The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


When you look at art


Elements of art:

Lines — actual, implied, straight, curved; broken, simple, complex, vertical, bold, delicate, etc.

Shapes — two/three-dimensional, representational, abstract, geometric, organic, open, closed, etc.

Value — relative dark and light; value contrast; shading or gradations of value to show depth.

Color — scheme (monochromatic, complementary); quality (warm, cool, intense, expressive, etc.).

Texture — Involves our sense of touch: smooth, rough, hairy, scratchy, wet, etc.

Space — space between shapes, volume, holes, relationships, spatial illusion (perspective), etc.

Principles of design:

Unity — holds together as a whole.

Variety — provides visual interest.

Emphasis — something to hold the eye.

Balance — formal (symmetrical) or informal.

Proportion — relative sizes of images.

Pattern — repeated motifs.

Rhythm and movement — active or stable.


• Images that compare to each other in any way.

• Images that compare to other artworks, nature, or your experience.


• Contrast in scale, clarity, value, color, texture, or other art elements.

• Contrasts to other artworks.


Use as you see fit, and in any order that naturally occurs.

Question: What do I feel when I look at the artwork? What seems important?

Free-associate: What does the image bring to mind? No rules: let your mind wander where it will.

Compare and contrast to other artworks.

Investigate the historical context

Eliminate and arrange your previous observations:

• Eliminate the unimportant or uninteresting.

• Arrange potentially significant observations.

Suggest meanings the artist may have had in mind.

Test your ideas: review your description and analysis.

Reflect on spiritual and personal meanings for you.



• Is the image trite, or overused, formulaic or overly cute?

• Does the artist offer insight, a fresh approach, a unique viewpoint?

• Does the image have a certain presence of its own?


• Does fine crafting support or distract from the immediacy of the image?

• Is the artwork loose, free, painterly, textural — or just sloppy?


• Does the work have balance, unity, variety, rhythm?

• If the artwork is functional, does the form follow the function?

• Is the work readable? Does it have a focal point?

• If it is confusing, does the confusion seem to support the content?


• Is anything being expressed (not necessarily profound or serious)?

• How well do the physical elements — materials, media, shapes, colors — support the content?

• Does the work evoke anything in me?


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