Percy Principles of Art and Composition
a.. Percy Principle #1 - Avoid a sore thumb. Nothing in the composition should be so strong that the rest of the composition looks neglected. When you have a sore thumb, you don't notice the rest of your hand. Avoid the SORE THUMB. I study my composition to see if anything looks too important, I change that part to make it less important, OR I find something else in the composition and make it more important.
b.. Percy Principle #2 - Keep everything connected. Every aspect of the composition should be connected to something else in the composition. I think of this as Theme With Variation. If I use a big red circle, perhaps I need another circle or another red or another big thing. I probably should not have another big red circle. If I use a black and white cow, I may need another animal or organic shape, or I may need another instance of black and white spots, etc., and so on.
c.. Percy Principle #3 - Include Secrets. Artwork is more interesting and expressive if it has hidden features and ideas that it only reveals to diligent observers. The popular arts, by contrast with fine art, make everything obvious at first glance.
d.. Percy Principle #4 - Challenge common assumptions. Strong artwork often makes the viewer question prior assumptions about the world. Is my artwork making an ARGUMENT? What does my artwork have to offer that the viewer may find incomprehensible, disagreeable, or contentious? By contrast, popular arts tend to simply support all popular ideas and assumptions fairly simple straight forward ways.
e.. Percy Principle #5 - Cherish Mistakes. Mistakes are fascinating gifts, and what we do with them makes all the difference. I find it hard to plan creative work, but when a mistake happens, I am given a gift. When I respond to the mistake and make a new thing from it, I do not have to borrow other artist's ideas to be creative. It has emerged as my solution. On the other hand, when the mistake is an obvious failure, it means that I have to get to work, do research, experiment, or simply PRACTICE MORE. These are all positive outcomes.
Also see - Dennett, Daniel C. (1995) "How to Make Mistakes." In: J. Brockman, K. Matson (eds.) How Things Are. New York: William Morrow and Company: 137-144.
f.. Percy Principle #6 - Be Accident Prone. Accidents in art are tragic or happy - depending on the artist's disposition to respond. The benefits of accidents and mistakes are very similar. They both present unexpected problems or opportunities. If one of my soft clay pieces accidentally falls off a ware board, it presents itself to me as an idea for a wall plaque, wall vase, mirror frame, or something else not yet imagined. When a large bowl from falls flat and becomes a platter, it may not be functional, but it can be transformed into relief sculpture. This particular piece of clay may be thrown in the rework, but the images presented to me are filed in my mental hard drive. They can be developed as a series of wall pieces that grow from the accident. Accidents and mistakes are prized by creative people precisely because they move the mind to places it does not voluntarily go. Creativity is not simply problem solving. Experts may be good at problem solving, but the highly creative also love the art of "problem finding".
Accidents and mistakes are such useful problem finding techniques that students need to practice them. Some lessons need to have "intentional accidents" as part of the lesson. This is one to learn how to generate problems and ideas.
g.. Percy Principle #7 - Never borrow other artist's ideas. Steal 'em! Ideas are free for the taking. Ideas are all around us in the vapor of existence. Images and particular arrangements of words, on the other hand, are copyrighted. Inventions are patented. Copyrights and patents are "intellectual property", but ideas and concepts are everybody's. They are in the public domain - always have been. If I find a good idea, a truth, I do not want to borrow it. I do not want to return it. I want to appropriate it, test it, and make it my own. I own it. Like the thief, I want to steal it so I can to tell it, paint it, and fling it with clay and glaze. Ideas are free. The ability to express a good idea in an effective way becomes good art. It is valuable.
Source: I was introduced to this Principle by Nick Lindsay, poet and son of Vachel Lindsay, poet. In 1972, as he was helping me build our house, I asked Nick if he felt like borrowing another poet's ideas. He said, "Never borrow 'em. STEAL 'EM. Make 'em your own. Don't plan to give 'em back."
This list of principles is a "work in progress". I make no claim of originality here but neither are they copied or simply borrowed. I make no claims of infallibility. However, I offer these ideas, for what they are worth, because they are ideas that I own and find useful to consider as I work. You may also find them worth owning - not just borrowing. If you are an artist who has another important principle, I would love to hear from you. If you find flaws or question any of these principles, I would be pleased to hear your response.