The Basic Elements & Principles of Art

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  • 0:04 Elements & Principles of Art
  • 0:36 Elements
  • 2:16 Principles
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson, we review the basic elements and principles of art. Many of these concepts are related, overlapping with one another to bring out the best of each technique.

Elements & Principles of Art

There are seven elements in art. They are color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value. The ten common principles of art are balance, emphasis, harmony, movement, pattern, proportion, repetition, rhythm, unity, and variety. Many of these concepts are not only related to one another but also overlap to create an artistic vision.


Many amateurs actually confuse the terms 'color,' 'hue,' and 'value.' Technically color is a general term which applies to all combinations of color. On the other hand, hue refers to only the pure colors of the spectrum. Value is simply the relative darkness or lightness of a particular color. Of course, hue also has value since there are many shades of the rainbow. The three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue, and the other colors are made by mixing those three in many different combinations.

Form in art is its three-dimensionality, as displayed in a cube. A two-dimensional shape, such as a square on a sheet of paper, is not classified as form in art. Conversely, a line is one-dimensional and is often used to define edges. Lines also are used to define more complex shapes. The type of a line, whether horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or curved, greatly determines the feeling an artist is trying to express in their work.

Like form, space is three-dimensional. The great artists are masters at making a two-dimensional piece of paper come to life and somehow appear to have depth. Perspective is the technique they use to achieve this effect. We have all seen that photo of the railroad tracks going off into the far distance and coming to a point.

The master artists also have an uncanny knack for incorporating texture into their pieces of art. This allows the viewer to actually feel the work instead of just using the eyes to look at it. Who hasn't shaken their head in disbelief at the way Vincent Van Gogh made a night filled with stars or a field of irises come to life so that it felt as if one could touch them?


The three basic types of balance in art are symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. If a work is symmetrical, the left side would look similar to the right side. If the work is asymmetrical the sides may not look similar but it is important to realize that there may still be balance. In radial balance everything in the piece emanates from a central point, not unlike the spokes of a bicycle wheel or the maps of certain cities.

Emphasis in art is the part that stands out due to the artist's design. Variety is related to emphasis in that adding it also adds emphasis to a work. Variety deals with contrast and difference. The artist may use color, shape, size, and texture to add emphasis and variety. The artist uses several elements in conjunction to move the viewer's eye around the work. Thus, variety is related to compositional movement.

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