Most Basically, the Elements of Design, or Elements of Art, are the bits and pieces with which you compose a work of two or three dimensional art. Most of these building blocks apply directly or indirectly to other visual art media like digital art, performance art, and video... and can add nuance to interpretation of happenings and sound art as well. On the surface, you'll find these terms elementary... see what degrees of sophistication you can find in close looking at images with regards to their use of these basic elements.
nota bene: you will find that different sources list different elements and principles, some more than I have, some fewer. Read a couple different sources (I give a list at the bottom) and write your own list carefully!
The visible path of a point moving through space or the edge where two shapes meet
We think of line as having direction, weight, and even speed. Horizontal lines generally indicate stability, rest, tranquility; vertical lines indicate formality, alertness, and significantly affect our understanding of balance in the image; diagonal or oblique lines dramatically direct our gaze, and suggest movement, energy, action.
Vine. 1991-93. Oil on linen, 96 x 102 1/2" (243.8 x 260.3 cm)
image credit MOMA
|Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970, Great Salt Lake, photographer unknown|
Most literally, a shape is a geometric or organic self-contained area. Usually, we perceive shape as two dimensional. As you consider paintings, consider positive and negative shapes. When we talk about sculpture, we generally consider them through photographs, which can flatten forms to create shapes that allow us to see the sculptures differently.
Paul Cézanne, Mont Saint Victoire, 1895. photocredit wiki paintings.
"Treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone, the whole put into perspective so that each side of an object, or of a plane, leads towards a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth, whether a sections of nature, or, if you prefer, of the spectacle which Pater omnipotens aeterne Deus unfolds before your eyes. Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth.. ..Everything I am telling you ] about - the sphere, the cone, cylinder, concave shadow – on mornings when I’m tired these notions of mine get me going, they stimulate me, I soon forget them once I start using my eyes. (from wikiquotes, quoted from Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 pp. 163-164)
|Paul Klee, Castle and Sun, 1928, image source artinthepicture.com|
|Joan Miró, Toward the Rainbow, 1941, gouache and oil on paper imagecredit welovedc.com|
Many see form as a subset of shape or the same, even, and they can prove hard to tease apart. We speak of form as having depth as well as length and width, and perceive it as three dimensional even in a flat work of art.
|Paul Cézanne, Apples and Oranges, 1895-1900|
|Leonardo da Vinci, Study of Arms and Hands, 1474, pen and ink on paper|
|Pablo Picasso, Self Portrait at 15, 1896|
also called hue. Whatever the hue, colors come from black, white, and the three primaries and vary in intensity and value. Valuable primers on color here and far more in depth and quite valuable resource from the ever-dependable OWL at Purdue, here. Color VALUE refers to how light or dark a color appears and color INTENSITY refers to how pure the saturation of the HUE. So, for example, a blue with absolutely no yellow or red added has a high intensity, a blue diluted with yellow that makes it head close to green has low intensity.
|Vincent Van Gogh, Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity's Gate) 1890|
"It seems to me that a painter has a duty to try to put an idea into his work. I was trying to say this in this print — but I can’t say it as beautifully, as strikingly as reality, of which this is only a dim reflection seen in a dark mirror — that it seems to me that one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the existence of 'something on high' in which Millet believed, namely in the existence of a God and an eternity, is the unutterably moving quality that there can be in the expression of an old man like that, without his being aware of it perhaps, as he sits so quietly in the corner of his hearth. At the same time something precious, something noble, that can’t be meant for the worms. ... This is far from all theology — simply the fact that the poorest woodcutter, heath farmer or miner can have moments of emotion and mood that give him a sense of an eternal home that he is close to." image and quotation wikipedia
We call an objects surface qualities its texture. Ask yourself is it matte, shiny, smooth, rough, jagged etc. Texture can be tactile (physical) like a Van Gogh painting seen in person, where Van Gogh's use of impasto (thick, pasty paint) gives the painting roughness that you could feel with your hand (if the museum guard stepped out) or visual, like the photograph of the Van Gogh painting, with its highly obvious brushmarks even on the smooth photopaper.
|Meret Oppenheim, Object (luncheon in Fur), 1936, photo MOMA|
|Jan Davidsz de Heem, Still Life: Breakfast with Champaign Glass and Pipe, 1642, Dutch.|
well, now that's a long conversation. For now, artists use the elements to make their works. Consciously and subconsciously, the principles guide their decisions about how to use the elements to make pleasing or otherwise affecting works.
The Principles of Art/Design
Balance refers to the appearance of equilibrium in a two or three dimensional artwork. Artists balance their work symmetrically (rarely), asymmetrically, or radially, by including elements of varying visual or conceptual weight. Relying on the laws of physics can help you to balance a work; a small object at the edge of the work can balance a large object at the center, a small dark object appears heavier, and will balance a larger light object. Artists use balance to create feelings of anxiety, peace, tension, etc.
|Katsushika Hokusai, Sudden Gust of Wind, 1832|
|Jeff Wall, Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) 1993|
When I was making A Sudden Gust of Wind I knew I wanted to show how the air could carry the papers. Hokusai had already solved some of these problems. If you analyse his composition, you realise that many of the little pieces of paper coincided with very important points of the rectangle. He composed something that had a feel of the accidental. It was not accidental, but he knew how to make it look that way. I thought that the only way to achieve that was to first create chance situations, to create a lot of movement and then just have a lot of materials to edit. So we created a way a lot of paper could be moved in the air and then tried to think of both the rectangle and the invisible air current in three dimensions. As the papers move in depth, they move away from us and get smaller. I just worked hard on it and tried to compose. There is no guide, its just a feeling, a sense of real, how things are really are or would be . _Jeff Wall
|Jan Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, 1665 photo wikipaintings|
valuable resource on this painting at the national gallery. here.
We call the repetition of an element in an image a pattern. Artists create exact or varied patterns, to different effect.
|Julie Heffernan, Self Portrait in Need of Perpetual Help, 2009|
|Wasily Kandinsky, Squares with Concentric Circles, 1913|
EMPHASIS or DOMINANCE
Artists give certain elements or areas of their images more power than others, drawing the viewers gaze to a specific space, action, or concept. They use various tools (lines of particular direction, the gaze of persons pictured, contrast, scale, etc) to achieve the emphasis
|Rembrandt van Rijn, The Night Watch, or The Shooting Company of Franz Banning Cocq, 1642, photo wikipedia|
|Michelangelo da Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas, 1601|
Artists use repetition to create unity in their works. Repetition without VARIETY tends to generate static images, repetition combined with Variety tends to create harmonious ones.
|Michelangelo Buonarotti, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1508-1512|