Principals of Art

Understanding art can appear intimidating to the untrained eye. However, there are several simple key principles of art, and once you understand these, the vast pleasure of art-viewing art, understanding the functions of art and correlating the purpose and definition of art begins to open up before you.

Principals of Art

1) Balance-Balance refers to the weight of objects and their placement in relation to each other.

It’s a sense of stability you might feel from elements in alignment. This can take three forms: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial.

Symmetrical balance refers to the exact mirroring of objects across an axis (i.e., an invisible line on the page).

Asymmetrical balance is the opposite of this – when objects do not mirror each other perfectly, shifting the balance to one side or the other of the axis.

This is often done to highlight an object in relation to another. Radial balance is when objects are distributed all around a central point.

2) Proportion

Proportion is the size of objects in relation to each other, or within a larger whole.

This could be natural (e.g., a nose which fits onto a face the way you would expect it), exaggerated (e.g., a nose that is vastly over or undersized), and idealized, in which parts have the kind of perfect proportion that you just don’t see occurring naturally.

One of the key characteristics of Renaissance Art that changed the world forever is the invention of linear perspective, and proportion is one of the inherent behaviors towards achieving perspective

3) Emphasis

Emphasis is an extension of these first two principles: it is when contrast, placement, size, colour, or other features are used to highlight one object, area, or other elements of the artwork.

This is used to draw attention – a focal point – or accentuate a feature.

4) Variety

Variety is a sense of the difference between elements of an artwork – the opposite of unity, or harmony.

Variety adds a sense of chaos to a work, and this is often used to highlight certain powerful emotions. Salvador Dali is one of the artists who have experimented with chaos and variety in his paintings, yet achieved a great sense of perfection.

Who is Salvador Dali? and Which are the top paintings of Salvador Dali?

When unity is used instead, it immediately calms – though this can also lead to being boring!

5) Harmony

In follow on from variety, harmony is the use of related elements.

This might be similar colours, shapes, sizes of objects, etc. It’s about repetition and a relationship between elements. This creates a sense of connection between the objects, creating a sense of flow.

One of the great examples is Titian, the iconic artist often remembered as the Venetian Master of Colour. Titian Paintings Are Truly Stunning, Brings Brightness, and Lustre to His Works Through Brilliant Colours. And, if you look at it, he used the colour as a tool to bring harmony to the subject

Harmony is one of the most important aspects when it comes to principles of art

6) Movement

This indicates the direction your eye takes as you view the work – in what order does your eye travel? If the emphasis is used, this often means you start with this element first and travel away from it.

The movement inherent in the image is important, as it tells you a story through the use of lines (whether they are literal or implied).

7) Rhythm

This can also be thought of as a kind of relationship between patterned objects.

Rhythm is often the use of regular, evenly distributed elements – they could occur in slow, fast, smooth or jerky intervals, and this tells you something about the feelings invoked.

Like listening to an upbeat pop song versus a slow ballad, the arrangement of notes creates a kind of pattern you naturally respond to. The important part is recognizing the relationship between the objects.

8) Scale

It might sound similar to proportion, but they differ slightly: scale is about the size of objects but in relation to what you’d expect them to be in reality.

If an object occurs in a natural scale, then the object is the size we would expect to find it.

Diminutive refers to an object being smaller than expected, and monumental is when the object is much larger.

9) Unity

Not to be confused with harmony, unity is the overall cohesion of the work.

You might achieve this through any kind of grouping of objects.

Any kind of similarity will help to strengthen the sense of unity you feel when looking at a series of objects.

10) Repetition

This is the pattern itself.

A combination of shapes, colours, or other elements recurring across the composition.

Objects might be repeated such that they slowly get smaller, or slowly change colour – where the pattern starts and stops is important! Patterns usually evoke feelings of security and calm.

In all, these ten principles of art combine and contrast to create the effects we respond to visually. By breaking down the elements, we begin to understand more about the intention or meaning of art.

Six Limbs of Indian Art

The creation of an artwork begins in the lights of certain canons but ends in the frenzy which itself is the soul of all canons.

In the idealization of reality, the artist has to invest his inner intuitive power besides the dictates of senses. These laws are the creation of those who could churn the gems from the ocean of their evolved consciousness empowered by the sublime. Be it Chitrasutra, Kamasutra or Natyashatra, all such laws have been formulated by the saint in all these Indian texts. Art enables the unification with the eternal, the indefinable. It is the journey beyond the tangible and the absorption of the universality. As Thomas Merton rightly said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”.

A work of art is more than the visual manifestation, the paint daubs and the empty spaces. It is not just the form but the formless (the vayanjana) that completes the aura of an artwork. Indian aesthetics believes in this dual inextricable relationship of the Sensuous and volitional. And to achieve such transcendental duality, ancient Indian liturgical texts lay the most important canons of Indian Art in the form of Shadang.

‘Shadang’ or the six limbs of Indian Art find their first mention in Vatsyayana’s celebrated text Kama Sutra. Shadang weaves the language of an art work. It defines the principles of creation of an artwork. It mirrors the limbs of art, without which an artwork is deficient.

“Roopabhedah pramanani bhava-lavanya-yojanam |

Sadrishyam varnakabhangam iti chitram shadakam ||”

This Shloka enumerates the six limbs of Indian Art- Rupa-bheda (secrets of form), pramanani (proportion), bhava (emotional disposition), lavanya-yojanam (gracefulness in composition), sadrisyam ((‘similitude’) and varnika-bhanga (colour differentiation). The following principles explicate the theory of traditional Indian painting.

Rupa-bheda (Secrets of Form)

Rupa – Bheda presupposes accurate draftsmanship and the importance of Form. It stresses on the Physical typologies of form. It not only stresses on the knowledge of form (Rupa) but also on the subtle and stark difference of forms. For instance, a work must be articulate enough to let the ordinary eye decipher between a dead man and a sleeping man.

Pramanani (Proportion)

The manifestation of form must be guarded by the power of Pramanani (proportion). It emphasises on perception, measurement and structure. It provides an insight into the structural anatomy of objects.

Bhava (Emotional Disposition)

Bhava- yojana speaks about the emotion, a feeling or an intention. It eulogizes the expression of emotions; the formless. Bhava are of two types, covert i.e., the hidden emotions and overt i.e., revealed emotions.

Lavanya-yojanam (Gracefulness in Composition)

Lavanya, an extreely essential limb of Indian art stands for ‘Grace’. Its importance can be illustrated through the example of a meal/curry rich in all flavours and spices save the salt. Just as the curry loses its charm without the salt, so does a painting without lavanya. The Indian Yakshi sculptures at Kajhurao and Konark are a hallmark of Lavanya. Here the Yakshi of Didarganj deserves a special mention for its unparallel beauty and poise. This life size statue is one of the most remarkable pieces of Mauryan art. It is an ideal example where its creator has truly infused grace in her beauty.

Lavanya blooms in the bodily postures, bhaav- bhangima and of course in the ornaments and robes that add to the beauty of bodily contours. Another striking example of Lavanya is the sculpture at Sun temple Konark, of a heavenly nymph writing a love letter. One can experience the fragrance of grace in every visual modulation of her inner love, be it the posture, the expressive eyes or the way she holds the pen and the pad.

An artist cannot justify a character unless this grace is achieved for it is this lavanya that enables him to show the beauty that resides not in appearance but essence.

Sadrisyam (Similitude)

Sadrishyam means Similitude. An artist strives to achieve similitude in his creation. Sometimes he derives this similitude from the forms, sometimes from the attributes and sometimes from the virtues. In Chitrasutra of Vhishnudharmottara purana there is a mention of 5 types of eyes that have sadrishyam in the forms like fish, conch, lotus petals etc. In Indian poetry, just as in Indain paining, the black lustrous curly locks of a woman are compared with the snake or dark clouds. Even in the asanas like the bhujang asana, mayur asana and lotus asana one finds sadrishyam of certain animal postures.

Varnika-bhanga (Colour Differentiation)

This limb pertains to ‘colour’ that lends soul to an artwork. The beauty of colour is not in the colour but in its application. A master painter magnifies the splendour of different shades on the surface with the strength of the stroke of his brush. The myriad hues are not only an aspect of appearance but are the expression of inner character. In the hands of a versatile artist even ordinary colours pronounces extraordinary exuberance.

These six cannons of art do not curtail artistic freedom rather aids it. The Chitrasutra of Vhishnudharmottara purana mentions that the artist needs to experience the mysteries beyond cognitive intellect. He mustn’t restrict himself to understanding the work, but also experience it directly. That is where the real rasa is. It states that, valuable as these various instructions are, they are derived from and subservient to practice. The artist has the freedom to work according to his own intellect.

Elements Of Art

Color

The element of colour is defined and described in this video using colourful animation and the examination of artworks, including Vasily Kandinsky’s ‘Painting with Green Center’, Paul Cézanne’s ‘Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primrose’ and ‘The Annunciation’ by Jean Hey, known as The Master of Moulins. An informative introduction for junior to middle secondary students studying visual arts

Form

The element of form is defined and described in this video using colourful animation and the examination of Stever’s ‘Vanitas Still Life’, ‘Rocking Chair’ by Harvey Ellis and ‘Pendant with a Triton Riding a Unicorn-like Sea Creature’ by Reinhold Vasters. An informative introduction for junior to middle secondary students studying visual arts.

Line

The element of line is defined and described in this video using colourful animation and the examination of the artworks ‘Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red, and Gray’ by Piet Mondrian, Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat’ and an example of Pablo Picasso’s famous 1949 light drawings. An informative introduction for junior to middle secondary students studying visual arts.

Shape

The element of space is defined and described in this video using colourful animation and the examination of the artwork ‘Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul’ by Rembrandt van Rijn, and illustrations ‘Beach House with old car on deserted beach’ by Charles Harker and ‘African woman over sunset and city skyline’ (Buena Vista Images). An informative introduction for junior to middle secondary students studying visual arts.

Space

The element of space is defined and described in this video using colourful animation and the The element of texture is defined and described in this video using colourful animation and the examination of artworks including Rosa Bonheur’s cast bronze, ‘Shorn Ewe’, ‘The Threatened Swan’ by Jan Asselijn and Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Wheat Field with Cypresses’. An informative introduction for junior to middle secondary students studying visual arts.

Tone

The element of tone is defined and described in this video using colourful animation and the examination of Thérèse Schwartze’s ‘Studies van handen’, Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes’ and ‘The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Three: Ji’nan to Mount Tai’ by Wang Hui. An informative introduction for junior to middle secondary students studying visual arts.

Texture

The element of texture is defined and described in this video using colourful animation and the examination of artworks including Rosa Bonheur’s cast bronze, ‘Shorn Ewe’, ‘The Threatened Swan’ by Jan Asselijn and Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Wheat Field with Cypresses’. An informative introduction for junior to middle secondary students studying visual arts