What are the Elements and Principles of Art?

The elements of art and principles of design are the fundamental pieces that make up an artwork. Most works of art will make use of many or all of the elements and principles of art. We often judge art by how effectively the artist used these design fundamentals even before we learn about them.

The elements of art are the building blocks of an artwork: color, line, shape, form, value, texture, and space. They are the tools artists use when creating an artwork.

The principles of design are how those building blocks are arranged: contrast, rhythm, proportion, balance, unity, emphasis, movement, and variety. They are the ways an artist can organize the elements of art to create a wide range of effects.

Each of these art fundamentals are closely related and many of them overlap. When combined, they produce a complete artistic vision.

Why are the Elements and Principles of Art Important?

elements of art examples
Knowing the elements and principles of art boosts visual literacy. Artists and creators make more powerful works when they utilize the principles of art. When viewers are familiar with the elements of art, they become more aware of the details and can better appreciate what they see and the message behind it.

Connecting with art makes us more empathetic and strengthens the fabric of society. In the age of the internet, understanding how and why advertisers make design decisions can empower students with information and make them less susceptible to manipulation.

Teaching the Elements and Principles of Art

The Art Curator for Kids - Why I Hate the Elements and Principles But Teach Them Anyway
I once said that I hate the elements and principles of art, but that’s not quite accurate. The elements and principles of art are a lens through which to view and understand art, but they are not what makes art education vital. Art inspires higher level thinking, focus, a growth mindset, visual literacy, curiosity, respect, and connection.

The elements and principles of design are an artist’s toolbox. Knowing the tools not only improves students’ studio art skills and gives them deeper appreciation when viewing artworks, it helps make them better, more informed citizens and prepares them for a visually complex and culturally interconnected modern world in need of creative problem solvers.

Below you’ll find an explanation of each of the elements and principles of art, including artwork examples and links to helpful materials for teaching the individual concepts.