This lesson familiarizes students with the elements and principles of art. We also discuss the different ways the elements apply to art in two-dimensional and in three-dimensional space.
Elements and Principles
Perhaps you've always enjoyed art, but you've just done it instinctively. Certainly that indicates a great deal of talent, but learning the terms and concepts of art will help you hone your skills.
Let's begin with a quick explanation of two important concepts. The first includes the elements of a composition; in other words, the basic components the artist uses. Principles of art are the qualities created through the way those elements interact with one another.
Elements of Art
There are seven basic components considered the elements of art. Let's get a little more familiar with them:
- Line - this element is the most basic of all, consisting of a single mark possessing length and direction.
- Shape - this is an enclosed area of space that is different from the space surrounding it. Sometimes it can be created by a line marking the outer edge of a shape, such as a circle created with a curved line. Alternatively, it can be enclosed by a boundary created by differences in element outside the shape. Think about a circle created by a circular red area surrounded by green.
- Form - when we combine shapes to create the illusion of 3D objects in a 2D composition, it creates form. For 3D art, form will always be an inherent element because the composition has length, width, and depth without needing to simulate it.
- Space - every part of a composition has space, but spaces are differentiated from one other by differences in their elements.
- Color - color is created by the wavelength of light reflected by an object's surface. A red apple absorbs all the bandwidths of light except for the ones we see when we look at it.
- Texture - this is how an object in an artistic composition feels if it is a 3D sculpture. In 2D art, like a drawing, we create the illusion of texture with other elements, like line, value, form, and even color.
- Value - this is the degree of lightness or darkness in an area of the composition. A red apple under a spotlight will have bright, shiny areas where the light hits the surface and dark areas at the bottom where it has shadows.
Principles of Art
Principles in artistic compositions are qualities formed when the elements interact with one another. Just like the elements, there are seven principles of art:
- Unity/Variety - we create unity when we group aspects of our composition that share a common element, like a group of identical circles. If the composition groups aspects that have a noticeable difference in a particular element, it creates variety. Think of a group of circles that have all different sizes or colors.
- Emphasis - this principle involves the way an artist grabs and directs our attention to the main focus of their work through contrasting colors, values, sizes, or any other elements employed to make some part of the composition stand out.
- Balance - balance is our perception of a composition's placement of objects in a distribution that creates a sense of physical equality. There are three types of balance:
- Radial - objects in the composition are arranged equally from a central point.
- Symmetrical - objects are arranged equally from a central line dividing the composition horizontally or vertically.
- Asymmetrical - placing unbalanced objects in such a way that we perceive balance based on an imagined quality of the objects depicted. For example, imagine a see-saw where a boulder on one side is balanced by hundreds of pebbles on the other side.
- Movement- it might be hard to think of motion as part of a fixed work of art, but this principle refers to the way the elements are arranged to draw our eyes to different parts of the artwork or to create the illusion of the subject in motion.
- Rhythm - the use of patterns or repeating elements creates unity as well as a sense of movement, but the direction and frequency of the repetition creates a rhythm.
- Gradation - this principle can create harmony from even the most striking contrast of elements through a series of gradual changes.
- Proportion - this is the way the elements relate to each other or to the whole composition regarding their size or the percentage of the composition they occupy.
Difference Between 2D and 3D
While all these elements and principles can apply to 2D and 3D art, there are some significant differences in how they're applied.
In 3D artwork, like sculpture, form will always be a significant element because of the nature of using three dimensions. Texture will always be present because you can touch the artwork (though you probably shouldn't or it will degrade the piece), even when texture is not the focus.
In 2D artwork, form and texture are illusions created by the way other elements are applied. You can touch a rough stone and feel the texture, but a drawing of that same stone will only look rough while feeling as smooth as the paper it is on.
All art, whether 2D or 3D, uses the seven elements and seven principles. Elements are the individual components of the composition: line, shape, space, form, value, color, and texture. Principles are the qualities of the artwork created by the interaction of the elements: unity/variety, emphasis, balance, movement, rhythm, gradation, and proportion. Art with three dimensions will always have form and texture, while two-dimensional art must create form and texture through illusion.