Element of Art: Line in 10 Famous Artworks

The Element of Art: Line is a fun element to work with as an art teacher as most art begins with line and line can take on many shapes or forms or expressions. Line works with the other elements: shape, color, form, texture. Line can help create shape or texture. For this reason, it is is a lovely Element of Art to start with in teaching in your art classroom.

Get inspired by Famous Artworks

Often, as teachers, we aim to incorporate a few curricular contents or targets into a project or unit to make teaching more efficient and to ensure students can go deep into a topic and see how many elements of learning and processes work together. When teaching the Elements of Art, often we also want to incorporate famous artworks or artists from art history or movements into the learning to introduce students to how it has been used by professional artists, and to meet more than one curricular target. As well, you can get inspired by the art pieces that you share with your students and can create an art project from it. This will allow you to create a complete unit of learning!

What is the Element of Art: Line?

Line is the foundation for drawing in art and can be used to show emotion, expression, movement, rhythm, depth, distance, pattern, and even emotion. Line starts with a point and can become or create anything. There are different kinds of lines such as curved lines, jagged lines, or zigzag lines. With our mark makers, we can create thick lines, rough lines, smooth lines, or thin lines. Line is a mark that spans between two points and has width, direction, and length.

Artworks with the Element of Art: Line

The Great Wave

This breathtaking, world icon, Japanese wood block print is a wonderful example of the use of line. Line is a major feature of printmaking processes and for this reason, it is always a good idea to examine print made artworks. None is more famous than “The Great Wave”, which not only uses line to create the waves and the details the water which appears to be coming down to claw its victims, but uses line to create depth with the Japanese mountain in the background that echoes the waves in the foreground. Line is apparent throughout the waves to show the motion and movement in the curves and the rolls of the waves, as well as the texture. This is a great artwork to show your students!

Van Gogh

Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (obverse: The Potato Peeler),1887

This Van Gogh Self-Portrait is an example of how line or strokes can be used to create an art piece. This painting is created using lines or strokes of paint and also with implied lines. This art piece also demonstrates the artist’s understanding of neo-impressionist technique, as well as his understanding of color theory (the colors he uses are both warm/cold for contrast to create a focal point, and complementary. )

Cypresses,1889

Van Gogh created this painting shortly after his visit to the asylum. This image of Cypresses stood out to him with their tall, obelisk-type shapes. This are piece is an example of line as the lines create each element in the painting from the sky, to the foreground, to the focal point (trees). This painting shows how lines can create movement and motion. The sky and trees appear to move through the brush strokes and the sky has similar marks as seen in his famous “Starry Night”.

Georges Seurat

Study for “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”,1884

Contrasting pigments are applied through small brush strokes in this impressionist art piece. This art piece is an example of how many hundreds of line and contrasting colors can be used to create an artwork. Sometimes we think of line having to be applied to create contour, however, in this artwork we can see that small lines can create shape and form and implied lines as well. Line is also used to create depth and perspective in this art piece. Seurat used dab-like brush marks to create this iconic piece, a technique which became known as Pointillism.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Woman in the Garden of Monsieur Forest,1889–91

This Lautrec art piece is a wonderful example of line in art as it takes on a Plein-Airt approach. There is a feeling of both sketching and color in this art piece and, upon examining it closely, you can see the layers of medium applied. Line is gestural in this artwork and is also used to shade the foliage, and to apply the color.

Paul Gauguin

Still Life with Teapot and Fruit,1896

This Gauguin still life artwork is an example of line creating shape and form. Line creates the contour of the items or objects in the still life. This is a great example to pair with teaching the Element of Line and still life drawing.

Egyptian Art

Cylinder seal,ca. mid-20th–mid-19th century B.C.

Line is used to create symbols. Some of the famous symbols through art history can be seen in the Egyptian artworks. Line has been used to create symbols that can communicate stories, legends, or information. Line in modern times create letters and numbers. Line is essential for communication in life both historically and contemporary.

Islamic Tiles

Mihrab (Prayer Niche),A.H. 755/A.D. 1354–55

Islamic tiles are beautiful examples of line used in art, and in mediums other than drawing or painting. In these architectual tiles, line is used to create patterns and text in this prayer niche. These beautiful, historical tiles also create the principle of design: pattern. This is a great image to pair with radial symmetry in printmaking.

The Annunciation

The Annunciation,ca. 1450

This incredibly detailed art piece shows line in a crisp, clear way. All the elements of this art piece are drawn and executed in a fine, clear manner with extraordinarily sharp details. When you zoom in on the work, you can see the finer details, of course, created with line. Line is used to create the beautiful folds on the robes, to create the architecture seen from this bird’s eye view, and the wonderful details in the wings of the angel or the tiles on the floor in the doorway.

Greek Pottery

Terracotta chariot krater,ca. 1375–1350 B.C.

Finally, Line is used on the surface decoration of ancient pottery from Greece. The illustrations use a range of lines from dots, to curved lines, to straight lines to create the iconic designs of life in ancient Greece. These lines create images of life and also add pattern on the surface of these pots. These deep vases and urns are always decorated with detailed pictoral scenes with contrasting colors.

Use these artworks to help teach line in Art History in your art classroom. These images are of the public domain, provided by The Met. Share these images to your students or get inspired by them to create art lessons inspired by these artworks to help your students understand the Element of Art: Line.

Love from,
Ms Artastic

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The Element of Art: Line is a fun element to work with as most art begins with line and line can take on many shapes or forms or expressions. Line works with the other elements: shape, color, form, texture. Line can help create shape or texture. For this reason, it is is a lovely Element of Art to start with in teaching in your art classroom.
Ms Artastic

I am currently a 4th and 5th grade teacher in BC who LOVES creating ceramic sculptures as an artist and art lessons for TpT.

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