Sunday, 21 February 2016


Symmetry is the last of the five principles of composition identified by Arthur Wesley Dow in Chapter 3 of Composition.

The other principles are:

Dow defines symmetry as:
The most common and obvious way of satisfying the desire for order is to place two equal lines or shapes in exact balance, as in a gable, windows each side of a door, or objects on a shelf.
He goes on to damn symmetry with faint praise by saying:
Symmetry, like Repetition has come to be used in cheap and mean design when no regard is paid to beauty of form.
He also says:
Japanese art, when influenced by Zen philosophy, as Okakura Kakuzo tells us in “The Book of Tea”, avoids symmetry as an interesting.
He then adds insult to injury by failing to provide any exercises and suggesting:
Exercises can be easily devised following the steps suggested under other principles.
I started by creating exercises based upon my drawings from repetition, but I got bogged down in trying to achieve perfection.

I eventually realised repeatedly retracing the same illustrations was self-defeating. I was trying to create expressive lines, but my drawings were becoming more and more stilted. I read ahead to the next chapter in which Dow’s advice is:
Avoid hard wiry lines and all that savors of rule and compass or laborious pains-taking. 
I finally realised it was time to stop, move on and embrace my imperfections.


  1. Hello Mark...I too have just finished reading the very old book written by Dow. Its great to use design to create more dynamic compositions in any style. I studied this during Interior Design and now transferring that educational knowledge to painting. There is SOOO much to learn and even more hours of practice. Great to see you still taking steps to growing with your art!

    1. Hi Minaz, I completely agree. Dow’s book is thought provoking. My progress is slow, but it’s already had an impact on how I think about design. I enjoy reading your blog and am looking forward to your next post.