Understanding a work of art really means thinking about the artist’s choices.


Understanding a work of art really means thinking about the artist’s choices. Everything in a work of art, the artist has either put there, or allowed it to remain. An artwork is really just a big pile of choices to think about. Each choice is an expression. Why this kind of line, or that kind of shape, or this color rather than a different line, shape or color, or even none at all? How we interpret, think and feel about a work is based on the total effect of these choices.

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The first set of choices to think about are the Visual Elements. Like the individual words in a paragraph or tones in a song, visual elements don’t convey the whole experience on their own, but they are a vital part to building it. When thinking about a work of art, looking at each of the visual elements and how it’s used, or even not used, and what they convey, tells us a little bit about what’s going on.

Unit Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the different qualities that line might possess (CLO 1, 2, 3)
  • Differentiate between Shape and Mass (CLO 1, 2, 3)
  • Describe the ways in which artists use light to represent space and model form. (CLO 1, 2, 3)
  • Explain how color might be used both in representational painting and as a symbolic tool. (CLO 1, 2, 3)
  • Outline some of the ways in which time and motion inform our experience of visual art. (CLO 1, 2, 3)


  1. Take a look at the image of the painting Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps by Kehinde Wiley (2005) (Links to an external site.).
  2. Write an evaluation (150 to 300 words) about each artistic element and how it’s used in the work. Use following image below to help guide your evaluation.
  3. Submit the written response as a Word or PDF document named: Assignment2.lastname.doc.

Using the terms you’ve learned, describe how this artist uses the following art elements within this work.

  • line
  • shape and space
  • light and color
  • texture time and motion
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