Does the Rule of Thirds Work?

Does the rule of thirds actually work? Or is it a bad technique that will limit what you can do with composition as an artist?

37 min. video

Explained are the pros and cons of the rule of thirds, and the challenges of learning skills in composition.

Discussion led by Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artists Jordan McCracken-Foster and Lauryn Welch.

Rule of Thirds, composition
Gwendolyn Knight

Video Walkthrough

  • The Rule of Thirds divides a composition into 9 equal parts.
  • Subjects in the artwork are aligned where these lines intersect/
  • The Rule of Thirds can be a good set of “training wheels” for beginnings who want to get started with composition.
  • Composition is often challenging to learn and teach, it isn’t super concrete to learn like other skills.
  • The Rule of Thirds can be a good starting point, from which people can depart from as they gain more experience.
  • The Rule of Thirds can become a crutch, if you default to it all the time, it can limit how much you explore other options in composition.
  • Relying too much on any technique won’t get you out of your comfort zone.
  • Any “template” for making art won’t be useful in every context!
  • The disadvantage of the Rule of Thirds is that it is a purely visual tool, it does not take under consideration the narrative or intent of the artwork.
  • Aspects of an artwork, like the story, mood, etc. cannot be addressed through the Rule of Thirds.
  • The Rule of Thirds only works for compositions that are rectangles, artworks that deviate from a rectangle aren’t applicable.
  • Many compositions don’t use the Rule of Thirds, it doesn’t mean you have to use it!
Rule of Thirds, composition
Eugène Atge
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