A work of art is the product of the dynamic interrelationships between the various art elements and principles as they are utilized by the artist. As you engage yourself with a work of art, ask yourself why do you think the artist made such choices? By using concrete elements and principles to make ourselves look more closely at works of art, we may further understand the artist’s intended vision and will notice how the artwork often reflects the time and place from which it came.
Line ― Do you see any outlines which define objects, shapes, or forms? Are lines used to emphasize a direction (vertical, horizontal, diagonal)? Describe the important lines: are they straight or curved, short or long, thick or thin? How do you think the artist utilized to emphasize certain objects, forms, or people? Are any invisible lines implied? For example, is a hand pointing, is the path of a figure’s gaze creating a psychological line, or is linear perspective utilized?
Light ― For a two-dimensional object, is a source of light depicted or implied? Is it a natural light source or artificial? Are the shadows created by the light true to life or does the artist distort them? How does the artist depict shadows? Through line or color? If a three-dimensional object, how does the object interact with the light in its setting? How do gradations of shadows and highlights create form or depth, emphasis or order in the composition?
Color ― Which colors are dominantly used in this depiction? If the object is black and white, or shades of gray, did the artist choose to do this because of the media he was working or did it create a certain mood or effect? Color can described by its hue and value (shades to tints). Does the artist’s choice of color create a certain mood? Does the artist make use of complementary colors (red/green, violet/yellow, blue/orange)? Or analogous colors (those next to one another on the color wheel)? Does the artist utilize colors which are warm or cool? Where? Is atmospheric perspective utilized (in which blurred and cool colors appear to recede and create an impression of depth in the distance, while warm and clear colors fill the foreground)?
Texture ― What is the actual texture on the surface of the object? Is it rough or smooth? If a painting, is there impasto? What is the implied texture? Are patterns created through the use of texture?
Shape ― What shapes do you see? Are the objects in the work (for a painting or drawing) or are the objects themselves (for a sculpture or architectural work) flat or volumetric? Organic or geometric? For representations of people, how does shape lend character to a figure? Are these figures proud or timid, strong or weak, beautiful or grotesque? What is the size of all the forms and how do they relate proportionally to one another? Are they located in the foreground, middle ground or background? Why do you think the artist placed them there?
Space ― How does the form created by shape and line fill the space of the composition? Is there negative, or empty, space without objects? How does the artist create depth in the image (layering of figures/objects, linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, foreshortening of figures)? If the object is three-dimensional, how does it fill our space? Is it closed or open? If a two-dimensional object, is the space flat or does it visually project into our space?
Consider how the artist utilized the Elements of Art to produce these design principles.
Scale and Proportion – What is the size of the work itself? How does that size relate to the size of the human interacting with the work? Within the artwork, are all the objects and figures the same size? If not, why? Is the scale of any aspect of the work distorted? Are the proportions of the figures accurate? Is hierarchical scale used? How is the composition proportioned?
Balance ― Balance is produced by the visual weight of shapes and forms within a composition. Balance can be symmetrical, in which each side of central line is the same, asymmetrical, or radial. When describing balance, discuss how opposites are utilized or related (light/shadow, straight/curved lines, complementary colors)?
Rhythm ― Rhythm is created by repetition. What repeated elements do you see? Does the repetition create a subtle pattern, a decorative ornamentation? Or does is create an intensity, a tension? Does the rhythm unify the work or does it seem a group of disparate parts?
Emphasis ― The emphasis of a work refers to a focal point in the image or object. What is your eye drawn to? Does the artist create tension or interest by creating more than one area or interest? Or is the work of art afocal ― that is, the viewer cannot find a particular place to rest the eye. Is there even a psychological focus created through the elements of art?
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