Elements and Principles of Art

Learn about elements and principles of art and join the challenge to create art based off the lessons. Share your work of art with #wfmaartstories.

Elements of Art

Line, shape, form, space, color, value, and texture make up the Elements of Art, the building blocks from which all art is made.

Understanding the Elements of Art can make it easier to appreciate the art you are surrounded by. Stay tuned for a series of posts exploring each element in depth!

elements of art info graphic

Elements of Art: Line

elements of art: line

A Line is a path traced by a moving point. This simple element of art is the foundation from which most art begins. Line can also be used to establish other elements, such as form and value, especially when those lines are placed closely together or cross one another to form areas of dark and light.

As you can see from the zoomed in window, art can be made

entirely from lines. Have you ever tried to create a work of art only using lines? Share your work of art in the comments below or with the hashtag #wfmaartstories

Artwork: Winslow Homer, Saved, 1889, Etching

Elements of Art: Form

A Form is a three dimensional object with height, width, and depth. In art, form most commonly refers to objects such as sculpture that can be viewed from many angles or ‘in the round.’ Form can also be achieved in two dimensions through the use of shading and perspective to give the illusion of depth.

Artworks shown: (left) Victor Vasarely, “Untitled,” c. 1970, Screenprint; and (right) Tybre Newcomer, “A Rich History,” 2008, Ceramic. From the WFMA Permanent Collection.

Elements of Art: Shape

A Shape is a two dimensional form that occupies an area with identifiable boundaries. This can be achieved in many ways; with line, changes in color, shifts in texture, or even with the use of a new media type. Shapes are distinguished from their surroundings in a relationship referred to as figure and ground, or positive and negative shapes.

Elements of Art: Color

Elements of Art: Color

Of all the electromagnetic waves moving through our world we can only see the waves of visible light. Light can be broken up into different Colors, helping us to make sense of our surroundings. Artists use Color in different ways to create different effects on those who view their art. The absence of color in art, explored through a grayscale, can help us understand traits such as contrast, saturation, highlights, and shadows but it often compromises our ability to explore the expressive nature of Color.

Please see our Color Theory Challenge posts for more information on the use of Color and different color harmonies. Do you prefer to see art in color, or in black and white?

Artwork Shown: Matthew Muth, Untitled, 1982, Screenprint (left) print matrix (right) WFMA Permanent Collection

Elements of Art: Space

Space can refer to both the perception of depth in an artwork as well as the area between figures or subjects. Sculptures employ both closed space and open space, with the latter referring to the area not occupied by the sculpture itself.

Armin Landeck, Rooftop with Abstract Shadows, c. 1945, etching. Permanent Collection of the WFMA.

Principles of Design

Understanding Principles of Design can make it easier to understand the compositional decisions artists make. Experts often disagree on just how many Principles of Design there are, but here are some that are commonly agreed upon.

Proportion and Scale
Unity and Variety
Emphasis and Subordination
Stay tuned for a series of posts exploring each principle in depth!

Principles of Design

Principles of Design: Emphasis and Subordination

Emphasis draws our attention to specific points or subjects within a work of art, while Subordination allows backgrounds and other objects to recede or fade in importance. The use of focus in photography utilizes these principles. In art this can be achieved with techniques involving color and contrast, implied or actual lines, texture changes, and more to guide our eyes to intended points of interest.

Charles Fuhs used the bricks lining this storm drain to Emphasize the workers standing in the middle ground of this photograph while the worker above is Subordinated by the shroud of mist. How have you seen Emphasis and Subordination used in art? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Artwork shown: Charles A. Fuhs, “Untitled,” c. 1920, Gelatin silver print. WFMA Permanent Collection.

Elements of Art: Texture

The surface quality of a work of art can be used to convey emotions, ideas, and messages. Texture determines how a surface feels. Texture can be physically present and felt, or it can be visual, in which the illusion of texture is used. Texture is present in all forms of art, from the smoothest prints to the roughest sculptures.

In the two Philana Oliphant pieces shown here, how do the textural differences between graphite and ink have an impact on you? Comment below to share your thoughts!

Artworks shown: (left) Philana Oliphant, “November,” 2008, graphite Drawing; and (right) “Aquila,” 2008, linoleum cut print. WFMA Permanent Collection.

Principles of Design: Unity and Variety

Unity is the sense that things belong together. With it an artist can create a cohesive design. Variety strays from that cohesion, creating excitement and keeping our interest.

Striking a balance between Unity and Variety results in engaging compositions that feel controlled without becoming boring.

How do you see Unity and Variety used in these pieces?

Artworks shown by artist Risaburo Kimura, (left) “Rio,” 1923, Screenprint and (right) “Venice,” 1923, Screenprint. WFMA Permanent Collection.