Host Elizabeth Jewell explores the principles of design—balance, proportion, emphasis, contrast, pattern, repetition, movement, rhythm, and unity—using artworks at the University of Kentucky Art Museum’s collection.
Every great artist uses the elements of art and the principles of design to create their own unique works of art. The way in which artists use the principles of design affect the expressive content and message of their work.
Balance is the first principle of design. It refers to the arrangements of the elements in a work of art to create a sense of visual equilibrium or stability. Balance can be asymmetrical, symmetrical, or radial. Julian Dupre’s, In the Pasture demonstrates balance by painting the tug-of-war struggle between a peasant and a cow in the pasture.
Proportion is about the relationship and size of one object to another. In Dupre’s, In the Pasture, he paints objects relating to one another just as they would in real life. Artists use proportion to convey meaning to their audience.
Emphasis is the principle of design that is concerned with the dominant feature or center of interest of a work of art. Artists use emphasis to draw their audience into the most important part of the work of art according to the artist. For instance, one figure in a painting may be painted in great detail while the other figures in the painting are very vague. Thus, the artist has emphasized on what he wants his audience to focus.
Contrast is the design principle that emphasizes differences. Often, contrast directs the audience to a focal point in a work of art.
Pattern, repetition, movement and rhythm are often used to direct the viewer’s attention in a certain way. Patterns are created when an artist repeats an element such as color, line or shape. Repetition provides a sense of balance in a work of art by demonstrating consistency with colors or lines. Movement causes one’s eye to sweep over a work of art in a certain direction. Rhythm can make an artwork seem active.
Unity means choosing from all of the elements of art so skillfully that no single element takes over. Kentucky artist Edgar Tolson masterfully displays unity in his work of art, Temptation.
Together these principles of design enable one to appreciate and evaluate individual works of art.