Module 6: Elements of Art & Design

0 Posted by - June 12, 2014 - Courses, Photography Appreciation
Pablo Picasso, The Studio, 1927-192

Pablo Picasso, The Studio, 1927-192

What do you see in the painting above? A dining room? Studio? Table? Pictures? Vase? Chances are that within a second or two you saw a complete scene with some combination of these items. But when you examine Pablo Picasso’s The Studio you see that it consists of nothing but elemental lines, shapes and colors. These are part of the seven basic elements of art and design: form, line, shape, color, texture, space, and value.

As The Studio illustrates, these elements have a particular power in human visual perception. They are the vocabulary of visual composition. Through their arrangement or composition, the visual artist creates an image that communicates an intended subject.

The viewer perceives the elements as a unified whole with meaning through the concept of Gestalt perception. Gestalt means simply that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, when we see the elements of a scene we interpret more than is literally there. This can be the elements themselves or the greater meaning in the image. You experienced Gestalt perception when you interpreted The Studio as a scene rather than just individual elements.

The process of using elements of art and design to create a photograph is exemplified by Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage at top. In 1907, Stieglitz was a passenger on a ship and he saw a scene he wanted to photograph. His description of his thinking tells us everything about using elements of art to produce a master photograph.

A round straw hat, the funnel leaning left, the stairway leaning right, the white draw-bridge with its railings made of circular chains—white suspenders crossing on the back of a man in the steerage below, round shapes of iron machinery, a mast cutting into the sky, making a triangular shape … I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life.

Question: In the quote above, Stieglitz is saying that through the elements of design he saw a meaning or subject. What do you think is the subject of The Steerage as produced by the arrangement of elements? Please respond in the comments below.

Module Content

With these concepts in mind, please read and view the following module content. This material outlines the key concepts and terms, and provides additional perspectives for understanding and working with the elements of art and design in photography.

“Elements of Graphic Design”

“Elements of Art/Design and Principles of Design/Organization” Note: Be sure to click on “See more” in each section and read the content and review examples. This tutorial has two parts. The first part on the elements of art and design is the subject of this module. The second part on principles of design is the focus of Module 7. Foundations of Color

Featured Photographer: Abelardo Morell

Abelardo Morell, Dictionary, 1994

Abelardo Morell, Dictionary, 1994

The Cuban-born contemporary American photographer Abelardo Morell is renown for his work exploring the language of photography. Read links about the photographer and his work here. As you view Morell’s images, identify how they use the different aspects of photography introduced in this course.


Read and view the Featured Photographer links and research Abelardo Morell’s photographs. Then find and add your favorite photograph by the photographer to the featured photographer collection. Write a photographic analysis that explains why your selection is an effective photograph. In particular, explain how the photographer used elements of art and design to create an effective photograph. Use terms and concepts from the course in your analysis. Full Directions

Discussion Topic

As we study the elements of design in this module, we begin to understand in depth how subject matter is transformed to create a new meaning, feeling or idea in a photograph. This raises questions about the depictive “truth” of a photograph. Is it an objective recording or an artistic expression that uses photographic subject matter for a subjective intent? In the short video included with the materials on featured photographer Abelardo Morell, he says that it is important that his images represent the known world. But the photographs raise the question of whether we ever know the subject matter being depicted. How do you think his photographs question what we know of something? Full Directions

Creative Practice

The power of the elements of design is that they are the visual elements that attract our eye and engage our perception. Go out and look at the world in terms of the elements of design. Think about how these things attract your eye and can be framed in way that creates a unique visual expression. Then create a photograph that uses at least two (2) elements of design in an effective way. Submit the photograph to the student photography collection and explain the intent of your photograph and how you used elements of design to communicate the subject of your image using terms from the class materials and discussion. Full Directions

Top Image: Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage, 1907