1913 Battle of
lights / Coney
PRINCIPLES OF ART
Artists “design” their works by controlling and ordering the elements of art in some
way. When trying to combine these different elements into an organized whole, they use
certain principles or guidelines. A unified piece of art is a skillful blend of elements and
principles to produce the best possible effect.
The principles or art then describe the different ways artists can use each element.
Learning the principles will help you understand the art work and the way, or style an
artist chooses to work, and most importantly, how the art work is put together.
Julio Larraz Papiamento
BalanceBalance refers to a way of combining elements to add a feeling of
equilibrium, or stability to a work of art. Of course, sometimes an artist will
use a lack of balance on purpose to create a feeling of uneasiness. There
are four types of balance, also known as composition. These four are
Classical or Renaissance, Symmetrical Asymmetrical, and Radial. Balance
is the principle of art concerned with equalizing visual forces or elements in
a work of art.
Stained Glass Rose Window, Chartes
Radial Balance occurs
when objects are
positioned around a
Symmetrical balance means a
formal balance in which two
halves of a work are perfectly
Georgia O’Keefe Late George
Window 1929 Oil
Asymmetrical balance is more informal and takes
into account such qualities such as hue, intensity,
and value in addition to shape and size. All these
qualities have an effect on the apparent weight of
objects shown in a work of art .
Mary Cassat The Tea
Classical or Renaissance
During the Renaissance…most
compositions were based on a
triangular design, or a combination of
Leonardo Da Vinci Virgin of
Emphasis, or contrast is a way of combining
elements to stress the differences between
those elements .Contrasting elements are
often used to direct and focus the viewers
attention on the most important part of a
design. Artists try to avoid making art in which
the same colors, values, lines shapes, forms,
textures, and space relationships are used
over and over again, They know that such art
works are monotonous and boring. To avoid
this artists introduce contrasts that create
interest in their work. Emphasis is the principle
of are that makes one part dominant over the
Cecila Beuax. Ethel Page. 1884 Oil
Notice how the artist has used color
and value to create emphasis.
Harmony is the principle of art that creates unity by stressing the similarities of separate,
but related parts. In musical harmony, related tones are combined into blended sounds.
Harmony is pleasing because the tones compliment each other. In visual harmony,
related art elements are combined. The result is pleasing because the elements
compliment each other. Used in certain ways, color can produce harmony in a work of
Improvisation 28 1912 oil
Variety is a way of combining elements to create interesting
relationships. Artists use this principle when they want to increase the
visual interests of their works. Variety is the principle of art concerned
with difference or contrast. Note the different contrast of patterns, and
textures in the painting by Max Weber.
Max Weber Chinese
Restaurant 1915 oil
Antonio Ruiz School Children 1936 oil
Gradation refers to a way
of combining elements
by using a series of
gradual changes in those
elements…for example a
gradual change from a
large to a small shape, or
a gradual change of a
light to a dark color.
Movement is the principle or art used to create
the look and feel of action, and to guide the
viewer’s eye throughout the work of art. Of
course, in a two dimensional artwork, any look of
motion is only an illusion. A horse shown
galloping gives only the impression of movement.
There are some three dimensional artworks, or
sculptures that actually do move.
Marcel Duchamp Nude descending a
Staircase. 1912 Oil
Rhythm Artists use rhythm in a work of
art to convey feelings and
ideas. Rhythm, which can be
comforting and predictable, can
be monotonous, symbolic, or
graceful, depending on how the
artist chose to use rhythm .
Rhythm can also create visual
movement, As in Marcel
Duchamp’s Nude Descending
M.C. Escher Reptiles 1943 Lithograph
In this print, Escher
creates a progressive
rhythm of reptiles climbing
out of a flat drawing and
evolving into fully formed
creatures, the reptiles the
re-enter the two
Proportion is the principle of art
concerned with the size relationships
of one part to another. Proportion can
direct the viewers eye to a specific
area or object in an artwork. For
example, proportion is used to show
the importance of a king.
Nigeria King with Servants 16th
Diego Rivera Building of a City 1931Fresco
In art, unity is the quality of wholeness or oneness that is achieved through the
effective use of the elements and principles of art . Unity is like an invisible glue,
it joins all the separate parts so that they look as if they belong together.
Jasper Johns, Map, 1961
Jasper John’s map of the
United States could be
pulled apart, but it is unified
by the harmonious limited
color palette, or color
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