Principles of Design


Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” show’s assymetrical balance. While the two sides of his painting are not exactly balanced based on a formal line, the features of each (the bright sun on the right, and the church on the left) have visual weight which serves to balance the painting in whole.


Magritte’s “le Seducteur” uses low contrast of the sailboat against the sea and sky to add to the idea that this sailboat is not just sailing on the sea, but is an integral part of the sea. The viewer’s perceptions of what is boat, and what is sky or water are blurred by Magritte’s subtle contrast, both the faded blues and whites are intermingled throughout the piece, which provide a real sense of a misting, unclear oceanic scene.


In Picasso’s “Guernica,” he uses abnormal human proportions to emphasize the pain and anguish of the Nazi Germany’s bombings of Guernica, Spain in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Swollen hands show the torture inflicted upon the victims, as do the expressive grieving faces of the people in the piece.


“Da Circle” by MC Escher is a fine example of pattern in art. He uses repeating forms and colors throughout the work. The dark, evil, bat-like creatures (signaling hell) are repeated in a uniform pattern to create white, angel figures (signaling heaven) in their outline.


Edvard Munch uses rhythm heavily in his seminal series of “Scream” paintings.  The central figure, with hands against its face, emotes much emotion not only through its expression, but the undulating pattern of the shape and flow of its body.  Rhythm is found in the waves of the river, suggesting a flow of swirling angry water; rhythm is also evident in the red sky with repeating orange and yellow waves, bringing about an unease to the scene. The viewer’s eyes swirl around the painting with the strokes of color, adding to the unease and emotion felt by the central figure.


In “Las Meninas,” Diego Velazquez is able to simultaneously draw emphasis on several sections of the painting to give conflicting point of views.  Through the contrast and position of the light dress of the girl in the center of the painting, the viewer initally assumes that the girl is the central figure and subject of the piece.  With closer inspection, however, questions are raised about what the painting is actually painting. The back of the canvas, and Velazquez in the painting suggest that he is painting the reflection of the mirror, but the other mirror in the background does not reflect what it should. So the question of emphasis lies outside the painted forms, and into a mental question of whether the viewer is observing the scene taking place, or is the scene observing the viewer. Either way the focal point of the painting changes with each interpretation.


Albrecht Durer’s woodcut “Knight, Death and displays an impressive unity during the 16th century.  The dual-tone colors, black and white, are capable of displaying contrast, highlights and shadows, and even gradiations.  The balance achieved by the objects positioning, and the proportions of the human to the horse and devil allow the individual pieces within this woodcut to fit together.


“Marylin,” by Andy Warhol is a fascinating look at the principle of variety in a single piece of art.  While Warhol does not change the image of Marilyn Monroe from one frame to the next, the dramatically alters the colors.  This variety of color palette forces the viewer to carefully regard and examine this otherwise uninteresting representation of the famous actress.  He demands attention with the difficulty of repeating form and shape, but drastically altering color, providing variety in an otherwise exact replication of the same image.


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