Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

1. 3: What Are the Elements of Art and the Principles of Art?

  • Page ID
    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    The visual art terms separate into the elements and principles of art. The elements of art are color, form, line, shape, space, and texture. The principles of art are scale, proportion, unity, variety, rhythm, mass, shape, space, balance, volume, perspective, and depth. In addition to the elements and principles of design, art materials include paint, clay, bronze, pastels, chalk, charcoal, ink, lightening, as some examples. This comprehensive list is for reference and explained in all the chapters. Understanding the art methods will help define and determine how the culture created the art and for what use.

    Over the years, art methods have changed; for example, the acrylic paint used today is different from the cave art earth-based paint used 30,000 years ago. People have evolved, discovering new products and procedures for extracting minerals from the earth to produce art products. From the stone age, the bronze, iron age, to the technology age, humans have always sought out new and better inventions. However, access to materials is the most significant advantage for change in civilizations. Almost every civilization had access to clay and was able to manufacture vessels. However, if specific raw materials were only available in one area, the people might trade with others who wanted that resource. For example, on the ancient trade routes, China produced and processed the raw silk into stunning cloth, highly sought out by the Venetians in Italy to make clothing.

    1.24 Mondrian composition

    The art methods are considered the building blocks for any category of art. When an artist trains in the elements of art, they learn to overlap the elements to create visual components in their art. Methods can be used in isolation or combined into one piece of art (1.24), a combination of line and color. Every piece of art has to contain at least one element of art, and most art pieces have at least two or more.

    Elements of Art

    Color: Color is the visual perception seen by the human eye. The modern color wheel is designed to explain how color is arraigned and how colors interact with each other. In the center of the color wheel, are the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. The second circle is the secondary colors, which are the two primary colors mixed. Red and blue mixed together form purple, red, and yellow, form orange, and blue and yellow, create green. The outer circle is the tertiary colors, the mixture of a primary color with an adjacent secondary color.

    1.25 Color Wheel

    Color contains characteristics, including hue, value, and saturation. Primary hues are also the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. When two primary hues are mixed, they produce secondary hues, which are also the secondary colors: orange, violet, and green. When two colors are combined, they create secondary hues, creating additional secondary hues such as yellow-orange, red-violet, blue-green, blue-violet, yellow-green, and red-orange.

    Value: refers to how adding black or white to color changes the shade of the original color, for example, in (1.26). The addition of black or white to one color creates a darker or lighter color giving artists gradations of one color for shading or highlighting in a painting.

    1.26 Hue, saturation, and value

    Saturation: the intensity of color, and when the color is fully saturated, the color is the purest form or most authentic version. The primary colors are the three fully saturated colors as they are in the purest form. As the saturation decreases, the color begins to look washed out when white or black is added. When a color is bright, it is considered at its highest intensity.

    Helmililjat 2
    1.27 Saturation

    Form: Form gives shape to a piece of art, whether it is the constraints of a line in a painting or the edge of the sculpture. The shape can be two-dimensional, three-dimensional restricted to height and weight, or it can be free-flowing. The form also is the expression of all the formal elements of art in a piece of work.

    Good form
    1.28 Form

    Line: A line in art is primarily a dot or series of dots. The dots form a line, which can vary in thickness, color, and shape. A line is a two-dimensional shape unless the artist gives it volume or mass. If an artist uses multiple lines, it develops into a drawing more recognizable than a line creating a form resembling the outside of its shape. Lines can also be implied as in an action of the hand pointing up, the viewer's eyes continue upwards without even a real line.

    1.29 Line

    Shape: The shape of the artwork can have many meanings. The shape is defined as having some sort of outline or boundary, whether the shape is two or three dimensional. The shape can be geometric (known shape) or organic (free form shape). Space and shape go together in most artworks.

    1.30 Shape

    Space: Space is the area around the focal point of the art piece and might be positive or negative, shallow or deep, open, or closed. Space is the area around the art form; in the case of a building, it is the area behind, over, inside, or next to the structure. The space around a structure or other artwork gives the object its shape. The children are spread across the picture, creating space between each of them, the figures become unique.

    Statue of Liberty
    1.31 Space

    Texture: Texture can be rough or smooth to the touch, imitating a particular feel or sensation. The texture is also how your eye perceives a surface, whether it is flat with little texture or displays variations on the surface, imitating rock, wood, stone, fabric. Artists added texture to buildings, landscapes, and portraits with excellent brushwork and layers of paint, giving the illusion of reality.

    1.32 Texture

    Principles of Art

    Balance: The balance in a piece of art refers to the distribution of weight or the apparent weight of the piece. Arches are built for structural design and to hold the roof in place, allowing for passage of people below the arch and creating balance visually and structurally. It may be the illusion of art that can create balance.

    Balanced Rock
    1.33 Balance

    Contrast: Contrast is defined as the difference in colors to create a piece of visual art. For instance, black and white is a known stark contrast and brings vitality to a piece of art, or it can ruin the art with too much contrast. Contrast can also be subtle when using monochromatic colors, giving variety and unity the final piece of art.

    Contrast, oranges
    1.34 Contrast

    Emphasis: Emphasis can be color, unity, balance, or any other principle or element of art used to create a focal point. Artists will use emphasis like placing a string of gold in a field of dark purple. The color contrast between the gold and dark purple causes the gold lettering to pop out, becoming the focal point.

    1.35 Emphasis

    Rhythm/Movement: Rhythm in a piece of art denotes a type of repetition used to either demonstrate movement or expanse. For instance, in a painting of waves crashing, a viewer will automatically see the movement as the wave finishes. The use of bold and directional brushwork will also provide movement in a painting.

    1.36 Rhythm/Movement

    Proportion/Scale: Proportion is the relationship between items in a painting, for example, between the sky and mountains. If the sky is more than two-thirds of the painting, it looks out of proportion. The scale in art is similar to proportion, and if something is not to scale, it can look odd. If there is a person in the picture and their hands are too large for their body, then it will look out of scale. Artists can also use scale and proportion to exaggerate people or landscapes to their advantage.

    1.37 Proportion and Scale

    Unity and variety: In art, unity conveys a sense of completeness, pleasure when viewing the art, and cohesiveness to the art, and how the patterns work together brings unity to the picture or object. As the opposite of unity, variety should provoke changes and awareness in the art piece. Colors can provide unity when they are in the same color groups, and a splash of red can provide variety.

    Argenteuil. Yachts, 1875 03
    1.38 Unity and Variety

    Pattern: Pattern is the way something is organized and repeated in its shape or form and can flow without much structure in some random repetition. Patterns might branch out similar to flowers on a plant or form spirals and circles as a group of soap bubbles or seem irregular in the cracked, dry mud. All works of art have some sort of pattern even though it may be hard to discern; the pattern will form by the colors, the illustrations, the shape, or numerous other art methods.

    Bukhara splendour
    1.39 Pattern

    • Was this article helpful?