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This is a subsection of the Visual Analysis Approach to art. If you wish to view the whole presentation on the Visual Analysis Approach, return to the [Main Menu "Tree"]
The ELEMENTS OF DESIGN are like the words that an artist uses to express himself. They consist of: line, shape, color, texture, space, and mass.
LINE can be defined as a point in motion. The direction that the line takes can be used by artists to create special effects. A diagonal line, for example, can create a feeling of motion.
Gericault's Raft of the Medusa is a theatrical 19th century painting showing the rescue of Algerian immigrants set adrift on a raft. To heighten the feeling of motion and drama, Gericault uses multiple strong diagonal lines in his compostion.
The diagonal lines of the Gericault's compostion are seen in the overlay on this image.
HORIZONTAL and VERTICAL lines tend to be more stable than diagonals. The horizontal is conventionally used to give a sense of rest to a composition. The vertical can create a feeling of reaching or aspiring. If both are used extensively in a composition, a mechanical, stiff feeling is achieved.
Seurat's La Parade is dominated by strong horizontal and vertical lines. This lends a man made, almost robot-like feeling to his figures and to the painting as a whole.
This diagram of the Seurat's La Parade displays the grid of verticals and horizontals that underlies its composition.
COLOR is one of the most important elements of design for painters; it can also figure prominently in sculpture and architecture. The color wheel is a traditional way of displaying the interrelationships. This chart shows the location of COOL COLORS and WARM COLORS.
COOL COLORS are the greens, blues and blue-violets. They create cool, soothing moods and can help an artist achieve depth in his work if he places the cooler colors in the background.
This is a Renaissance painting by Masaccio called The Tribute Money. Masaccio used cool colors in the background and warm colors in the foreground to get an illusion of depth.
WARM COLORS are red violets, reds, oranges, and yellows. They can create moods of violence, passion, or excitement in a work.
In Night Cafe, Vincent Van Gogh used reds and yellows to create a violent and upsetting atmosphere. He wrote this was the kind of place "where night prowlers take refuge, where murders are committed, where one can go mad."
The COLOR WHEEL also shows the relationships among colors. Red, blue and yellow are the PRIMARY COLORS. You can make all other colors by mixing them in different combinations. Red and blue make violet; red and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green. These are the SECONDARY COLORS.
Colors opposite each other on the color wheel are called COMPLEMENTARY COLORS. If you mix them together, they neutralize each other. If you place them beside each other on a painting, however, they make each other appear more INTENSE (that is, they appear brighter or purer).
In Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear, Van Gogh used two pairs of complementary colors. Can you pick them out? Look at the diagram overlaying the painting to see what they are (next thumbnail).
This diagram of Van Gogh's Self Portrait with a Bandaged Ear points out the complementary color combinations of orange-blue and red-green.
SHAPE is a flat area with distinct borders. Shape can be used compositionally to create order.
In this diagram of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, you can see that the artist used a triangular shape to focus attention on the figure of Christ; his body is a stable anchor in an otherwise movemented scene.
Curved shapes are often associated with life forms; squared off shapes are often associated with man-made objects.
The regular, geometric shapes in Mondrian's Diamond Painting in Red, Yellow, and Blue give it a mechanical, impersonal feeling.
TEXTURE refers to actual or implied surface variations in a work of art. Actual textures are called TACTILE textures. VISUAL TEXTURE refers to an illusion of texture where none actually exists.
David Smith's sculpture, Cubi XIX, is made of stainless steel that has been brushed to give it tactile texture.
In the Arnolfini Wedding, Jan van Eyck displays visual texture in his rendering of the wire-haired dog, the wood grain of the floor boards, and the shiny smooth surface of the mirror in the background. Although all these objects appear to be different to the touch, in reality they are all created with smooth brushstrokes of oil paint; the texture is a trick!
SPACE alludes to the voids (empty places) in sculpture and architecture and to illusory depth in painting. In paintings, there are numerous techniques for creating the illusion of three dimensions. Some of them are FORESHORTENING, OVERLAPPING, ONE-POINT PERSPECTIVE (also called LINEAR PERSPECTIVE), ATMOSPHERIC PERSPECTIVE (also called AERIAL PERSPECTIVE), and SIZE REDUCTION.
FORESHORTENING is the distortion of the actual shape of an object to make it appear three-dimensional.
In Van Gogh's Night Cafe, the pool table has been transformed from a rectangular shape into a trapezoidal shape to make it seem to recede into the back of the room. In other words, the pool table has been foreshortened.
Cezanne's Still Life shows foreshortening in the glass; its top opening has been distorted from a round shape into an ellipse to make it seem three-dimensional.
OVERLAPPING refers to areas where the artist has placed lines, shapes, or forms over other lines, shapes or forms in order to make them appear closer to us. Cezanne has overlapped the wall with the shape of the glass to make the glass seem closer. He also overlaps the base of the fruitbowl with the cloth and a piece of fruit.
ONE-POINT PERSPECTIVE was a device developed in the Renaissance to create extremely convincing recession in a painting or relief sculpture. It involves angled lines meeting at a single vanishing
This diagram of Masaccio's Tribute Money enables you to see the converging lines implied in its architecture. These lines converge to a single point, thus creating one-point perspective.
ATMOSPHERIC PERSPECTIVE is a technique
for showing depth in a painting by blurring background forms, reducing value contrasts, and using warm colors in the foreground and cool colors in the background.
Masaccio's Tribute Money has all of the aspects of atmospheric perspective. Especially effective is the hazy, blurred quality of the distant mountains.
SIZE REDUCTION is used by a painter when he or she makes objects appear distant by reducing their size in comparison with objects in the foreground.
Perugino's Marriage of the Virgin demonstrates size reduction in the height of his figures. Those in the foreground are quite large; those in the background are miniscule by comparison.
MASS is a three-dimensional area. It refers to the solid bulk of an object. The sculptures below possess mass. They differ, however, in that one is an OPEN FORM and the other is a CLOSED FORM.
Giacometti's Man Pointing reaches out into space. It is interacting with its spatial environment and thus is described as an open form.
The Egyptian sculpture of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, in contrast, is compact; nothing extends outward from its blocky, cubical mass. It is a closed form.
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