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What are the 7 Elements of Art? (Art Grammar, Part 1 of 3) – Podcast #24

As part of our series on How to Teach Art using the Classical Model of Education, we’re diving into the grammar of art! Today, Deanna and Julie discuss the 7 Elements of Art and how to use them in your classroom.

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Art and the Classical Model

Here’s all the links to this full series on using the Classical Model of Eduction to teach art:

Things We Mention

Episode #24 Highlights / Outline

As a homeschooling parent, using the classical model of education, I’ve trained myself to look for the “grammar,” or ground-level information of every subject. In the visual arts, there are a few areas of grammar that students should learn. If you pick up any serious art instruction book, you’ll see the vocabulary from these sprinkled throughout. Interestingly, you’ll also see these same concepts in many state and national visual arts standards. Teaching your students these basic concepts will help them become better artists and help them reap all the benefits of art and creativity in their education.

I’m excited to elaborate on each of the components of art grammar, so this will be the first in a series of podcasts and blog posts about the grammar of visual art! Today, we will define and discuss the 7 Elements of Art. In our next episode, we’ll discuss the Principles of Design.

The 7 Elements of Art

The pictured 7 Elements of Art poster above is included in a few of my newer lesson plans, but is also available for purchase in my store for $3.99. Our email subscribers received a free copy of it recently, so if you like free stuff, be sure you’re signed up for our email updates and that they aren’t going to your spam folder!

We Use the 7 Elements to Create Art.

Each of the elements work together like different tools, so it can sometimes feel a little artificial to break them apart. However, breaking art down to the 7 elements can help budding artists learn each one in a manageable chunk. It’s great to talk about the applicable elements of art in any art lesson you’re teaching. As students become familiar with these words, they’ll have a vocabulary that allows them to learn faster and express themselves with more ease.

We’ve mentioned many times how drawing is more about seeing than what your hands are doing. The 7 Elements of Art could also be thought of as the 7 things we’re looking for when we’re observing like an artist.

As we look at the 7 elements, I like to think of the first four elements together as a group: Line, Shape, Form, and Space. Let’s define each of these:

Line: the path created when a dot moves from one point to another

  • Lines can be thick or thin, horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. They can be solid or broken and curved, straight, or angled.
  • If there’s more than one line, they can be parallel, perpendicular, or oblique.
  • A line is defined strictly in math, but a little looser in art.

Shape: the enclosed space that occurs when a line connects to itself or another line

  • Lines create shapes.
  • There are geometric shapes like circles, squares and triangles. There are also irregular / organic shapes that we might call blobs, splatters and streaks.
  • We use mostly organic shapes when drawing nature and geometric shapes when drawing man-made subjects.
  • When drawing with new artists, start with shapes they know, then build more complex shapes from the basic shapes.
    • Keep in mind that many preschoolers, are just learning to draw the most basic shapes like circles, squares, and triangles. Have patience and remind your students to have patience with themselves.
  • We talk about Line and Shape in the Drawing Basic Shapes with American Landmarks Lesson Plan and Lines and Shapes in Prehistoric Art Lesson Plan.

example of FormForm: the three-dimensions of an object that take up space

  • Form is three-dimensional. So, only three-dimensional art, (like sculptures, paper mache, fiber arts…) has actual Form. However, two-dimensional art often has the appearance or illusion of Form.
    • The artist creates this illusion by using one or more of the methods of perspective in the Space of the art work. (see the element “Space” for more details about the methods of perspective.)
  • Some people are very precise about “Form” being three dimensional and other people will refer to the illusion of form as “Form.”
  • We get to practice with true three-dimensional Form in the Creating Relief Sculptures with Ghiberti Lesson Plan and the Sculpting Like Michelangelo Lesson Plan.

Space: the area around and within the subject.

  • How we use the Space of a work of art will have a big impact on the work. The artist has many ways to use the space:
    • Fill the paper, or leave a lot of white space (blank space)
    • Draw off the edge of the paper, or leave a border
    • Draw big so the subject doesn’t fit on the paper, or draw small
    • Emphasize the positive space (the subject), or the negative space ( the space around and behind the subject)
    • Emphasize the foreground (close up), the mid-ground, or background (far away)
  • Artists use Space to create the illusion of Form with one of more of the Methods of Creating Perspective: Overlap, Size change, Horizontal placement, Value, Color, Degree of detail, and Linear perspective.

Color: the reflections of light varying in Hue, Value, and Intensity

  • Hue: the purest form of a color
  • Intensity: the brightness or saturation of a color
  • Scientifically, color is rays of light, at different wavelengths, giving our eyes a sensation. However, there’s tons we can learn about color- Art schools offer several different semester-long classes about Color Theory!
  • We can learn so much about color from a color wheel (pictured above), like primary colors (magenta-red, cyan-blue, and yellow), secondary colors (orange, green, and purple), and tertiary colors (like orangish-red or turquoise).
  • A color wheel also shows us many different color themes (Try doing a painting project using one of these color themes!):
    • Complementary colors are across the color wheel from each other (like orange and blue). Using them next to each other gives a high contrast look. Mixing them together results in a brownish, neutral color.
    • Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel (like red and orange).
    • Warm colors are red, orange and yellow and tend to feel higher energy.
    • Cool colors are green, blue, and purple and tend to be more calming.
    • Monochromatic colors are variations on the same hue (like different blues)
  • In the element of color, we can also learn about color mixing, contrast of color, context of color (the way colors look different depending on what other colors they are next to).
  • Sometimes artists will spend an extended period of time experimenting and practicing with one color, like Picasso and his Blue Period. Claude Monet, like most Impressionists, experimented with color as he created series of paintings, like his Haystacks series.
  • Many artists end up with color themes that are consistent over the years. For example,
  • A Quiller’s Wheel is another way to display colors that shows which colors are a pure hue and which are mixed with another color.
  • In the classroom, start with simple exercises like creating your own color wheel or painting using a specific color theme

Value: the light-to-dark gradient of a color you create by adding white or black

Texture: the actual, or appearance of, three-dimensional raised areas

  • There are almost a limitless number of different textures: hard, soft, rough, smooth, wet, dry, prickly, flaky, rocky, scaly, woven, fluffy, bumpy, slick, jagged…
  • Getting the texture right, makes a huge difference in realistic artwork!
  • Artists should both experiment with different media to see what textures they can create AND learn from others in books tutorials, and videos, as to how to create specific textures.

Combining the 7 Elements of Art

  • All visual art involves some, if not all of these elements. Once you practice them separately, you’ll find you can use them more expertly together.
  • You don’t have to teach them in order.
  • To improve your students’ art skills, incorporate one or two Elements of Art in each art lesson, focusing on some element. For example:

Next Podcast Episode: The Principles of Design (Art Grammar, Part 2)

Stay tuned for our next episode/post (in two weeks), where we will talk about the next component of art grammar: the Principles of Design.

Again, here’s all the links to this full series on using the Classical Model of Eduction to teach art:


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