Kentucky Art Speaks

Artist: Present & Past

In Artist: Present & Past on October 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh.

When evaluating a piece of art, considering the Elements of Art is just as important as considering the Principles of Art. The Elements of Art are a group of aspects that are used in combination with the Principles of Art to most effectively create or evaluate a work. I’ve decided to use The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh again, because this painting is one of the most successful works of all time because of Van Gogh’s utilization of all the Elements and Principles. The Elements of Art are as follows:

Form refers to what is three-dimensional and encloses volume. Cubes, spheres, and cylinders are examples of various forms. The Starry Night has little real form as it is two-dimensional, but it does have suggested form in the roundness of the hills.

Line is the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. Line often moves your eye throughout the piece, or it often points towards emphasis (remember that Principle from last week?) Above, the dark bush’s vertical lines lead your eye up, the diagonal and curving lines of the sky lead your eye right towards the moon (which also happens to be the emphasis), and from there your eye gets caught on the light diagonal line running left back down to the dark bush.

Shape is an enclosed space that is either 2D, 3D, or 4D. Using the other elements such as form and color , as well as common sense, can help determine what dimension the work is in. The Starry Night, as a painting, is obviously 2D.

Color is an element with three parts that when altered can change a sky blue to an almost-black navy. 1) Hue is the name of a color, e.g. yellow, blue, etc. 2) Intensity or purity of the color is how bright or dull it appears. 3) Finally, value is the lightness or darkness of a color. There are also “warm” (red, yellow, orange) and “cool” (green, purple, blue) colors. The above painting is made of mostly cool dark and light colors, with some intense yellows added to increase the contrast (also from last week!).

Texture refers to the surface quality or how an object looks like it feels; roughness, smoothness, softness, etc. If one were allowed to touch The Starry Night without being creamed by some sort of security personnel, actual texture in the paint could be felt. Van Gogh has also rendered simulated or implied texture in the hills, trees, and the dark bush.

Space refers to the area between, around, above, or within things. In 2D art, space is an illusion. An artist has successfully used space when the viewer can look at it and agree that nothing looks out of place or awkward. Tricks an artist uses to render space include simple overlapping, correct use of perspective, and using darker and crisper images in the front and then fading to lighter and more fuzzy images in the back. Van Gogh’s painting does not employ all of these techniques, but it can be agreed that he has used space effectively in this painting.

Value, even though it’s a component of color that describes its lightness or darkness, is an element that is needed to express volume in a work. If value isn’t used correctly, objects will look flat and uninteresting. It can be argued that The Starry Night does not have enough value to accurately show volume. The moon and the dark bush are both void of variation in value, making them look less realistic. But, the hills in the back of the painting use value correctly as they fade from medium blue to dark navy, which coincidentally makes them appear rounded.

I’m going to say it again, PROPER USE OF THE ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF ART ARE WHAT DETERMINES IF A WORK OF ART WILL END UP IN THE LOUVRE OR A DUMPSTER.

What do you think?


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