The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

Vocabulary of Art Terms

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The Elements of Art

  • Form
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Space
  • Texture
  • Value

The Principles of Design

  • Balance
  • Contrast
  • Emphasis
  • Proportion
  • Pattern
  • Rhythm
  • Unity
  • Variety


The Art Terms

Asymmetrical: A balance achieved through the use of unequal parts or elements. (For example: imagine a beach ball by the side of a stick and two baseballs on the other side balancing out the picture.)

Balance: A principle of art and design concerned with the arrangement of one or more elements in a work of art so that they appear symmetrical (identical compositional units on either side of an axis) or asymmetrical (not identical) in design and proportion.

Color: Element of art derived from reflected light. The sensation of color is aroused in the brain by response of the eyes to different wavelengths of light. Color has three properties: hue, value, and intensity.

Composition: The arrangement of forms in a work of art.

Content: A work of art is usually discussed in terms of its subject matter, form and content. Content refers to the intellectual, psychological, spiritual, narrative or aesthetic aspect of the work.

Contour drawing: An outline that shows only the edge and not the volume or mass of an object. Sometimes called blind contour if the artists in not looking at their paper, only at their subject.

Contrast: Use of opposites near or beside one another (light and dark, rough and smooth).

Cool colors: mostly green, blue, violet (purple).

Dominance: The difference in importance of one aspect in relation to all other aspects of design. What stands out most in a work of art.

Emphasis: Principle of design concerned that stresses one element or area in a work of art to make it attract the viewer’s attention first.

Exaggeration: Increasing or enlarging an object or figure or one of its parts to communicate ideas and feelings.

Federal Arts Project: Government program established during the Depression to create jobs for American artists.

Focal point: The center of interest of an artwork; the part you look at first.

Form: An artist uses form as a vehicle for rendering a particular type of subject matter. The formal elements of a work consist of the groupings and combinations of shapes.

Gouache: Pigments ground in water and mixed with gum to form opaque watercolor. Gouache resembles school tempera paint or poster paint.

Hue: The name of a color – red blue, yellow, etc.

Intensity: Brightness of a color.

Line: An identifiable path of a point moving in space. It can vary in width, direction, and length. Horizontal lines tend to create a sense of calm in a picture. Vertical lines tend to create a feeling of stability. Diagonal lines tend to create a feeling of dynamic movement.

Medium: The specific material used by an artist, such as oil and brush; also, the vehicle used, such as sculpture, painting or photography.

Motif: Unit repeated in visual rhythm. Units in a motif may or may not be an exact duplicate of the first unit.

Pattern: Two-dimensional decorative visual repetition. A pattern has no movement and may or may not have rhythm.

Pictorial space: The illusion of space, whether three- or two-dimensional, created by an artist on the two-dimensional surface of the canvas or paper.

Proportion: Principle of design concerned with the size relationships of one part to the whole and one part to another.

Rhythm: Principal of design that repeats elements to create the illusion of movement. Visual rhythm is perceived through the eyes, and is created by repeating positive spaces separated by negative spaces. Alternating rhythm is when the visual rhythm set up by repeating motifs but changing position or content of motifs or spaces between them. Flowing rhythm is created by repetition of wavy lines. Progressive rhythm is a visual rhythm that changes a motif each time it is repeated. Random rhythm is a repetition in no apparent order with no regular spaces. Regular rhythm is achieved through repeating identical motifs using the same intervals of space between them.

Screen print: Printing technique that makes use of a squeegee to force ink directly onto a piece of paper or canvas through a stencil containing the image. (The process is also called silk-screen or serigraphy.)

Shade: The dark values of a color (adding black).

Shape: Geometric shapes look as though they were made with a straight edge or drawing tool; square, circle, triangle and oval. Organic shapes are also called free form. These shapes are not regular or even. Their edges are curved and angular or a combination of both.

Space: (or negative space): is the element of sculpture, which refers to emptiness or areas between, around, above, below or within objects.

Subject matter: The topic of interest or the primary theme of an artwork.

Texture: refers to the way things feel or look as though they might feel if they were touched.

Tint: light values of a color (adding white)

Unity: The arrangement of one or more of the elements used to create a feeling of completeness. Everything in the work seems to belong and contribute to the overall picture.

Value: Light or dark; the variations of light and dark on the surface of an object. The lightness or darkness of a color.

Variety: Principle of design concerned with difference or contrast.

Warm colors: red, orange, yellow.