Learning about the visual arts involves considering why something is made (idea, communicative
objective, function, social, cultural and / or historical context), how it is made (materials, techniques,
structure) and how the formal elements (visual or aural components) and basic principles
(arrangements) have been used in combination to achieve a particular effect or outcome.

Visual Art is produced through the production of two- and three-dimensional forms composed of an
arrangement of any of the seven formal elements of art considered in relation to a set of basic

The formal elements of art and design are:
    Line
    Shape
    Form
    Space
    Texture
    Colour
    Tone / value
    Light
    Symmetry and asymmetry

This is the “vocabulary” of art. Art works are created through the use and interactions of two or more
elements, and each of these elements can be used and explored in a multitude of ways. Art lessons
should focus on examining, considering, and / or using one or two of these elements and lead to
students having greater understanding of the variety of ways in which these formal elements can be
visualised, executed and combined to achieve desired effects. This is done through analysis and
response to the works of others, and through the processes of students designing and making their
own art works.

When using the formal elements, consideration is also given to size, position, and relationships of the
formal elements through the basic principles of art. This refers to the ways in which the elements are
arranged or organised to create specific effects and communicate feelings and ideas visually.

The basic principles of art and design are:
    Balance - symmetrical, radial and asymmetrical balance.
    Proportion
    Scale
    Unity (similarities and repetition) and variety (differences) in form and positioning of the formal
    Movement
    Composition
    Emphasis
    Contrast
    Pattern
    Rhythm
    Focal point

Moira Simpson, March 2008
These are considerations that determine the way in which the formal elements are used and arranged
to make a composition or object.

In teaching art and design, we ask students to explore the use of the formal elements and basic
principles by gathering and using information through analysis and response to the work of others,
by identifying and exploring sources in the environment (natural and built), and through arts
practice in which students use and arrange the formal elements and basic principles to create their
own art works.

Works of visual art may be representational (the image or object is made to look much as it does in
reality), non-representational (does not depict a recognizable object or image drawn from the real
world) or abstract (the image or object is altered, distorted, and rendered to reflect the artist’s
interpretation of the world).

The ways in which art works are created by the artist and perceived by the viewer are influenced by
the social, cultural, and historical context in which an art work was made and the social, cultural,
and historical context in which it is viewed. The context reflects variations in aesthetics (taste,
symbolic associations of the formal elements) and function.

Some useful web resources:

‘Formal Visual Analysis: The Elements & Principles of Composition’
By Jeremy Glatstein.
A short introduction to the elements and principles used in Arts and Design.
Accessed 12th March 2009.

‘ArtSpeak 101’
I recommend that you look at this really good website to learn more about the elements of design as
used in visual arts.
It provides definitions of the elements and principles of art .
It provides examples of art works with the key element identified.
If you would like to read some examples of analytical writing about visual art works, you will find
examples of writing at beginner, intermediate and more advanced levels.
Accessed 12th March 2009.

Moira Simpson, March 2008

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