Elements and Principles Unit

Amanda Johnson Caucci
Art Teacher

Elements and Principles of Art
Basics of Unit Plan

Objective:  Students should learn the elements and principles of art and how they can be recognized and discussed.  Students will also learn how and why they apply to artwork,  and how their ability to create a piece of art can be improved by an understanding of these characteristics.  Students will be involved in creating art as it relates to the elements, principles, and various subject matters.

Knowledge:  Students will learn the elements and principles of art, and subject matters art can represent.


Line – students will use line to create emotion and texture

Shape – Students will use cut shapes and color theory in a Matisse cut paper lesson

Form – Students will study form in value studies and create a sculpture from pieces of wood in an abstracted art lesson based on figurative sculpture

Texture – Students will study texture and simulated texture in how an image can be made to look textural verses actually textural, students will create masks with various textures included

Space (Perspective) – Students will study perspective and draw from the hallway and other one point and possibly two point perspective views

Color – Students will study and create a color wheel by mixing red yellow and blue paints, and will be able to identify primary, secondary and tertiary colors as well as color schemes

Value – Students will study hatching, cross hatching, shading and stipling as well as paint a grey scale by mixing white and black paint


Balance – Students will continuously discuss symmetry and asymmetry in their art as well as art viewed in class

Unity – Students will continuously discuss unity in their art as well as art shown in class
Emphasis – Students will have to complete several pieces of art where emphasis is discussed, emphasis on line, light, texture or pattern, for example

Contrast – Students will have to use contrast in their art, such as light and dark or smooth and rough, such as the four texture lines used in their still life line drawing.

Pattern – Students will have to use pattern in their social commentary CD cover.

Rhythm – Students will discuss rhythm in art, a color repeated, a shape repeated, and also how this relates to other arts, architecture, dance, music, and writing.

Movement – Students will study the way the eye is encouraged to move around the image by angels, shapes or contrasting areas which draw the eyes attention.

Subject Matter

Narrative – Students will learn about art that tells stories and how that relates to art through history such as the famous “Last Supper”.

Religious – Students will study the use of religious art in history and modern art.

Literary – Students will learn about art based on literature, and how this helps elaborate on the literary information.

Landscapes – Students will study the timeless art of landscapes, heavily used in Asian art, this only became popular in Europe after the invention of the tub of paint allowing artists to paint outside.

Cityscapes – Students will create a cityscape and landscape after studying these subject matters.

The Figure – Students will work from both quick and sustained figurative drawings in class, getting comfortable with trying to catch the essence of the shape while studying the balance and movement of the pose.  These studies will then be used to help students prepare for their abstracted figurative sculptures.

Portrait – Students will student portraits as a common form of art.

Self Portrait – Students will complete a self portrait – using the grid method as a mathematical tool to aid the artwork.

Historical – Students will study historical art from several cultures, Asian, African and American included.

Genre – Students recognize genre subjects as everyday life and relate to relevant material today.

Social Comment – Students discuss current topics and form a stylized or symbolic representation of this observation, then create a cd cover design, as well as write lyrics to the song on their “album”. 

Still Life – Students understand the importance of learning to look at and examine objects and their spatial relationships to each other when drawing from a still life.  This improves drawing ability, the understanding of perspective, patience, fine motor skills, and the balancing of a composition. 

Animals – Students see that animals have often been the focal point of artwork through out history, for religious and cultural reasons, as well as reasons personal to only the artist.

Expression – The endless examination of one’s emotions and the expression of feelings is a critical subject matter when talking about the creation of art.  Humans find outlets for their passions, anger, joy, love and longings through their artwork.

Abstraction – Students will understand the process and purpose behind the abstraction movements and major contributing artists. 

Non-objective – Students will discuss completely non-objective art, or art with no recognizable image at all, as it’s modern importance and expressive relevance.  How and Why are certain paintings concerned to be works of art when they look so simple to produce?  These questions are relevant in today’s examination of the changing views on art.

Skills:  Students will be able to recognize these aspects of art in all art forms, painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, music.  Students will also be able to explain what each element and principle mean and how they relate to each other.  Students should be able to apply their knowledge of these aspects of art to their own artwork.

Vocabulary: element, principle, form, line, shape, color, texture, space, value, emphasis, balance, harmony, variety, movement, rhythm, proportion, unity

Previous Knowledge:  Students should have an understanding of artwork quality and craftsmanship.

Materials:  Students will need a notebook and pen for note taking.

Visual Aids:  Georgia O’Keeffe Orange and Red Streak, “Admiral” Heraldic Carpet, mid 15th century Spain, and any and all additional artwork can be discussed during this lesson to explain various concepts.

What Will the Teacher Do?  The teacher will explain to the class that there is a reason we as humans respond to certain images, colors, and compositions more positively than others.  The teacher will show artwork and explain each element and principle for several pieces of art, so students can see the same concept represented in different interpretations.

The teacher will lead students in discussions around:
What is art?
Why do humans create it?
How is it that we value certain arts above others? 
What arts are being created today that we may not notice?
Should art take a long time produce? Can anyone make art?
Can anyone decide what is art?
Can art ever be pushed too far – i.e. some social commentary that harms people or animals?
How can art improve people’s lives?

What Will the Student Do?  The students should take notes on each topic and participate in each discussion.

Closure:  The students should have a discussion around why we need to evaluate these aspects of art, what benefit does it serve to know why some art is better than others.

PA Learning Standards:  9.3.12 A, C, E, F, 9.2.12 C, D, F, G, K, L, 9.3.12 A, B, C, D, E, F,  9.4.12 A, D

Assessment /Evaluation: The students should be able to look at a different piece of art not previously discussed in class and apply the knowledge gained to a discussion regarding this piece’s elements and principles. 

Correlated Activity:  The understanding of elements, principles, and subject matters leads to more advanced discussions on why humans respond to images, sounds, color, and how this knowledge can be applied to logos, marketing, music, sales, fashion, and modern culture.  Students could also be asked to create artwork that emphasizes one element or principle, or a series displaying the different elements.

Interdisciplinary Activity:  These topics apply to music as well, and math for the discussions around form – cubes, spheres and cylinders, and math applies to the explanations around two and three dimensions, and perspective.  Students can use science to discuss paint mixing to achieve color. 

Literacy Opportunity:  Students can write a report on a piece of artwork and identify its main elements, principles, and its subject matter.

Homework:  Students will be asked to identify a piece of artwork in their home, from a painting to a vase or a sculpture.  What was the purpose for its creation, why does the student like or dislike the piece?  What elements, principles and subject matter best describe the piece of art?  And how do those elements and principles help the viewer to decipher the artist’s meaning and emphasis for the artwork?  Is it successful?
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