Elements and Principles of Design

Components of an art work

Subject the depicted object(s)
Form visual organization
Content impact or meaning

Works of art have subject, form and content. We often identify a work by its subject: a landscape painting, a sculpture of a young woman, a lithograph of a cat. Form (or design), is the visual organization of the art work -how the artist has used line, shape, value, color, etc. Content is the impact or meaning of this work.

A horse's head is the subject of both works (below). However, the artists have used form very differently. Picasso's painting (left) has gestural lines, high value contrast, and exaggerated proportions to create a highly emotional content. Conversely, the harmonious rhythms and more naturalistic proportions in the ancient Greek sculpture create a very different feeling. The differences in content were created by the differences in form, not the subject matter. The decisions you make regarding form (type of line and shape; selection of value and color; size of the work; type of balance, etc.) shape the work's impact and meaning.

Horse - Pablo Picasso Horse -Classical  Greek sculpture  

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