinct, that the tone, in composition, should always be that which the mass of mankind would adopt--and must perpetually vary, of course, with the occasion.
There is a wonderful "go" to the whole composition.
The other was, by a certain composition of gums, minerals, and vegetables, outwardly applied, to prevent the growth of wool upon two young lambs; and he hoped, in a reasonable time to propagate the breed of naked sheep, all over the kingdom.
The composition of the one would in this case counteract that of the other.
So I devoted several months in privacy to the composition of a treatise on the mysteries of Three Dimensions.
This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light.
A deep simplicity touching many hidden springs, a profound regard for the noble uses of leisure, things which modern critics of life have taught us to despise -- these are the technique and the composition and colour of all their work.
But not one of them seemed to possess the smallest spark of gratitude in his composition.
The best composition and temperature, is to have openness in fame and opinion; secrecy in habit; dissimulation in seasonable use; and a power to feign, if there be no remedy.