Line, color, figure, form, value, space, and texture are the seven basic elements of art.
In any discipline, it’s important to have a solid foundation from which to grow. In the case of the visual arts, it is essential to know the elements of art. These creative elements are essential, and understanding their functions is important for artists and art lovers alike. When you have a good understanding of the elements of art, it is easier to analyze, decipher, and create any type of artwork, from paintings and photographs to sculptures and architectural pieces.
In fact, many of these elements are taught in childhood as part of basic art education. But while the concepts may seem simple, once mastered they can expand and grow in all directions, regardless of the style of art being created or appreciated. The elements of art are concrete visual components that work in conjunction with the artistic principles that organize and harmonize them.
Line, color, shape, form, value, space, and texture are the seven basic elements of art, and they often overlap and influence each other. Whether it is drawing, painting, sculpting, or designing, all of these components of art must be taken into consideration. Once you know these seven visual elements, it will be even easier for you to create your own works of art.
That said, art supplies aren’t just useful to artists. Any art lover will be able to appreciate and find greater meaning in a work by learning more about these basic visual components.
What are the seven elements of art?
These marks span a distance between two points and can be straight or curved. In the visual arts, lines go beyond marks and outlines: they can also be implied or abstract. Whether they are two-dimensional or three-dimensional, there is no denying that lines have a great impact on the rest of the elements of art. They can be used to create shapes and figures, as well as to give a sense of depth and structure. Lines are the foundation of drawing and are a powerful tool on their own. The use of different types of lines—continuous, broken, vertical, jagged, horizontal—dramatically changes the psychology of a work of art and has a great impact on the viewer.
By working with hue, value, and saturation—three basic components of color—artists can express a wide range of emotions. There is nothing that changes the emotional impact of a work of art more than color. Masters like Van Gogh, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec manipulated color in their paintings to elicit different feelings. Color can be used symbolically or to create a pattern. It can be selected to create contrasts or to convey a specific mood.
Having a good foundation in color theory can help an artist better utilize the hues available to them. In this sense, the modern color wheel is a wonderful tool. It is designed to explain how color is organized and how colors interact with each other. In general, in the center of the color wheel are the three primary colors and in the outer circle, the secondary colors; that is, the mixture of two primary colors. On the outside of the circle are the tertiary colors, the mixture of primary colors with an adjacent secondary color.
The product of closed lines, the figures are two-dimensional, flat, and have only height and width. Geometric figures, such as circles and squares, are mathematical and precise, while organic figures are inspired by nature and tend to be curved and abstract. Henri Matisse’s collages make great use of organic figures, while Piet Mondrian is known for his masterful use of geometric figures in his paintings. Shapes can be used to control how we perceive a composition. For example, triangles can help draw the eye to a specific point, while circles represent continuity.
When a figure takes depth and becomes three-dimensional, then it acquires shape. Cylinders, pyramids and spheres are some of the most common shapes, although they can also be amorphous. In sculpture, form is the most important thing, although it can easily be introduced in drawing and painting using 3D art techniques. Baroque sculptor Bernini was a master of form, carving his sculptures so they could be enjoyed from any perspective. Form is also an important element in architecture: many acclaimed architects such as Frank Lloyd-Wright, Zaha Hadid and Tadao Ando take this element seriously into their designs.
Related to color, value is the lightness and darkness of a color. The lightest value is white and the darkest is black, and the difference between them is defined as contrast. Playing with value can not only change certain forms, but also influence the character of the work. Value is so important that the Italians created a term—chiaroscuro—that refers specifically to the use of light and shadow in a work of art. The Baroque painter Caravaggio was a master in the use of chiaroscuro in his oil paintings. Photographer Ansel Adams is another artist who expertly used courage to create interesting compositions in his landscape photography.
This element of art can be manipulated based on how the artist places lines, shapes, shapes, and color. The placement of these other elements creates the space. The space can be positive or negative. Positive space is an area occupied by an object or shape, while negative space is an area that extends between, through, around, or within objects. Artists often think about the foreground, background, and background of their artwork, purposely placing shapes and lines throughout the space to achieve the perfect composition. The sense of depth in two-dimensional works is often achieved through perspective, which in turn can be based on lines or colors.
Texture is an element of art that also plays with our sense of touch. It is defined as a description of the way something feels or could feel. Sometimes it is a real texture that can be felt, as in the case of Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, who creates art installations using synthetic hair. Other times, the texture is an implied visual texture that is two-dimensional. Soft, rough, hard, squishy, fuzzy, fluffy, and rough are some of the different textures that evoke different responses.
For example, an artist looking for a hyper-realistic result will want their clouds to look fluffy, while another looking to subvert convention might play with texture to create a surreal experience for the viewer. The 19th-century sculptor Antonio Canova was a master of this, as his portrait of Napoleon’s sister demonstrates: the woman rests on a cushion that appears so soft it’s hard to believe it’s marble.