Updated: Sep 19, 2021
Many of us learned about the seven elements of art long, long ago in a place called elementary school art class. But for those of us that went on to art school or to lead an art career, these elements are still a part of our daily vocabulary. Think of these artistic elements as the basic building blocks artists use to make sure their work effectively communicates their ideas and has a powerful visual impact. Let's explore these elements and why they matter.
A line is a point moving in space or the connection between two points. Lines exist in two-dimensional space and are often depicted as outlines. And while lines don't actually exist in our physical world, they are incredibly valuable in artistic applications. Lines use motion, direction, length, and texture to express emotion. A jagged, zigzagging line can communicate danger or anger. A bunch of long lines repeated over and over can have a calming effect. A swirling line feels fun and whimsical. As you can see, line does a lot of lifting when it comes to art. Don't forget to consider it when working on your next masterpiece.
Shapes are when lines enclose an area of two-dimensional space. To be a shape, the area must be limited to width and height, as shapes don't have depth. A shape can be geometric (defined by mathematics) or organic (irregular and imperfect by mathematical standards). And, just like line, shapes communicate a lot about the art they appear in and can affect the way a viewer feels towards your work. A sharp, pointy triangle doesn't feel nearly as approachable as a curvilinear blob. It might seem silly, but shape is an important part of making art.
Form is what happens when you take a shape and add depth into the picture. (Is that a pun?) It includes height, width, and depth. Typically, form is an enclosed volume, but it can be free flowing as well. It's an important part of two-dimensional art, as it allows viewers to understand the illusion of three-dimensional space within a two-dimensional piece. It's the backbone of sculpture and other three-dimensional types of art. Form helps us see and interact with art in a volumetric way.
Value is the perception of lightness and darkness in tones and colors. The difference between values is called contrast, and it can be high or low depending on how close in value they are. Value is incredibly important in creating realistic work, as it makes things more believable. But it's important in all other genres of art, as well. Having the correct balance and application of value and contrast in a piece contributes to an engaging composition. Tip: a great way to strengthen your understanding of value is to work in black and white. Color complicates things. Stripping it down to the very basics helps us see value much more easily.
Space is the relationship between the perspective and proportion of objects as they relate to the foreground and background. Basically, it's how objects sit within an area. And, just like all of the other elements of art, there are different types of space. Positive space is the areas of a piece that contain the subject; negative space is the area around the subject. Despite the names, one isn't better than the other, and a strong piece balances both types of space. Three-dimension works also have to contend with open and closed space. Space is a good way to create depth within your work.
Color is the relationship between hue, intensity, and value and how the eye perceives these properties. Hue refers to the different colors we see: red, blue, yellow, and so on. Intensity is how bright a color is; neon colors have high intensity while pastels have low intensity. Lastly, value relates to how light or dark a color is. The darker its value, the closer a color is to black. Color is a lot more complicated than just filling in areas with paint, as colors interact with one another and have the ability to change our perception of them based on the colors around them. Colors also have certain meanings, and these can vary from culture to culture.
Texture refers to the surface of a piece, and it can be tactile or implied. In two-dimensional work, texture can be achieved through different rendering techniques to make things appear fluffy, like Agnes's unicorn. Or it can be done by layering different materials in a three-dimensional way, like impasto. Texture is important for three-dimensional work, too. Take Classical Greek sculptures for example. They may have been carved out of one material, but the artists employed texture to show the difference between skin and hair. While it might be an easy element to overlook, texture is just as important as the other artistic elements.
Having a good understanding of these elements is important in developing a strong artistic vocabulary. Especially since knowing how to use them lends itself to creating impactful work. And the best thing about them is the more you practice working with them, the better you get at using them in your work.
Remember, you can subscribe for blog and newsletter updates with the form at the bottom of the page. I post blogs weekly and send newsletters out once a month!
Thanks for reading and happy creating!