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Art Vocabulary

Vocabulary of Art - Elements Handout

The Vocabulary of Art
"The Visual Elements"

The major groupings are:

Line, shape and mass, light-value-color, texture, space, and time & motion

I. Line = A line is a path left by a moving point


What are the functions of line?

1. to outline a shape - like Kelly's Apples

2. to create movement and emphasis - like Cezanne's trees that create and hold eye movement within the Bather painting.

3. to develop pattern and texture - Steinberg's Hen

4. to shade and model using hatching, crosshatching and stippling.


What are types of lines?

1. actual line - is a visible mark made by a pencil or paint or any other medium.

2. psychic line - is where there is no real line yet we feel a line.

a. eyes looking in a direction

b. a hand pointing in a direction


NOTE: our text calls this an implied line - it is really a psychic line.

3. lines formed by edges - the edge of a solid object reads as a line.

4. Implied Line - a series of dots or broken line can read as a line.


What are the characteristics of line/direction and quality?

1. line direction

a. horizontal lines seem placid

b. vertical lines give stability and upward thrust.

c.  diagonal lines imply action

2. line quality influences the overall emotional impact of the art work - they can be thick, thin, straight, curved or angular - these are the emotional qualities of the line itself.


II. Shape and Mass

Shape is a two dimensional area with identifiable boundaries.
Mass is a three-dimensional solid with identifiable boundaries.
Volume may be synonymous with mass except that volume can also refer to a void as in an empty enclosed space.


What are the two broad categories of both shape and mass?

1. Geometric shapes - mechanically drawn lines, squares, rectangles, circles, - Mondrian's composition of Red, Yellow and Blue.

2. Organic shapes - are shapes based on forms of nature, which are usually rounded, irregular and curving - Perez's Los Marielitos.


III. Light, Value and Color

1. Light - artists use natural light in architecture and sculpture to create shadow patterns over the course of the day to create dramatic effects. Painters use these same shadow patterns to also create a dramatic focal point in their paintings as seen in Thomas Eakin's "The Concert Singer".

2. Value - is the lightness or darkness of a color

a. High Key is when the predominant values are light.

b. low key is when the predominant values are dark.

3. Color - is a function of light
Color affects us both psychologically and physiologically in our response to it.


What responses do you get from color?

a. cool colors recede in space.

b. hot colors come forward in space.

c. cool colors are calm.

d. hot colors evoke active emotions.

1. Color Theory

a. light travels in a straight line

b. refracted light produces different colors.

1. white light goes into a prism

2. the spectrum of light waves are bent into the different colors.

c.  What we perceive as a color is reflected light.
example - if light strikes a blue surface, that surface absorbs all the light except the blue spectrum and reflects the blue back to the eye.

d. What are the properties of the color wheel?

1. Primary colors

a. Red

b. Yellow

c. Blue

2. Secondary Colors

a. Orange

b. Green

c. Violet

3. Tertiary Colors

a. Red-violet

b. Red-orange

c. Yellow-orange

d. Yellow-green

e. Blue-green

f. Blue-violet

4. Complementary Colors
Those directly opposite to one another on the color wheel - those colors compliment or work well together.

Be sure you can draw and label a color wheel!

2. Color Properties are hue, value and intensity

1. Hue is the name of the color

a. red

b. yellow

c. blue

2. Value is the lightness or darkness of the normal color.

3. Intensity is the purity of the color, you can only lower intensity, to do so you add black, gray, or the complementary color.

1. Color Harmonies - or color scheme is the use of two or more colors in a single composition.


What are the types of color harmonies?

1. Monochromatic - all the same hues or colors, though the value and intensity can be different

2. Complementary Harmonies - hues of directly opposite values on the color wheel are used, i.e.: Red and Green.

3. Analogous Harmonies - color adjacent to one another on the color wheel are used, red and red-orange.

4. Triadic Harmonies - the use of three colors equidistant on the color wheel.

2. Optical Effects of Color

1. Simultaneous Contrast - if you place two complementary colors next to each other both of them will seem more brilliant, i.e.: red seems redder and green seems greener.

2. After Image - a particular phenomenon of complementary colors where after staring at a color for a minute or so, the glancing away at a white piece of paper the same image will appear in the complementary as a ghost image, i.e.: the American flag.

3. Pointillism - optical color mixture - is when patches or dots of color are placed together, the eye will blend them to produce a new color, i.e.: Georges Seurat's study of El Chahut.

4. Emotional Qualities - color effects emotions and conveys symbolism

A. green-envy.

B. blue-sadness.

C. red-anger.

D. yellow-cowardice.

E. warm colors are active and happy - red, orange.

F. cool colors are passive - blue and green.

IV. Texture refers to surface quality.

What are the two types of texture - Actual and Visual.

1. Actual refers to tactile or sense of touch

a. Impasto technique of thick point, i.e.: Van Gogh's Starry Night.

2. Visual texture - refers to an illusion of texture.


V. The two types of space are three dimensional and two dimensional. 

1. three dimensional space - is the actual space an object takes up, our body, a house, a can or a sculpture. An example is the Frank Lloyd Wright, Guggenheim Museum.

2. two dimensional space - refers to the space in a painting, drawing, print or other type of flat art.

What are the six elements used in two dimensional space?

1. spatial organization.

2. illusion of depth.

3. linear perspective.

4. isometric perspective.

5. atmospheric perspective.

6. foreshortening. 

VI. Spatial Organization - refers to how we place forms in the picture to keep unity and balance in the composition, i.e.: Degas' Dancers at the Barre.

Illusion of Depth - the illusion of three dimensional space in the picture plane - the two ways are overlapping and positioning.

a. Overlapping is to place one figure over the other and stacking them in space, i.e.: Marie Laurencin's Group of Artists.

b. Position - is that pictorial figures meant to be further away are placed higher in the composition, i.e.: the closet in the foreground and the farthest higher in the composition.

c. Linear Perspective - the most realistic, a science of vision created in the 15th century in Italy. 

d. forms that are far away from the viewer seem smaller.

e. parallel lines recede into the distance and converge or meet at a vanishing point, i.e.: Da Vinci's Last Supper.

1. one point perspective

2. two point perspective 

d. Isometric Perspective - Where distant forms are made smaller and placed higher on the picture plane and parallel line stay parallel, i.e.: Kumano Mandala's Japan "ideal city".

e. Atmospheric Perspective - this means that forms meant to be farther away in the distance are blurred, become indistinct and misty.

f. Foreshortening - that proportions are either shortened or lengthened to create an unusual angle of vision to increase the illusion of depth, i.e.: Mantega's Death of Christ. 

VII. Time and Motion

Two dimensional art freezes time, i.e.: Suzanne Valados Reclining Figure.

Three dimensional art, demands that you can walk around it and see 360' of different imagery - i.e.: El Corbusier, Notre Dame du Haut, the Illusion of Motion is represented in OP Art or other works that repeat a figure to show motion, i.e.: Giacomo Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash.

Note: This file was submitted by a Getty TeacherArtExchange Member.