Feb 14, 2016

The Science of Art or The Elements of Art

Question: What Are the Elements of Art?

Answer:

The elements of art are sort of like atoms in that both serve as "building blocks." You know that atoms combine and form other things, right? Sometimes they'll casually make a simple molecule, as when hydrogen and oxygen form water (H2O). If hydrogen and oxygen take a more aggressive career path and bring carbon along as a co-worker, together they might form something more complex, like a molecule of sucrose (C12H22O11).
A similar activity happens when the elements of art are combined. Instead of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, etc., in art you've got:
Artists manipulate these seven elements, mix them in with principles of design and compose a piece of art. Not every work has every last one of these elements contained within it, but there are always at least two present.
For example, a sculptor, by default, has to have both form and space in a sculpture, because these elements are three-dimensional. They can also be made to appear in two-dimensional works through the use of perspective and shading.
Art would be sunk without line, sometimes known as "a moving point." While line isn't something found in nature, it is absolutely essential as a concept to depicting objects and symbols, and defining shapes.
Texture is another element, like form or space, that can be real (run your fingers over an Oriental rug, or hold an unglazed pot), created (think of van Gogh's lumpy, impasto-ed canvases) or implied (through clever use of shading).

Question: Why Are the Elements of Art Important?

Answer:

The elements of art are important for several reasons. First, and most importantly, a person can't create art without utilizing at least a few of them. No elements, no art -- end of story. And we wouldn't even be talking about any of this, would we?
Secondly, knowing what the elements of art are enables us to (1) describe what an artist has done, (2) analyze what is going on in a particular piece and (3) communicate our thoughts and findings using a common language.
Musicians can talk about the key of "A," and they all know it means "a pitch relating to 440 oscillations per second of vibration."
Mathematicians may use the very basic word "algorithm" and feel confident that most people know they mean "a step-by-step procedure for carrying out computation."
Botanists world-wide will employ the name "rosa rugosa," rather than the much longer "that old-fashioned shrub rose - you know, the one that leaves hips in the fall - with the five-petaled flowers that can be yellow, white, red or pink."
These are all specific examples of a common language coming in handy for intelligent (and shortened) discourse.
So it is with the elements of art. Once you know what the elements are, you can trot them out, time after time, and never put a wrong foot forward in the Art World.
Does your instructor want you to write a few words and/or pages on a painting of your choice? Choose wisely, and then wax euphoric on form, lines and color.
Have you found an unidentified work in your great-aunt's attic/toolshed/outhouse? It is helpful, when describing the piece to someone who may be able to supply you with further information, to throw in some of the piece's elements of art along with: "It's an etching. It's on paper."
Stumped for conversation at a gallery show? Try "The artist's use of ________ (insert element here) is interesting." This is a much safer course than attempting to psychoanalyze the artist (after all, you may be standing in a clump of people that includes his or her mother) or using words which leave you a bit uncertain of exact meanings and/or pronunciations.
See? The elements of art are both fun and useful. Remember: line, shape, form, space, texture, value and color. Knowing these elements will allow you to analyze, appreciate, write and chat about art, as well as being of help should you create art yourself.

What is the meaning of art?

Art is the power, skill, ability and talent an individual possesses to express him or herself. Art is simply your acquired skill to make another person know and understand what you think and how you feel. Art does not entail only drawing, sketching, painting, singing, sculpting or getting engaged in any creative activity. To me I will say "Art is just another word for Expression" that is, being able to make someone see your mind.
For the purpose of better understanding here, I want to briefly explain what the term "Expression" means.
“Expression” in mine own 'personal dictionary,' is that idea or information that one wants to pass or reflect to the other person, group, race or community. The truth is that you don't have to be a professional to be identified as an artist. That is why we find many even as novice in the field of art who are engaged in art and antiques collection.
Now ideas conceived in the human minds do find their ways in many forms. For example, if I enter the classroom one day and begin to dance around I am sure my students will not need a prophet to tell them that I am happy. I may even find some among them who will dance along and ... hip-hop the whole class will glow with happiness. This means that I have been able to convey and transfer the glory and message of happiness to the whole class.
If on the other hand, I just enter and squeeze my face like someone who just came back from a war front, I am sure everyone will shrink and become cautious and behave themselves calmly.
So what I am saying in essence is that art encompasses all abilities to express one’s mind in a creative way.
Now there are three departments in art. The three departments are as follow:
  1. Visual Art ( below)
  2. Performing Art- Performing art is the type of art that has to do with television, radio and stage shows or the theatre activities. Unlike the other forms of art which uses materials such as pencils, clay, pen, paints, papers, etc., a performing artiste makes use of his head, arms, legs, body and other body parts as media for communicating his ideas and messages.  
Performing art include: dancing, drama, music, opera, magic, jesting, singing, etc. Examples of individuals who engage in performing arts are actors, comedians, magicians, musicians, dancers, singers, instrumentalists, etc. These individuals usually have special attires worn in the course of demonstrating their art. This clothing is often called “Costume.”
  1. Literary Art -Literary art is the type of art that deals with creative writings such as drama scripting, poetry, narrative writings, essay writings, music scripting and any other form of writing belonging to the scope of literature. For short, this art is nicknamed “the art of paper and pen.” The set of professionals involved in this literary art are script writers in drama production, journalists, musicians, poets, etc.

Visual Art

Visual is the type of art forms which appeal to the visual senses. As the name implies, it has to do with feeling of beauty and harmony one can be derived by observation and appreciation of the object of creativity. Such art forms include paintings, photography, ceramics, sculptures, drawings, body decorations (tattoo), textiles, graphics, modeling, fashion designing, industrial designing, etc. One major characteristic of these visual art forms is that they all possess the quality of appealing to the senses by their shapes, texture, colors, arrangements and forms.
Now there are two types of visual arts.
1. Fine Art – Fine art is the visual art forms which are created mainly for decorative purposes only. They do not perform any other functions other than decoration and beautification of a person, environment or an object. Examples of these are: paintings, drawings, body decoration, etc. You will find most of these types in museums and art galleries. They do not have to be placed in commercial markets for sale save in the archives of very rich and elites of the society. Art collectors are always on the look out for these types of art forms to bargain for and add to their collections for future profitable s
2. Applied Art – Applied art in its own unique nature is the visual art forms which are created for industrial and commercial purposes. They perform both functions of beautification and usability in one way or the other. That is they spark an aura of beauty and yet perform a specific function. Examples of such are: textile design, graphic design, photography, ceramics, fashion designing, etc. You will always find these types of art in commercial and industrial environments

The History of Drawing

The history of drawing is as old as the history of humankind. People drew pictures even before they learned how to write. Like other art forms, drawing has changed and developed through history. Each new style grew out of the style that came before it. This evolution of drawing styles closely parallels the development of painting. As drawing styles changed, so did drawing materials.

Early History

The earliest known drawings date from 30,000 to 10,000 B.C.. They were found on the walls of caves in France and Spain. Other examples of early drawing are designs that were scratched, carved, or painted on the surfaces of primitive tools.

Ancient Egyptians (beginning about 3000 B.C.) decorated the walls of their temples and tombs with scenes of daily life. These drawings had a flat, linear style. Texts written on papyrus (an early form of paper) were illustrated with similar designs in pen and ink.

Nearly all that survives to show the drawing and painting skills of the ancient Greeks are their decorated pottery vases. These great works of art show the Greeks' ability to draw graceful figures and decorative lines.

The Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, from about the 400's to the 1400's, art was produced mainly to glorify God and to teach religion. Painting and drawing merged in the illustration of Bibles and prayer books produced by monks. These beautifully decorated manuscripts were hand-lettered on vellum (calfskin), or later, on paper. Those made for royalty contained miniature paintings ornamented with gold. Those made for less wealthy persons were decorated with pen-and-ink drawings. The flat, linear forms often resembled the ornamental patterns made by metalworkers.

Drawings were used in the preparatory stages of a work of art during the Middle Ages, but few survive. Paper was not made in Europe until the 1100's, and at first it was expensive and difficult to obtain. Artists sometimes drew on prepared animal skins such as parchment or vellum. But these were also expensive. For centuries, artists made their preparatory drawings on tablets made of slate, wood, or wax. These tablets were thrown away or reused. Some painters made their preparatory drawings directly on the panel or wall that was to be painted. These were covered in the final stage of painting.

Drawings had another important function during the Middle Ages. They helped artists keep a record of images they frequently used. Pen-and-ink drawings of the human figure, costumes, plants and animals, and many other forms were collected in model books. Artists then copied the drawings instead of working directly from live models or from nature.

The Renaissance

Modern drawing in Europe began in the 1400's in Italy, during the period known as the Renaissance. A special love of drawing was born at this time. The production of drawings also increased steadily. This was because paper had become easier to obtain and because of the new importance attached to drawing.

Drawing came to be considered the foundation for work in all the arts. Art students first trained in drawing before going on to painting, sculpture, or architecture. Drawing was used as a tool for the study of nature, which was becoming increasingly important. Artists carefully studied the physical structure of the human body for the first time and began to draw from nude models. The portrayal of the human figure became increasingly realistic.

The need for preparatory drawings also grew during the Renaissance. In Italy, many large-scale paintings were produced to decorate the interiors of churches, palaces, and public buildings. Paintings of this size required extensive preparation. Drawings were an important step in creating the finished work. The artist often made a very detailed working drawing before beginning to paint.

Renaissance artists continued to use pen and ink for drawing. But they turned increasingly to softer materials, such as black and red chalks and charcoal, to make larger drawings and to achieve a greater variety of effects. Shading was introduced to suggest solids and textures. Among the most celebrated draftsmen (masters of drawing) of this period are Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

The Renaissance in Northern Europe

Artists living in Northern Europe (Germany, France, the Netherlands) in the 1500's gradually absorbed some of the ideas and styles that were first developed in Italy. Albrecht Dürer, the great draftsman and printmaker of Germany, was one of the first to travel to Italy. He inspired others to make the same journey. Yet the Northern artistic tradition remained different from the Italian. The Italians produced many working studies to prepare their paintings. The Northerners made many more finished drawings as works of art for sale. Portraits and landscape drawings were especially popular. Northern artists also portrayed their subjects with greater interest in realism. Dürer's precise studies of people, animals, landscapes, and plants, especially those rendered in watercolor and in chalk, are outstanding examples. So are the portrait drawings of Hans Holbein the Younger of Switzerland. Holbein's black chalk drawings of members of the English Court are masterful in their simple realism.

The 1600's and 1700's

The precision and control of Renaissance drawings were replaced in the Baroque period by livelier forms and by bolder use of materials. Chalk and pen lines became freer and more flowing. Washes of ink and watercolor were also used. The drawings of Peter Paul Rubens of Flanders, who was inspired by the Italian painters, are good examples of art in the 1600's. His larger-than-life figures seem to burst through the surface of the picture.

The Netherlands had its greatest period of artistic flowering in the 1600's. Rembrandt van Rijn was the most famous painter and printmaker of Amsterdam. He was also one of the world's greatest draftsmen. He was able to convey form, movement, and emotion with just a few simple pen lines. Dutch artists made a specialty of landscape painting. They often went into the countryside with sketchbook in hand and produced finished drawings or studies for paintings to be completed in the studio.

The rococo period of the 1700's was dominated by French taste and culture. Decorative lines and cheerful subjects are characteristic of the work of Jean-Antoine Watteau and François Boucher. Both artists often drew with red, black, and white chalks. Sometimes they combined all three.

The 1800's and 1900's

Many different styles developed side by side during the 1800's. Pencils were first manufactured early in the century. They became the preferred drawing tools of many artists. The French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres produced highly finished portrait drawings in this medium. Francisco Goya of Spain is known for his expressive drawings rendered with brush and black and gray wash. Late in the century Edgar Degas led the realist movement in France. He experimented with various drawing techniques (oil on paper, pastel, and crayon, for example) with very original results. Everyday scenes, ballet dancers, and horse races were among his favorite subjects.

The tradition of academic training founded on drawing had dominated European art since the Renaissance. In the last quarter of the 1800's, artists began to question the merits of this training. The change began with the impressionists. They painted directly on the canvas without using preparatory drawings.

Since the beginning of the 1900's, art has been liberated from past traditions. This means that the definition of drawing has also been expanded. It can be almost anything an artist wishes it to be. All modern western art movements are represented in the drawing medium. These include cubism ( Pablo Picasso), abstract expressionism ( Jackson Pollock), fauvism ( Henri Matisse), and postmodernism (Robert Rauschenberg). Artists continue to express themselves through drawing, just as our ancestors felt the impulse to draw on their cave walls so many years ago.

Helen B. Mules
Associate Curator of Drawings
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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