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composition, in art
composition, in ancient and medieval law
(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.
REFERENCESZhirmunskii, 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.
V. E. KHALIZEV and V. S. TURCHIN
(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”).