Elements and Principles of Art

Principles of art provide a guideline or framework for interpreting it. What constitutes art?

LibreTexts is an open-source access to academic texts. The UC Davis Library teamed with LibreTexts to provide a structure for comprehending art in accordance to element and principle, and we will be referencing the material for this lesson!

At the end of this article, you will have access to an activity to put your newfound knowledge to test!


Visual art consists of two main building blocks: elements and principles. 

Teacher Pointing to a Chalk Board

Art Elements

To be considered art, a work must have one of these 8 elements.











Color Palette

Our eyes perceive light that bounces from objects. White light is sunlight that includes all colors of the rainbow. Light is made of electromagnetic waves, and color perception depends on how light is reflected as well as eye conditions that may influence light recipience such as color vision deficiency or color blindness. 

The color wheel was created to depict how color is organized as well as how different colors interact with one another. The center of a traditional color wheel includes the primary colors -- red, yellow, and blue. 

The second layer consists of secondary colors -- colors that the primary colors mixed together make. Purple is made from blue and red, orange from yellow and red, and green from yellow and blue. 

On the outer layer is the tertiary colors. This is a mix of primary color with secondary color. This includes colors like red-orange, blue-violet, and yellow-green.

Colors are characterized by hue, value, and saturation. Hues are pretty much a fancier term for "color" and would classify all the bold colors listed.


Color Value Cubes

When you add blackness or whiteness to a color, this changes the original color and also its value. Creating a darker or lighter color using black and white creates more variation in hue, giving for more shading or highlighting in art.


A color is at its purest or most authentic state when it is fully saturated. Saturation in a color is its intensity. Saturation decreases when blackness or whiteness is added, leading to a loss of intensity.


A piece of art is given shape through form. This includes the constraints of a basic line, or the edge of an ice sculpture. You have 2-Dimensional, 3-Dimensional, and Free-Flowing Forms. Form is an expression of art that includes all 8 elements.

Form Sphere


A line can be a dot or a series of dots. Dots form lines that vary in color, shape, and thickness. Unless a line is given volume or mass, it is two-dimensional. Line work brings life and image to art as it is multiplied.

3-D Line Figure


shape in artwork has different meanings. It is usually some boundary or outline and can be either 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional. Knows shaped are geometric. Organic shapes are free form. In most artwork, shape and space go together.



When art consists of a focal point, space is both the positive and negative / shallow and deep / open and closed area around it. It is behind, over, inside, and next to. Space around an object gives it shape.


Texture can be rough or smooth. It imitates physical sensation. It is how the eye perceives an image with its variations and interprets the way it would feels. Adding texture to art creates an ability to depict materials like wood, brick, wool, hay, and water. 

Potted Cactus Plant Illustration


 Art Principles


Balance in artwork is the distribution of weight, or the perceived weight, of the piece -- the objects, colors, texture, and space. It is an arrangement of elements that create scale and harmony between one another. There are three types of balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. 

Stack of Books


The difference in colors to create a piece of visual art is known as contrast. For Black and white are prominent contrasts and bring energy to a piece of art, or it can ruin the art with too much contrast. Contrast can also be subtle and monochromatic, giving variety and unity to art.

Clown Contrast Image


Emphasis can be color, unity, balance, or any other principle or element of art used to create a focal point. Artists use emphasis like placing a string of gold in a field of dark purple. The color contrast between the gold and dark purple causes the gold lettering to pop out, becoming the focal point.

Emphasis in Explosive Art Bubble

Rhythm / Movement

Rhythm denotes repetition used to demonstrate movement or expansion. For example, a painting of waves crashing. The use of bold and directional brushwork will provides movement in visual art. 

Ocean Island Painting at Night

Proportion / Scale

Proportion is the relationship between items in a painting, for example, between the sky and mountains. If the sky is more than two-thirds of the painting, it looks out of proportion. The scale in art is similar to proportion, and if something is not to scale, it can look odd. If there is a person in the picture and their hands are too large for their body, then it will look out of scale. However, some art applies exaggeration on purpose.

Unity / Variety

In art, unity conveys a sense of completeness -- pleasure when viewing the art, and sense of cohesiveness about it. How the patterns work together brings unity to art. The opposite of unity is variety which provokes changes and awareness in the art. Colors can provide unity when they are in the same color groups, and a splash of red can provide variety.


Pattern is the way something is organized or repeated in shape and form. It can flow without much structure. Patterns might branch out similar to flowers on a plant or form spirals and circles as a group of soap bubbles or seem irregular in the cracked, dry mud. All works of art have some sort of pattern even though it may be hard to discern; the pattern will form by the colors, the illustrations, the shape, or numerous other art methods.

Pattern Textile

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Quiz Clipart


What Are the Elements of Art and the Principles of Art? (2021, March 9). Retrieved August 9, 2021, from https://human.libretexts.org/@go/page/46130

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