3 Why It Matters

Identify, define, and discuss the visual elements and principles of design and their use in art and visual communication (course level learning objective)


Whether an artist creates two-dimensional or three-dimensional art, works in a traditional medium like painting, or makes art using the latest technology, all artists use the same basic visual building blocks of form (elements) and strategies of visual organization (principles) to achieve visual unity.

In this section you will learn about the differences between form and content and be introduced to the basic elements and principles of design. You’ll also learn about types of representation in art. All of these concepts are integral to formalism, which is a method of studying artwork by analyzing and describing it in purely in terms of visual effects.

Check out this video for a quick introduction to formalism:

Take a look at Picasso’s painting, Guernica, completed in 1937. At first glance it’s an incredibly busy and complex arrangement of forms. How can formalism be used to provide compositional understanding of this work? How can it be used to  analyze and describe the arrangement of forms and how they contribute to a viewer’s experience and interpretation of the painting? Read on, and you’ll find out.

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify and describe the difference between form and content as used in art
  • Identify and define the five elements of design
  • Identify and distinguish how the principles of design are used to visually organize the elements of design
  • Distinguish between representational (realistic), abstract, and nonrepresentational (or non-objective) imagery

How to Study for the Performance Assessment (PA)

The PA for this module is a short paper where you will choose an artwork from the list to analyze through formalism. Again, read the PA before you begin the module content. As you read through the content, take notes on how all the elements of form are defined, as well as the principles of design. Understanding these key terms will help you consider your artwork in relation to how the artist used the elements and principles. Finally, from the artwork list, choose an artwork that you will enjoy describing and analyzing.

OK, let’s get started!


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