What Are the Principles of Art? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 The Principles of Art
  • 1:11 Each Principle Defined
  • 4:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Abby Ecker

Abby has taught fashion design, fashion illustration, and textile design classes and has a master of fine art's degree in fibers.

In this lesson, you will be presented with an overview of the basic principles of art, examples of what they are, and how to use them when creating or analyzing an artwork.

The Principles of Art

Imagine you're using your favorite pen to draw a spaceship. You take into careful consideration where to place this spaceship on the page and how far away to draw the moon and stars that the spaceship is about to fly by. You want to show that the spaceship is moving, so you draw a few squiggles. Finally, because of your love of star gazing, you color in a nearby shooting star with your favorite shade of yellow and voila; you have just created your own artwork.

Without even knowing it, you have just used some of the principles of art. They include:

  1. balance
  2. proportion
  3. emphasis
  4. variety
  5. movement
  6. rhythm
  7. harmony

They are used to organize the basic elements of art: line, shape, form, value, color, space, and texture. They are sometimes also referred to as principles of organization or design principles.

Another important element in creating art is composition. A composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements in an artwork, and art principles help figure out the arrangements of those visual elements.

Each Principle Defined

Balance: The sense of stability achieved through implied weight of an object. There are three different types of balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial.

Symmetrical balance: When one image is mirrored on the other side to repeat itself

Asymmetrical balance: When different types of elements create a visual balance

Radial balance:The distribution of elements around a central point in all directions

Here is an example of asymmetrical balance, showing a bright red apple in one corner balanced by a large area of neutral color on the other side. Together, they work to create balance in the overall composition.


Proportion: The ratio of one art element to another. It is important to keep in mind the relationship between different elements of the composition so that the scale of your artwork always makes visual sense. For example, if you were drawing your best friend sitting in a chair, the size of the chair should be in proportion to the size of your friend. The image below shows the different size proportions of a variety of fruits.


Emphasis: When one element of an artwork stands out more than another. This creates a sense of importance and is intentionally used to communicate a message or feeling. Emphasis creates variety in your artwork. This image of one lone, yellow pear among a bowl of red apples demonstrates the principles of emphasis.


Variety: The counterweight to harmony and creates visual interest by slightly changing or using different elements together in a composition. It can be created with contrast, change, elaboration, or diversifying elements. With variety, it is important to consider how the elements are working together so that you still have harmony and unity within a composition. This image of different fruits and vegetables is an example of variety.


Movement: The visual flow of your artwork. It's the path that you intend your viewer's eye to follow. You can create this by purposefully placing art elements in a way that creates this path. This image below of an apple tree shows movement through the strong line of the branch from left to right.

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