The principles of visual art are the rules, tools and/or guidelines that artists use to organize the elements of art in an artwork. When successfully combined with the elements of art they aid in creating an aesthetically pleasing or interesting work of art. Some principles of art that have been identified are movement, unity, harmony, variety, balance, rhythm, emphasis, contrast, proportion, and pattern. This list may vary, according to the art educator, but encompasses the generally accepted principles. Rhythm and pattern are often combined in art education texts.
Movement shows actions, or alternatively, the path the viewer's eye follows throughout an artwork. Movement is caused by using elements under the rules of the principles in picture to give the feeling of motion and to guide the viewer's eyes throughout the artwork. In movement an art should flow, because the artist has the ability to control the viewer's eye. The artists control what the viewers see and how they see it, like a path leading across the page to the item the artist wants the viewer's attention focused on. Techniques such as scale and proportion can be used to create an effect of movement in a visual artwork. For instance, an element that is further into the background is smaller in scale and lighter in value. The same element repeated in different places within the same image can also demonstrate the passing of time or movement.
Unity is the wholeness that is achieved through the effective use of the elements and principles of art. The arrangement of elements and principles to create a feeling of completeness. Generally, a work of art is strengthened by a sense of unity in form and composition. Works where all of the elements seem to visually fit together allows the whole to become greater than its parts. Likewise, this term can also be applied to the concept behind the artwork. An analogy would be the way in which a conductor directs a wide variety of instruments in an orchestra to produce a symphony that is recognized as a single comprehensible piece.
Harmony is achieved in a body of work by using similar elements throughout the work, harmony gives an uncomplicated look to a piece of artwork or sculpture. Color Harmony or Color Theory is also considered a principle through the application of the design element of color.
Variety is the quality or state of having different forms or types, notable use of contrast, emphasis, difference in size and color.
Balance is arranging elements so that no one part of a work overpowers, or seems heavier than any other part. The three different kinds of balance are symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. Symmetrical (or formal) balance is the most stable, in a visual sense. When both sides of an artwork on either side of the horizontal or vertical axis of the picture plane are exactly (or nearly exactly the same) the work is said to exhibit this type of balance. The asymmetrical balance is the balance that does not weigh equally on both sides. Pieces of art that display radial balance have elements equally distributed from a center point. Radial balance also is very difficult at times and if not at the same equal lengths it might appear untidy so one must be careful when doing radial balance.
Contrast is created by using elements that conflict with one another. Often, contrast is created using complementary colors or extremely light and dark values. Contrast creates interest in a piece and often draws the eye to certain areas. It is used to make a painting more visually interesting.
Proportion is a measurement of the size and quantity of elements within a composition. In ancient arts, proportions of forms were enlarged to show importance. This is why Egyptian gods and political figures appear so much larger than common people. The ancient Greeks found fame with their accurately-proportioned sculptures of the human form. Beginning with the Renaissance, artists recognized the connection between proportion and the illusion of 3-dimensional space.
Pattern and rhythm (also known as repetition) is showing consistency with colors or lines. Putting a red spiral at the bottom left and top right, for example, will cause the eye to move from one spiral, to the other, and everything in between. It is indicating movement by the repetition of elements. Rhythm can make an artwork seem active.