Visual Elements of Art
Above are four different types of lines. The top line is known as an Irregular Line. It is irregular in
width and direction. The second line is obviously a Straight Line. The Third and Fourth examples
are curved and known as Implied Lines because they utilize space within the marks. In other words,
the line is “implied.” Our eyes join the marks together just like joining the dots in the game Dotto.
The terms Form and Shape can be used interchangeably. The top row is an example of Geometric Forms.
Notice the straight edges and angles that are used to define these shapes. I actually believe that the circle
should not be considered a geometric form since it contains neither. The second row contains organic
forms since they have curved edges and no angles. In row three, numbers three and four illustrate forms
that utilize a combination of both curved edges and angles.
CURVED LINES can be used in
combination to create organic forms.
Note how the shapes swirl and
undulate to create motion on the twodimensional surface.
STRAIGHT LINES can be placed
parallel with each other to produce the
illusion of three-dimensional forms.
Particularly note #1 and #4.
Forms can be placed together in an
organized manner to create PATTERN.
In this example, the circular forms in
the bottom rows are repeated and
overlapped as they move upward in
lines across the two-dimensional
surface. As the lines of circles begin to
overlap, the overlapping areas begin to
create new forms which then develop
a new pattern.
Pattern in Nature
Pattern is repetitive form and does not
always have to be created from exact
shapes. Notice the similarity (yet
uniqueness) of the forms and their
repeated usage on the underside of
Pattern in Nature
The Use of Pattern in
This innovative painting by Gustav
Klimt from 1906, utilizes various
patterns that make the background and
her dress blend together. This makes
her white skin contrast with the
patterns and stand out. Since the face
and hands (and sometimes shoulders)
of a person are special areas of
communication, this contrast
emphasizes those areas so that they
become focal points for our eyes.
Pattern in Arrangement
Patterns can also be created by arranging objects in repetitive designs. Notice the quadrilateral clover-shaped
forms that are created when placing the chairs around the tables. Then, the table arrangements are arranged in
a patterned grid.
Texture and Sculpture
Note the surface of this old Volkswagen Beetle, which has an added texture.
Since texture is tactile we could actually feel this if we were next to the
Volkswagen. This being the case, this would be considered “real” texture.
Texture and Painting
In this modern abstract painting, fabric
was used with thick acrylic paint to
create a “real” texture.
This portrait by Hans Holbein is a good
example of the use of painting to create
the illusion of texture. Note the fur
collar that really looks like fur, as well
as the velvet sleeves that look soft
enough to touch.
These two forms, the circle and square, show contrast in many ways. Not only
are they contrasts in lightness and darkness, but also symbolically. The circle
represents nature, and the square often represents the mind or humanity.
Positive and Negative
In this abstract composition, one can
view the white area as background,
which makes the dark areas become
positive forms, or it is possible to see
the dark area as the background, which
makes the white organic form become
the positive area. Either way, this is a
good example of contrast between light
and dark, and organic and geometric
In this image there is contrast between
the upper, solid area and the lower,
more gestural area. The upper form is
very solid and heavy, while the lower
area is light and expressive.
Symbolically, this could represent the
division between mental or physical
rigidity and emotional expressiveness.
Value or Shade
The terms Value and Shade can be used
interchangeably, and refer to the
gradations between black and white
and also in colors.
Value Scale in Color
Each color exists in its brightest or most intense state but then can be
made lighter or darker by adding white or black until it becomes white or
A good example of symmetrical Balance is the White House. Note how
the fountain and flagpole become the center line in the building, with all
aspects of the structure equal on both sides.
Symmetrical Balance in
In this painting titled “The Execution
of St. Stephen,” the focal point is St.
Stephen in the upper center area, and
he becomes the center line for the
symmetrical composition. Note the
number of people and similarity of
positions on both sides of him. Also
note how the arrows and position of the
archers’ arms guide our eyes in the
direction of the focal point.
This asymmetrical composition guides
our eyes through each shape in the
picture. This visual journey begins at
the upper-left, as if we were reading a
book, and takes us down through the
composition via the red sphere and
metallic cylinder in the center.
However, when we reach the bottom,
our view moves to the right to the
white semicircle and then is projected
upward along the wooden rod toward
the yellow sphere. Once arriving at the
yellow sphere, our eyes move back
towards the left to begin the journey
again. This is a good example of how
an artist carefully composes a picture
so that we explore all areas of the
The name for each color is called a Hue.
First, note the primary colors: red, blue
and yellow. Then, notice that the equal
mixing of two primary colors produces
the secondary colors of violet, green and
orange. Finally, when the primary and
secondary colors are mixed, they produce
the tertiary colors. Notice the lines that
are drawn across the color wheel from
one color to the other. These opposite
colors are known as complementary
colors. Colors positioned adjacent to
each other on the color wheel are known
as analogous colors. Complementary
colors, such as red & green or blue &
orange, tend to “vibrate” more when
placed next to each other. A good
example of this vibration or high energy
relationship is the use of red & green at
Christmas time to create visual
excitement. Because analogous colors
such as yellow-orange & yellow share a
common color, they are more compatible
with each other and are used to create a
more relaxed mood. Finally, notice the
diagonal line from the lower left to upper
right that separates the warm colors from
the cool colors on the wheel.
Composition Using Primary Colors
This abstract painting from 1930 by Piet Mondrian is titled “Composition II Using Red Blue and Yellow”
and is a good example of the use of primary colors in an asymmetrical composition. Many artists during
this time began exploring simpler issues of painting, such as color and composition. They discarded the
use of realistic imagery to focus on very specific areas.
Primary Colors in
Several sculptors, such as David Smith,
painted their three-dimensional works
using primary colors. This made the
sculpture look interesting, but also
fragmented the three joined forms that
you see to the right. Having multiple
colors in this sculpture makes it polychromatic.
This abstract sculpture by Anthony Caro has been painted in a
monochromatic style. Notice how the individual parts are visually joined
together by the use of one color. This is in contrast to the previous
sculpture by David Smith.
Bedroom in Arles
This painting by Vincent van Gogh in 1888 is of his own bedroom in the town of Arles in
southern France. Instead of using realistic colors, van Gogh chose the complementary
colors of blue & orange and red & green to create an image of his bedroom that is not
soothing, but rather unsettling. This was a direct expression of his troubled, emotional life.
Use of Analogous Colors
This painting of haystacks in northern France by Claude Monet exemplifies the use of
analogous or adjacent colors. Note how soothing the overall composition is. Monet chose not
to paint realistically, but rather to paint his impression of what he saw in the world. He was
one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement in Europe.
Intensity in Color
The square in the center of each of these compositions is an example of color intensity. It
is the brightest area and the richest in color. As white is added to the intense color, it
becomes lighter as the design progresses outward.
Illusion of Space
In the diagram above, imagine that the picture plane is the surface of a painting. To
create the illusion of space on that picture plane, artists utilize different techniques to
differentiate the foreground from the background. This is known as creating the
Illusion of Space.
The Alba Madonna
In order to create the illusion of space in his painting of Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist, the artist Raphael utilized several
techniques. First, notice that the baby Jesus is positioned in front of Mary’s right shoulder. This overlapping of forms
creates the illusion that there is depth on this picture plane. Then notice how the figures in the foreground are much larger
than the buildings in the background. These contrasting sizes are another tool for creating the illusion of space. Finally
note the blurred mountains to the left and behind the figures. This blurred effect re-creates the moisture in the
atmosphere and is known as atmospheric perspective. We see all of these techniques in real life every day.
Mantegna’s painting, “Lamentation over the Dead Christ,” was completed in c. 1480 and is an
excellent example of using foreshortening to create the illusion of space or depth on the picture plane.
By tilting and compressing the subject, Mantagna leads us, as viewers, to believe that there is extreme
depth in the image.
As seen in the diagram above, all parallel lines converge at a point on the horizon
line. This is the case for all the objects we see in the world, since liner perspective
is based on the way we see. See the next image for a real life reference.
Linear Perspective Example
The converging lines of the railroad tracks are the obvious examples in the
photograph above of linear perspective. In addition, notice the sides of the
buildings to the left as their top and bottom edges (lines) converge toward the
horizon. This is also the case for the fences near the railroad tracks.
This composition has been developed by simplifying, or abstracting, a realistic setting. The
figures have been replaced by ovals and shapes, the walls are now geometric forms, and our
eyes are led through the composition by the use of different values or shades of grey. As
mentioned earlier, our eyes usually view a composition beginning at the upper left, moving
toward the bottom right. In this case, the eyes are guided by the oval head-forms and are
assisted by the edges of the geometric planes. There are many visual elements working in this
composition: balance, form, value/shade, contrast, rhythm, etc.
This series of four images illustrates
the process of abstraction from realistic
to abstract. In this case, abstraction is
a process of refinement and
simplification from the realistic
photograph in the upper left to the
semi-realistic composition at the lower
right. Each stage eliminates detail and
retains important elements that
maintain the content or meaning of the
original photograph. If one were to
take the lower-right image and abstract
it further, it might become what we
refer to as totally abstract, or nonobjective. By this, it is meant that it no
longer refers to the original realistic
This extraordinary realistic sculpture
entitled “David” by Michelangelo
exemplifies large-scale sculpture since
it is greater than life-size at over
fourteen feet high. Since it is carved
from marble and gives the appearance
of great weight, it is considered to be
of great mass, or massive.
Quite opposite from Michelangelo’s
“David,” this human-size bronze
sculpture by Alberto Giacometti is
considered delicate in terms of mass,
and not massive. Because it is thin and
lanky in design, it does not convey the
feeling of heaviness like the “David.”
Each has mass, but only the “David” is
considered massive, or containing great
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