The Rule of Thirds and the Chicken Soup Analogy
We’ve all heard about the old wives’ tale that Chicken Soup can help heal you from your cold, but is there any truth in it? Well, I’m no scientist or historian, but from what I’ve read, the healing powers date back to the 12th century. Something about the chicken broth acting as an anti-inflammatory relieving cough and congestion, along with the healing attributes of garlic and pepper. So sure, there seems to be a hint of validity to it. But chicken soup isn’t really the point here. It’s the fact that we believe that something works just because we have heard it over and over again. We never second guess it.
Even if chicken soup does have healing factors, it wasn’t referring to the chicken soup of today…yellow flavored water found in a can with unidentifiable chunks of meat. No, when the old wives’ tale of chicken soup was created, they were talking about grandma’s homemade stuff. Full of fresh chicken, vegetables, spices, and love. Yes, lots of love. So that being said, how do we know the rule of thirds works? We’ve just mindlessly accepted this form of composition without really asking why. We regurgitate the same definition “it’s suppose to move the eye around the image by placing it on a third” “it gets it out of the middle”, or my favorite “it’s more pleasing to the eye”. Are you going to accept these statements, or are you going to think for yourself like a grown up? It’s good to question those old wives’ tales and myths, and things that may have worked in the past for someone that you’ve never heard of. I’m trying to introduce a method that CAN be proven as a great form of composition, and will explain the “WHY” that everyone should know.
And while we are on the subject of chicken soup, let’s pretend that the rule of thirds is considered a can of chicken flavored water, and the canon of design is grandma’s homemade stuff. Sure it’s easier to pop open a can of Campbell’s and throw it in the microwave, but with a little extra effort, you can have something you’d be proud of. (Is there anything better than Grandma’s cooking? Maybe Gordon Ramsey, but that’s a big MAYBE.) It’s possible to learn how to cook Grandmas recipe and it isn’t much harder. You don’t have to get all fancy at first, maybe just a few ingredients to start with. Then each time you make it, you build confidence and add another ingredient, then another. Before you know it you are flipping the ladle in the air, and whistling Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah at the same time. You’ll always need the ingredients to cook amazing homemade chicken soup (i.e. dynamic symmetry, arabesques, coincidences, ellipses, etc), but you won’t always need the recipe because you’ll have full control. You’ve conquered that mountain and can take those skills and apply it to other areas of cooking if you want. All you need is that first attempt though, to see how easy it really is. The same goes for the Canon of Design…don’t get overwhelmed. Learn little by little.
The rule of thirds is a can of chicken soup, passed down from generation to generation. Did it work for your compositions? Maybe a little, but we didn’t know there was something more nutritious, or more hearty available that would help us, and heal our compositional illness. Now is the time to get back to the top-secret, mouth-watering recipe’s which have been proven over time. Now is the time to start questioning the ways you have composed your photograph, painting, drawing, or film in the past. Don’t be afraid to question the old wives’ tale like chicken soup or the rule of thirds. It’s time to use methods which have been used by brilliant minds and proven to help create masterpieces. It’s time to learn about the canon of design!