Using the Language of Art

When I was an art teacher in the public school system,
my students from kindergarten through high school
used the language of art.

The poster many art teachers have in their classroom studios.

The Elements and Principles of Design are the foundation of a visual language.  Think of the elements like car parts: wheels, body, doors, wipers,  lights, etc…  Elements are words used to describe the “parts” of work of art. The principles of design describe the how those parts make a whole. Car parts can make a station wagon, a truck or a sports car.  Lines, colors and shapes can make a landscape, a still life or a portrait.  Remember the elements and principles are used by artists to speak in a common visual language. 

I was inspired to write this post after reading a resource article on the SAQA website. The writer frames the elements and principles as if they are “rules” to be followed.  Below is a quote from the article. 

I finally understood, also, that I didn’t have to understand those “rules” I had been given. Those rules are not rules that have to be followed. The rules didn’t come first–the art did. The rules are simply our very human attempt to explain what works, what pleases us, most of the time. And as we have seen in the discussion of this subject, we are all different and what pleases me may not please you.

A visual vocabulary list helps artists describe and evaluate verbally or in writing what they see. The elements of design are not rules, they are tools. Whether you are looking at a project on your design wall or sharing a completed work at a gallery artists need to be able to identify the parts of a composition. 

For example in the composition show above (“Tom” 34″ x 24″ 2016) the elements of color, line, share, value and texture are at work. I used a two primary colors, yellow and deep blue, to catch the viewer’s eye. The circular lines of stitching provide a frame for the figure. Small slivers of cloth make a wall of texture at the edge of the composition. In the process of enhancing the digital image I exaggerated the changes in values to create a spotlight effect. 

I strongly encourage you to make a habit (if you don’t already), to start looking for the elements , like lines in composition; before you identify the subject. For example the trees in picture of a winter landscape are vertical lines and the place where the sky meets the hilltop is a horizontal line.


Visual vocabulary is a tool.
Use it!

Until next time…….

You can see my work……. 
International Quilt Festival – Chicago, Illinois: April 2017 

Under The Western Sun
Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Golden CO
April 27 – July 25 2017

National Quilt Museum, Paducah Kentucky
June – September 2017

Sacred Threads
Herndon VA
 July 7 – 23 2017 and Traveling through out the country!

Southern Utah Museum of Art
Cedar City Utah 
June 30 – August 26 2017

Interpretations: Conversations
Visions Art Museum
San Diego, CA
October 21 2017 – January 7 2018


“Quilting Arts” February /March 2017,Turmoil (page 21-27)