The Elements of Art

Michelangelo is quoted as saying, "A man paints with his brains and not with his hands." 

This quote really sums it up.  You MUST have knowledge in order to create good artwork.  It is not just skill.  You must also have some sense of understanding the basic concepts or fundamentals of art making in order to become a great artist.

Understanding the elements of art and how to use them is the first step to producing quality art. 

Artists learn to exploit the elements of art in their works, using them to make important decisions during the creation process. 

Quality art is never an accident.  Instead, it is the result of intelligent decisions executed with skill.


Art Basics

It all starts with the Elements and Principles of art.  I like to explain to my students how the Elements and Principles of art work through the illustration of cooking.  (I even speak like I am Julia Childs when I am explaining this concept to them. ) 

The Elements of Art

Difference Between The Elements and Principles of Art

It's easy to get confused when discussing the elements and principles of art and group them all together as one big group of abstract terms.  It's much easier to understand when you compare them to cooking.

When you are cooking something, you have a list of ingredients that are organized by the recipe.  The elements of art are like the ingredients.   If you are a good cook, then you care about quality ingredients. The same is true if you are a good artist.  You care about the quality of elements that you chose to put in your artwork. 

The lines, shapes, forms, values, colors, textures, and spaces that are implored must all work to make your artwork great.  The elements must be used as quality ingredients in an artwork. (Links to specific art elements are listed further down the page)

So you must spend some time exploring them, understanding them, and learning how to use them together effectively. The same is true of cooking - you cannot just throw a list of great ingredients together and expect to create a great dish.  You must follow the recipe. 

The recipe is the principles of art.  The principles of art are an organized way that the elements of art are arranged in a work of art. 

The elements can be arranged in a work to produce balance, harmony, unity, rhythm, proportion, variety, emphasis, and movement.  So the principles of art are dependent on the elements.  No elements - no principles.  No ingredients - no recipe.

So you must explore the principles as well.  Creating good artwork is not just skill.  It is definitely not luck or trial and error.  It is knowledge. 

More on The Elements of Art

The elements of art are the basic components of art-marking. It is impossible to create a work of art without using at least one of the seven elements of art. In order to be successful in art creation, an artist must be able to intelligently use the elements of art. Artwork can also be analyzed according to the use of the elements in a work of art. When an artwork is analyzed in this manner, it is considered a Formalist approach to art criticism.

Click on the links below for detailed pages that explore each of the seven elements of art... 


New Interactive Color Wheel

More on The Principles of Art

The principles of art generally deal with the way the elements of art are composed within the work of art. So, the principles of art typically deal with composition. The principles tend to be more fluid than the elements meaning that opinions vary on what the principles really are.   I suggest that there are eight concrete principles of art, and few others that would be considered art fundamentals.  The eight principles of art are balance, proportion, unity, harmony, variety, emphasis, rhythm,  and movement.  All of these principles clearly deal with the placement of elements within artwork.

Other Fundamentals of Art

Of course, there are other art fundamentals other than the elements and principles that every artist should understand and implement. These include, but are not limited to composition, contrast, dominance, content implementation, aesthetics, art criticism, and symbolism.

Composition - The way visual elements are positioned in a work of art.  Composition is highly dependent on the use of the principles of art.

Contrast- refers to difference between elements or subjects within a work of art.  Contrast can be created through variety within the elements of art. (i.e. value, color, texture)  Contrast can used to create a focal point or area of interest in an artwork.

Dominance - refers to one area of a work of art that is visually heavier demanding more attention.  Dominance is closely related to emphasis.

Content- refers to the message or meaning within an artwork.

Aesthetics - refers to the artwork's visual attraction or beauty.

Art Criticism - An organized approach to evaluating artwork.

Symbolism - Using visual objects or arrangements to represent an alternate meaning.

The elements of art are the basic building blocks for creating art. They are the foundation in which all great works are built. Great artists masterfully use the elements in their work consistently and deliberately.  This mini course looks at each element.  (7 Modules) (For Members)

Lesson Plans for ArtThe Ultimate Lesson Plan
“The Ultimate Lesson Plan” is a complete classroom solution for art teachers that includes lesson plans, videos, handouts, quizzes and more. (Members Only)  Become a Member

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Hi, I'm Matt.  I'm fortunate to share my passion with people like you.  Learn more about me here.  By