The Hirshhorn Museum – Elements and Principles of Design

September 7, 2009
PointMiró “Painting (Circus Horse)” 1927

Joan Miró “Painting (Circus Horse)” 1927

Miró’s painting consists of at least six points. The three points in the upper left of the painting are often connected by people to make a triangle. This is an example continuity, because by making a triangle, a person is having a tendency to “connect the dots.”

LineFernand Léger "Still Life:King of Diamonds" 1927

Fernand Léger "Still Life: King of Diamonds" 1927

In Léger’s painting there are a number of different kinds of lines. All of the lines work together to create a range of forms and objects. Lines that are seen in this painting are deep curves, shallow curves, horizontal and vertical lines, and edges.

FormEdward Hopper "First Row Orchestra" 1951

Edward Hopper "First Row Orchestra" 1951

The painting above is a great example of form because it defines two people in a theatre. You can tell that the two people are in the front row because the stage is right next to them. You can also tell that the man is sitting to the right of the woman because Hopper painted the woman overlapping the man, which is another way to define space.

MovementSol LeWitt “Wall Drawing #356 BB: Cube without a cube” 2003

Sol LeWitt “Wall Drawing #356 BB: Cube without a cube” 2003

LeWitt’s painting is an example of movement because it causes your eyes to move statically. Since your eyes jump and hop when viewing this painting, the painting creates a sense of movement. This type of movement is called implied movement because nothing in the painting is actually moving.

ColorEllsworth Kelly “Red Yellow Blue V” 1968

Ellsworth Kelly “Red Yellow Blue V” 1968

The three colors in this painting are all painters primaries. These colors will not mix together to create a clear green or purple, but they can mix together to create similar colors. The proportion of the colors are off balance, since red is the largest and blue is the smallest.

PatternYinka Shonibare "The Age of Enlightenment-Antoine Lavoisier" 2008

Yinka Shonibare "The Age of Enlightenment-Antoine Lavoisier" 2008


Shonibare’s mannequin displays cloths that contain numerous examples of pattern. The patterns aren’t natural ones seen in nature, but they organize the shape of the cloth. Some of the patterns here create optical illusions, while other patterns display a solid color.

TextureJean Debuffet "Crossed Arms" 1955

Jean Debuffet "Crossed Arms" 1955

SN851698This canvas consists of only oil paint, but it gives off the texture of bristly, rough, and hard. It looks as though the painting has been made with leaves, tree bark, and the skin of a bison or cow. Through these fake materials is an etched-in man with his arms crossed.

BalanceMagdalena Abakanowicz “Four on a Bench” 1990

Magdalena Abakanowicz “Four on a Bench” 1990

This sculpture provides a good example of balance mainly because the “bench” is being balanced on two round pieces of wood. The four bodies on the “bench” are expressing formal balance with approximate symmetry. This means that the sides of the “bench” are equivalent, but not completely equal.

ProportionLouise Nevelson “Silent Music IX” 1964

Louise Nevelson “Silent Music IX” 1964

This wood piece displays the relationship between the parts and objects that create this art. There are mirrors in some of the compartments in order to display the blank space behind the wood piece. This gives the piece more definition and shows the proportion of the wood and the rest of the cabinet-like structure.

RhythmRobert Smithson “Gyrostasis” 1968

Robert Smithson “Gyrostasis” 1968

This sculpture creates a sense of rhythm by creating a wave like structure. The pattern the piece gives a sense of time. The effects of the pattern and the shape of the structure provide a timed movement of a “crashing wave.”

EmphasisRobert Motherwell “Elegy to the Spanish Republic No.129” 1974

Robert Motherwell “Elegy to the Spanish Republic No.129” 1974

Motherwell’s painting shows a row of black oval-shaped objects. Although the eye wants to make a row, the pattern is broken by the second quarter of the painting. This quarter takes all the attention, and is therefore the emphasis of the piece of art.

UnityAndy Warhol “Marilyn Monroe’s Lips” 1962

Andy Warhol “Marilyn Monroe’s Lips” 1962

Warhol’s work here shows many different elements and principles of design. The most important attribute of the painting is the pattern because it gives the strongest sense of unity. By having lips repeating one after the other, the pieces become united as one work of art.

Overall PieceCarmen Herrera "Rondo (Blue and Yellow)" 1965

Carmen Herrera "Rondo (Blue and Yellow)" 1965

This piece displays 5 elements (point, line, form, color, and pattern), and 3 principles (balance, proportion, and unity). The piece may look simple, but it is composed well by inversing the colors over a central axis making the painting bilaterally symmetrical. Simple shapes are also used in the painting to create edges and lines, and to give a sense of proportion to the surrounding space. The primary colors in this piece represent sunshine and optimism (yellow), and coolness and distance (blue).

Alberto Giacometti "Tall Man" 1947

Alberto Giacometti "Tall Man" 1947

The Hirshhorn Museum was a great experience for being able to actually see the art that the class has to critique. Some of the pieces were recognizable from books and pictures, such as the Tall Figure by Giacometti. The Hirshhorn didn’t have the best collection, but the exhibits were enjoyable. My favorite was the Walead Beshty exhibit because it took a new perspective into what can be done with different tools other than a paintbrush and a canvas. My least favorite were the Andy Warhol paintings because his art is now printed on everything, so seeing it in a museum isn’t as exciting.

Andy Warhol "Self-Potrait" 1986

Andy Warhol "Self-Potrait" 1986


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