Design Elements

Elements of Art

A Monarch buttefly lands on a full sunflower in morning dawn

“The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.”
Alberto Giacometti

In our continuing blog series on artistic creativity we began with the foundations of a visual language and then the artist’s tools to invoke an intended message in their creation.

This blog develops foundational structural elements that are used to establish an artist’s intentions and visions.

Each element is defined briefly plus some discussion on the interactions between elements so that we can continue to build on our knowledge as each new blog addresses an ever larger picture.

We begin with a list and description of the basic message elements:

Elements of Art

Dot (point): The most elementary unit of visual communication, roundness is the most common usage. Used for measuring space and in abundance indicates tone and color.

Line: Refers to a continuous mark, made on a surface, by a moving point. A chain of dots where the sensation of direction is increased.

Direction: Expressed by basic shapes, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, curve, stability, instability, and repetition.

Tone: The contrast of intensity of lightness or darkness, Light is rarely evenly emitted, the human visual system can distinguish approximately 30 tones of grey. Tone also develops visual dimension.

Color: Produced when light, striking an object, is reflected back to the eye.

Texture: Used to describe either the way a three-dimensional work actually feels when touched, or the visual “feel” of a two-dimensional work.

Dimension: This is as frequently implied as it is expressed. Often this is dependent on use of illusion. In all 2D representations, this is only suggested. It can be emphasized in many ways, primarily by way of use of perspective and also by employing tonal gradations.

Scale or proportion: The relative size and measurement. Used to refer to the sizes of objects in relationship to one another. Proportion also refers to the relative size of the parts as individual elements with the whole of the objects.

Movement: Like dimension more often implied than expressed. A dominant visual force. Derived from our experiences in life. The implied action is projected into passive visual clues that may instill psychological and kinesthetic receptions by a viewer.

Space: Refers to distances or areas around, between or within components of a piece. Space can be positive or negative, shallow or deep, open or closed, and two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Sometimes space is just an illusion.

Value: Refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. Value becomes critical black & white compositions.

Motion: This is treated as an element, time and motion are similar as motion exists in the context of time. Artists use time and motion in a variety of ways: blurring subjects such as waterfalls to develop a feeling of motion, using light to characterize a moment of the day.

Point of View: Vantage point from which the art work introduces the viewer into the composition. The artist’s intention for the viewer to “see” the composition.

Mass: A mass is a three dimensional form that occupies a volume of space.

Depth: Often, in 2D compositions, depth is conveyed through a sense a scale and perspective as well as by the use of colors, warm colors give a sense of the foreground and cooler colors project a receding space. Also see Atmospheric Perspective below.

Atmospheric Perspective: Atmospheric perspective is based on the observation that objects seen outside appear paler, bluer, and less distinct the further away they are.

Foreshortening: Foreshortening is the visual sensation through which an elongated object arranged toward or away from a viewer appears shorter than its actual length, as though compressed and, in two-dimensional art, the representation of this effect.

Shape: When defining it within the study of art, shape is an enclosed space, the boundaries of which are defined by other elements of art (i.e.: lines, colors, values, textures, etc.).

A shape is defined as a two or more dimensional area(s) that stands out from the space next to or around it due to a defined or implied boundary, or because of differences of value, color, or texture. All objects are composed of shapes and all other ‘elements of design’ are shapes in some way.

Multiple Sunflowers magnificently blooming in the early dawn light against a perfect blue sky with white fluffy clouds.

Art is form and content: All art consists of these two things.

Form and content are considered distinct aspects of a work of art. The term form refers to the work’s style, techniques and media used, and how the elements of design are implemented. Content, on the other hand, refers to a work’s essence, or what is being depicted.

Form: At its most basic, a form is a three-dimensional geometrical figure (i.e.: sphere, cube, cylinder, cone, etc.), as opposed to a shape, which is two-dimensional, or flat.

Form may be described as any three-dimensional object. Form can be measured, by height, width, and depth. Form is also defined by light and dark. It can be defined by the presence of shadows on objects or the surfaces these objects. There are two types of form, geometric (man-made) and natural (organic form). Form may be created by the combining of two or more shapes. It may be enhanced by tone, texture and color. It can be descriptive or manufactured.

Form means:
• The actual, physical materials that the artist has used. Form, in this context, is concrete and fairly easily understood.

Content, however, is idea-based and means:

• What the artist meant to describe (message, story, emotion, meaning, etc.),
• what the artist actually did characterize and
• how we react, as unique personalities, to both the intended and actual messages, including alternative implications.

Additionally, content includes ways in which a work was influenced — by religion, or politics, or society in general — at the time it was created. All of these factors, together, make up the content side of art.

“In art, the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can imagine.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why the Elements of Art?

Question: Why use the Elements of Art?

Elements of art are analogous to atoms such that both are used as constructive elements to build larger, more complex structures. Atoms, depending on their structures, make up molecules that form the universe around us. Often very simple like hydrogen and helium, but as they become more complex ever increasing molecule structures such as iron or uranium may arise.

Similarly, this also happens when the elements of art are combined. Instead of molecules, in art the elements of art are used to develop more complex compositions.

Artists apply these elements and infuse them using principles of design to develop their compositions of artworks. It is the artist who decides which elements are included, but every artwork has a minimum of two elements used.

Question: Why Are the Elements of Art Important?

The elements of art are important for a number of reasons. First, and most importantly, an artist can’t create without employing at least a few of them.

Secondly, understanding the elements of art are what empowers us to (A) describe what an artist has done, (B) interpret what is happening in a particular art work and (C) relate our thoughts and insights using a common language.

Such are the elements of art. As you develop your understanding and familiarity with the elements, you will use them with increasing deliberation to develop your art.

Understanding the elements of art allows you to analyze, appreciate, write and discuss aspects of art, as well as being of help in creating your art works and, as patrons and collectors, to evaluate artworks and an appreciation of the artist(s) for decisions of inclusion in their portfolios.

These insights are quite brief and there are other elements not described here. I would suggest more research and developing a better understanding of these to enhance your art. A better understanding also provides a “tool kit” for increasing your creativity. Please contact us at [email protected] if you would like additional information. Your comments are also appreciated.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next blog on the principles of design as we continue to develop our worlds of creativity and art.

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