Rhythm and Art: Elements of Art

Learning about the three elements of art: line, shape, and color.


Key Staff

Primary Instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


Students will learn about the three elements of art (line, shape, and color) through a study of Torres-García's symbolism, Picasso's emotional use of color in his Blue and Rose Periods, and Abstract Expressionism. They will apply their new vocabulary to images by a variety of artists from different time periods.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand how non-verbal language is manipulated to communicate a thought or an emotion (through the study of Torres-García's symbolism, Picasso's emotional use of color in his Blue and Rose Periods, and Abstract Expressionism).
  • Dissect the relationships between elements and principles; specifically line, shape, and color, and their maximum and minimum contrast.

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Comprehensive Arts Education

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection
  • Research

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
  • Projector
Technology Notes

Internet Access is needed.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

This lesson is an overview of three elements of art: line, shape, and color. You may divide this lesson into three lessons (one for each element), explaining in detail the definitions and characteristics of each element.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with the basic genres of visual art (drawing, painting, etc.)

Physical Space



Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Select a video from The Artist's Toolkit and show it to students. A link to the Artist's Toolkit is available in the Resource Carousel. Ask them what they noticed in the video. Ask them what they know about “elements of art.”

2. Next, explain that you are going to learn some of the terminology to be able to discuss art. Go over the following new vocabulary words with students and have them print the words and definitions on eight 3" x 5" cards. Students should print the word on one side and the definition on the other side of each card.

  • Organic line: a mark with length and direction that forms an irregular shape, or one that might be found in nature, rather than a regular, mechanical shape
  • Inorganic line : a mark with length and direction that is straight and forms a geometric shape
  • Shape: a form that refers to the distance or area between, around, above, below, or within an element or part of an element
  • Geometric shape: any shape or form having a more mathematic than organic design. Geometric designs are typically made with straight lines or shapes from geometry, including circles, ovals, triangles, rectangles, squares, and other quadrilaterals
  • Repetition: a principle of design; refers to a way of combining elements of art so that the same elements are used over and over again
  • Rhythm: a principle of design; refers to a way of combining elements of art to produce the look and feel of movement, especially with a visual tempo or beat
  • Pattern: a form or model proposed for imitation
  • Color: an element of art with three properties:
    • Hue or Tint: the color name (e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.)
    • Intensity: the purity and strength of a color (e.g., bright red or dull red)
    • Value: the lightness or darkness of a color

Build Knowledge

1. Show students images of works of art, separated by their use of lines, shape, and color in their maximum and minimum contrast. If you do not have postcards, use old magazines, cut-out images, or print images from the Internet (see Internet Resources section). Introduce each element, asking students to look carefully at the postcards, only two at a time. Explain to students that many of the vocabulary terms relate to math. Ask them to keep an eye out for geometric shapes in the works of art shown.

Some examples of artists whose works could be used to develop an in-depth understanding of the elements of art include:

  • S.A. Jones, Willem de Kooning, Louis Morris, and Jackson Pollock, to represent the use of organic lines
  • Stuart Davis, Vassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro, Louise Nevelson, and Georgia O'Keeffe (see O'Keeffe's Evening Star, specifically), to represent the use of shapes.
  • Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, and Alvin Loving, to represent the use of geometric shapes
  • Helen Frankthaler and Robert Motherwell, for organic shapes
  • For the repetition of shapes, show Alexander Calder, Vassily Kandinsky, and Andy Warhol (see Warhol's Marilyn Monroe, specifically)
  • Umberto Boccioni, Stuart Davis, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, and Vincent van Gogh, for rhythm (movement)
  • Gustav Klimt, Larry Poons, Victor Vasarely, and Pre-Columbian textiles, for patterns
  • Roberto Matta, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Mark Rothko, for color
  • Show Robert Delaunay, for color patterns.


1. Encourage students to respond by matching the new vocabulary cards with the postcards of the artworks. Place two postcards close to each other and tell students the names of the two artists as well as the titles of their works. Ask compare and contrast questions such as:

  • Which one is a study of shapes?
  • Which one has brighter colors?
  • Which shows visual rhythm? Movement?
  • Which shows repetition of lines? Shapes? Colors?
  • Which has organic lines? Geometric shapes?
  • Can you see repeated patterns? Where?

2. Give students two other postcards and have them repeat the same activity in small groups.

3. Have students visit the interactive art Web site The Artist's Toolkit. Have students explore the elements of line, shape, and color on the website, use the "Find" and "Create" tools, and discuss their results.


1. Have each student choose 2 cards with works of art on them, preferably cards they did not use in the previous steps.    

2. Have students write a brief essay on the following question: Using the vocabulary and elements we discussed in class, compare the two works of art in front of you.

3. Have students complete the Self-Assessment Guide that can be found in the Resource Carousel


Evaluate student performance based on their Self-Assessment Guide and their understanding of the vocabulary discussed as evidenced by their essays.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
National Standards in Other Subjects



Teresa Ghiglino
Original Writer

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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