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The Relationship Between Elements & Principles in Art

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  • 0:03 Making Art
  • 0:52 The Elements of Art
  • 2:22 Principles of Art
  • 4:27 Using the Elements &…
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Is a work of art any good? How do you know? In this lesson, we'll examine the elements and principles of art and see how they help us understand the aesthetic traits of a composition.

Making Art

Imagine that you wanted to bake a cake. Cakes are delicious, so why wouldn't you? To create a good cake, however, takes practice and effort. You can't just throw things together randomly and expect the finished product to turn out well. You have to have the right ingredients, combined in the right way.

The art of making a cake is like making any work of art. To make good art, you need to have good ingredients and you need to mix them appropriately. In terms of aesthetics, we call the ingredients that define great art the elements of art. These are the basic building blocks of art, but they have to be combined correctly. Techniques in which the elements of art are combined or arranged are called the principles of art. By knowing our elements of art and our principles of art, we've got a recipe for something that will meet any critic's aesthetic tastes.

The Elements of Art

If elements are the ingredients of art and principles are the techniques for combining them, then obviously we need to start with the ingredients. There are six basic elements that make up the basis for all great art. We'll be looking at paintings here, but you can apply these ideas to other types of art, like sculpture, too.

  • Line refers to the ingredient of art created from a point in motion through space (which is what a line actually is). Lines are one of the fundamental components of art, and can be thick or thin, two-dimensional or three-dimensional, and even physical or implied.

  • Shape is the next element of art, describing the outline of an object or color within physical space. The word 'shape' is generally used for two-dimensional objects (like in a painting), while the physical dimension of three-dimensional objects is known as form.

  • Color is a very important ingredient of visual art, describing the way that various parts of the composition interact with the visible spectrum of light. Colors range from white to black, and include all the hues in between.

  • Value is the lightness and darkness of parts of the composition in relation to each other.

  • Texture refers to the actual physical qualities of the art (is it soft, hard, etc.), as well as any implied physical qualities (like in a picture of sandpaper).

  • The last major element of art is space, the distinction between positive and negative portions of the image. Both are important and we have to distinguish between them, just as you'd need to distinguish between oil and water in a recipe.

Principles of Art

Our elements of art are the ingredients of a composition, but just like with any recipe, even great ingredients can result in a mess if you just throw them together without any thought. They have to be combined in the right ways. There are eight principles of art that help us understand how the elements of art work together in a composition.

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