Visual Elements and Design Principles of Contemporary Art Explained


One of the important things about art is how the viewer experiences the art. Good artwork creates emotions and feelings for the viewer.

When looking at contemporary art, the visual elements and principles of art and designs should be understood to help the viewer fully understand and immerse themselves in the art. By understanding these principles, the viewer is no longer just viewing the art but has become an active participant in the art.

Many viewers are not sure what to look for when they look at art. They may tell others how the art makes them feel, such as happy or sad, but they may not fully understand the fundamentals in learning to view, speak and write about art.

To fully understand art, including contemporary art, it is essential to understand the Visual Elements and Principles of Art and Design.

Visual Elements of Contemporary Art

When viewing art, eight essential elements should be considered: line, form, space, shape, color value, and texture. Each of these will help you understand more about the art you are viewing.

Each of these visual elements are explained by:

  • Line – A line is an element of art that is formed by a point moving in space. A line can actually be two or three dimensional, descriptive, implied or abstract.
  • Form -A form is an element of art that is three dimensional. The form will include some height and width and depth such as a cube, a pyramid, sphere or cylinder. A form can also be free flowing.
  • Space – A space is an area of art where both positve and negative areas are defined and there is a sense of depth achieve in the work of art.
  • Shape – Shape is the element of art that is two-dimensional, flat or area limited by height and width.
  • Color – The color of art is made up of three main color properties as hue, value and intensity. Each of these are:
    • Color Hue – This is the name of the color such as red, rose pink indigo.
    • Color Value – This is the hue’s lightness or darkness. A color value will change when other colors are added as black and white.
    • Color Intensity – This is how bright the color is and how pure the color is as:
      • High Intensity Color – the color is strong and bright
      • Low Intensity Color – the color is light, faint or dull
  • Value – Value is the lightnesws or darkness of the colors. White is the lightest value and black is the darkest. Between each of these are various color values.
  • Texture – Texture is about the ways things look and feel if they were touched. It does it look rough, smooth, or sharp?

All of these are the visual elements that you use when viewing art as contemporary art. All Contemporary art will usually have all or any of these visual elements in it. Some of these elements will be prominent, and others not so, but usually, you can find all or most of these visual elements in some way in contemporary art.

When viewing contemporary art, you can think about these visual elements to help you further understand the message the artist’s message.

Principles of Art and Design in Contemporary Art

When you are viewing art, you also need to look at the principles of art and design. The principles of art and design are how the artist uses the elements in the composition of their artwork.

The basic elements of art and designs are:

  • Rhythm – This is a principle of designs that indicates movement. The art work is created with carefully placed elements to create almost a visual tempo, beat or some kind of movement in the work of art.
  • Balance – Balance is about combining elements together to give a feeling of equilibrium or even stability in the work of art. Major types of balance are symmetrical and asymmetrical.
  • Emphasis – Emphasis is also knows as contrast. This the way of combining elements to stress the difference between the elements.
  • Proportion – Proportion refers to the relationship in design between certain elements to eachother or the whole.
  • Graduation – This is about gradual changes to elements in an designs. Examples are large shapes that gradually go to a small shape or hues of color that gradually go from dark to light.
  • Harmony – Harmony is about combining similar elements in an artwork to show or accent their similarities. This can be achieved by repeititions or by those subtle gradual changes.
  • Variety – Variety is the principle of design that is concerned with diversity or the contrasting area. Variety can be used by using different shapes, sizes, or colors in a work of art.
  • Movement – Movement is used in the work of art to create the look and feel of some kind of action. The movement helps to guide the viewers eye throug the artwork.

When viewing contemporary art, it helps to understand these principles of art and design principles. When you know these principles, it will help you to better view the art and understand the art.

Viewing Contemporary Art

Many contemporary artists use materials from the 20 to 21st centuries that the artist will rework in shocking or exciting ways. This is partly to challenge the critical thinking of art as we know it or to make a statement about art, culture, and society.

When viewing contemporary art, you must think about the visual elements of the art itself and the principles of art and design. You also ask yourself some questions as you are viewing the art.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when you are viewing contemporary art:

  • What visual elements standout in this art work? Why did the artist choose to use those visual elements?
  • What principlies of art and design did the artist use in their work? How do those principles affect the art work?
  • Is the artwork challenging and interesting? What feeling or thoughts does it evocate when you view it and why?
  • What idea or message is the artist trying to convey and why?
  • What kinds of materials and interesting techniques did the artist use in their work? Did the artist transform some ordinary materails and make them extraordinary? How did the artist do this?
  • What is the first thing you see when you view the art?
  • How does your eye follow around the art?
  • How does the artwork touch your senses? What do you see, hear, smell and feel?
  • Does the artist use balance, asymmetry, symmetry and light/dark to evocate your emotions?

When you understand these principles of art, and you start to ask yourself questions when you’re reviewing contemporary art, it will help you in your entire viewing process. You will no longer be an ordinary viewer, but instead, by understanding these elements and principles, you will become an active viewer of contemporary art.

I love Contemporary Art, and many Art Movements inspire me. Anita Louise Art is dedicated to art education, great artists worldwide, and inspiring others to find and create their art. We look for all kinds of art that are made to uplift and inspire. #ArtToMakeYouSmile! #ArtToMakeYouHappy!

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Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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