Art & Design: Emphasis

August 23 – December 7, 2008

Ledger and Murray Galleries

This exhibition, focusing on Emphasis, is the first in a series of works from the Permanent Collection that presents examples of how artists think about design principles.

Most of us understand the basic compositional tools that are used to create artworks. Referred to most often as the Elements of Art, these include line, shape, value, texture, color and space as means to manipulating the materials artists use to make a work of art come to life.

But before the lines and colors can be created, artists consider the impact that design will have on communicating with viewers of their work. While the Elements of Art can be considered a form of language, the Principles of Design is the grammar that helps the artist create a work that makes sense to our eyes. Exhibitions to follow will include additional Principles of Design: Balance, Proportion, Rhythm and Unity.

Emphasis is used by artists and designers to clarify for viewers how important each visual element in a composition is. In a sense, Emphasis can be used to create a form of visual ranking system. This is accomplished in a number of different ways:

In compositions that are dominated by dark colors, bright colors will stand out. The same is true in the reverse. Think of hunters or road crews wearing orange vests for safety. But contrast can also be created through different sizes of elements, through solid shapes against more detailed backgrounds, and through combinations of vertical and horizontal elements.

If one element is clearly different from everything that surrounds it, that element will attract your eye. Think of the difference between trying to view a single cloud in a sky filled with clouds versus looking at the only cloud in the sky. Or a single, brightly colored umbrella set up on a sandy beach.

The placement of elements has a major impact on our ability to “read” an artwork. Our eyes usually are attracted to the central element of an artwork. But artists can utilize Contrast and Isolation to place important elements in unusual positions to give us a different perspective on what lies in the center of the artwork.


  • Cowles Charitable Trust
  • Dorothy Chao Jenkins
  • Ron and Becky Johnson
  • Reitzel Foundation
  • Swain Companies and Affiliates