The form of a work is its shape, including its volume or perceived volume. Three-dimensional form is the basis of sculpture. However, two-dimensional artwork can achieve the illusion of form with the use of perspective and/or shading or modeling techniques.
Shape refers to a 2-dimensional, enclosed area. Shapes could be geometric, such as squares, circles, triangles etc. or organic and curvaceous.
Lines and curves are marks that span a distance between two points (or the path of a moving point). As an element of visual art, line is the use of various marks, outlines, and implied lines during artwork and design. A line has a width, direction, and length. A line's width is most times called its "thickness." Lines are sometimes called "strokes," especially when referring to lines in digital artwork. I have also heard that a line is simply a point moving through space.
Color is the element of art that is produced when light, striking an object, is reflected back to the eye. There are three properties to color. The first is hue, which simply means the name we give to a color (red, yellow, blue, green, etc.). The second property is intensity, which refers to the vividness of the color. A color's intensity is sometimes referred to as its "colorfulness," its "saturation," its "purity" or its "strength." The third and final property of color is its value, meaning how light or dark it is. The terms shade and tint refer to value changes in colors. In painting, shades are created by adding black to a color, while tints are created by adding white to a color.
Value is the degree of lightness and darkness in a color. The difference in values is called contrast. Value can relate to shades, where a color gets darker by adding black to it, or tints, where a color gets lighter by adding white to it.
Space is any conducive area that an artist provides for a particular purpose. Space includes the background, foreground and middle ground, and refers to the distances or area(s) around, between, and within things. There are two kinds of space: negative space and positive space. Negative space is the area in between, around, through or within an object. Positive space is the area occupied by an object and/or form.
Texture, another element of art, is used to describe how something feels or looks. e.g. her hair was smooth. Smooth is a texture, same as bumpy, hard, light, clear, rough and many more.
Balance refers to the visual weight of the elements of the composition. It is a sense that the painting feels stable and "feels right." Imbalance causes a feeling of discomfort in the viewer.
Balance can be achieved in 3 different ways:
- Symmetry, in which both sides of a composition have the same elements in the same position, as in a mirror-image, or the two sides of a face.
- Asymmetry, in which the composition is balanced due to the contrast of any of the elements of art. For example, a large circle on one side of a composition might be balanced by a small square on the other side
- Radial symmetry, in which elements are equally spaced around a central point, as in the spokes coming out of the hub of a bicycle tire.
Contrast is the difference between elements of art in a composition, such that each element is made stronger in relation to the other. When placed next to each other, contrasting elements command the viewer's attention. Areas of contrast are among the first places that a viewer's eye is drawn. Contrast can be achieved by juxtapositions of any of the elements of art. Negative/Positive space is an example of contrast. Complementary colors placed side by side is an example of contrast.
Emphasis is when the artist creates an area of the composition that is visually dominant and commands the viewer's attention. This is often achieved by contrast.
Movement is the result of using the elements of art such that they move the viewer's eye around and within the image. A sense of movement can be created by diagonal or curvy lines, either real or implied, by edges, by the illusion of space, by repetition, by energetic mark-making.
Pattern is the uniform repetition of any of the elements of art or any combination thereof. Anything can be turned into a pattern through repetition. Some classic patterns are spirals, grids, weaves.
Rhythm is created by movement implied through the repetition of elements of art in a non-uniform but organized way. It is related to rhythm in music. Unlike pattern, which demands consistency, rhythm relies on variety.
UNITY / VARIETY
You want your painting to feel unified such that all the elements fit together comfortably. Too much unity creates monotony, too much variety creates chaos. You need both. Ideally, you want areas of interest in your composition along with places for your eye to rest.
P R I N C I P L E S O F P O S S I B I L I T Y
Scholar Olivia Gude believes that the traditional "Elements and Principles" are limiting, and that we need to expand our canon to include more contemporary principles. Two articles, which can be found here and here, outline her proposals. She says:
"The elements and principles of art are enshrined in most art education textbooks today (Crystal Productions, 2000; Hobb and Salome, 1995; Ragans, 2000; Wachowiak and Clements, 2000). Note the aggrandizing shift from elements of design to elements of art. These elements and principles are proffered as universal and foundational. The use of the definite article the suggests that these lists claim to be more than attempts to present a descriptive vocabulary of observed form. They are not presented as some vocabulary words or concepts that have been identified as useful for interpreting the work of others or in constructing one’s own. The elements and principles are presented as the essence of artmaking, as pure art education gospel. If not literally engraved in stone, the big seven (elements) + seven (principles) are reified in print, achieving theoretical unity, not by dint of persuasive argument, but through seemingly endless repetition in formally oriented textbooks or, during the last decade, as government-mandated standards."
"We owe it to our field and our students to study the art of our times and to begin [...] with probing questions and far-reaching goals. What do our students need to know to understand the art of many cultures, in the past and in the 21st century? What knowledge do the students need today to stimulate and increase their creative powers?"
"A basic tenet of all theory that can be characterized as postmodern is suspicion of what are called totalizing discourses and grand narratives—the belief that there is one right way to organize and understand things. Sadly, much contemporary art education has clung to these sorts of narrowly prescriptive theories—the elements and principles, the four disciplines that ostensibly include all the concepts one needs to adequately understand art, the sequence of steps that one should always follow in approaching an artwork."
"Postmodern thought embraces the heterogeneous, the local, and the specific. It affirms the choice making capacity of individuals to eclect from the past those things that will best serve them as the starting points for today. These choices will be different at different places—depending on the history and present issues of each school community. By structuring art projects to introduce students to relevant contemporary art and thus to postmodern principles—strategies for understanding and making art today—students will gain the skills to participate in and shape contemporary cultural conversations. "
Among others, she outlines the following as additional elements and principles of art and design:
APPROPRIATION, JUXTAPOSITION, RECONTEXTUALIZATION, LAYERING, INTERACTION OF TEXT & IMAGE, HYBRIDITY, GAZING, REPRESENTIN', PLAYING, FORMING SELF, INVESTIGATING COMMUNITY THEMES, ENCOUNTERING DIFFERENCE, ATTENTIVE LIVING, EMPOWERED EXPERIENCING, EMPOWERED MAKING, DECONSTRUCTING CULTURE, RECONSTRUCTING SOCIAL SPACES, NOT KNOWING.