Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Notes on Composing and Composition

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Notes on Composing and Composition

Article excerpt

The importance of composition cannot be underestimated. Anytime anyone is working with materials or processes and trying to establish a desired relationship among the components of an object or process in which the composition will be expressed, there is the need for composition. Composition is a matter of composing, but composing what? Composing leads its life in relationships between what went before and what comes later. To be able to express an object, or better yet, to be able to make an object that is expressive, requires attention to the relationships in the work. To be able to say of a painting that it has a wonderful sense of balance, or that it suggests timing in execution, or that it operates in a domain that is ethereal in character, all of these require that components be organized so that they constitute a composition that is relevant to a creator's aims.

Let's take a close look then at the idea of composition. First we will explore composition and language, and next composition and art. We will end our discussion by thinking about the meaning of composition in schools and classrooms.


Among the various controversies that populate the field of education, those among scholars regarding the functions of language are among the most salient. We now ask more than ever before how the form of language affects its meaning. We also raise questions about the use of visuals as tools related to matters of meaning. We've come to recognize that words have a texture, an evidentiary base, a poetic power to shape what people take from the language they read, or speak, or write. Furthermore, in its more radical sense, language itself is, as Benjamin Lee Whorf told us, a vehicle through which our eyes open to those phenomena that matter (Whorf, 1956). Or seen from another viewpoint, the plasticity of the brain is reflected in the plasticity of our language. We do not have one language; we have many. Which we use depends on our need to create particular shades of meaning serving our overall purpose.

Among those centers of interest in language is a view that the forms of language we use are related in productive ways to meet the user's requirements. Language needs to be composed. By composition, I mean that language has to submit to the judgment of individuals who are sensitive to what language might confer. Consider the way we use the term "composition." Language, like painting and music, needs to be supported by an ideational infrastructure that affords its security. The word "composition" is an interesting one in this context.

Composing language into a narrative we call poetry requires attention to relationships. Composers compose, arrangers arrange. Both arrangers and composers put things together so that "they work." The genius that it takes to do something significant is recognized by those who struggle with creation. The implications of this observation suggest the options for linguistic design are plentiful, but demanding. So, what we have is a rich schema that affords users of language the option of pursuing outcomes that earlier could only be dreamt of--"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Shakespeare, 1992).

Consider the ways in which language provides both affordances and constraints. Consider further, writing a single letter "W" on a sheet of 8" x 12" paper; this actually displays a composition by virtue of where the letter is placed. If someone moves the letter from one side to another side of the paper, the composition is altered as a whole.

If the individual goes further and introduces another "W," another composition is created. In fact, compositions are modified by the way in which the composition is related to the whole in which it participates. This affinity to the sensitivity of the grammar of form has a virtual life depending on who "is driving the bus."

One way to employ the art of language is within legal briefs. …

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