The Alphabet of Art


Type Contrast Resulting Attributes
Dark and Light Maximum Emotionally Active
Esthetically dynamic
Spatially in depth
Gray Minimum Emotionally passive
Esthetically decorative
Spatially static

Of all the Elements, Value is the most important in creating mood. Motion pictures and television employ value to create the proper mood for the story they are telling. For mystery, strong contrast and generally dark value is used. For comedy, generally less contrast and high values are used. For moods between the two, or mundane scenes, medium values are normally used.
Rembrandt is the master artist of Value. He painted "The Anatomy Lesson" with the light shining on the people in the painting but originating from outside the painting. This creates less than maximum contrast. Then, with the "Night Watch," he used light values for what he wanted the viewer to see, and kept the other parts of the picture in dark values.

To create his greatest effects, Rembrandt ignored the usual way of painting with the light coming from outside the picture, and painted as if the source of the light was from within objects themselves. Once he started this mental origin of light, it became imperative to change the composition to show how the light he was painting could be used to best advantage. In the "Night Watch," he created a dramatic effect by the maximum use of Value, in which the light comes from the figure of a child.

Rembrandt received his most lucrative commissions from the Guilds, all member of which wanted to appear equally important in the paintings. In the "Anatomy Lesson," the men are therefore all painted in approximately equal value. But this is not the case in the "Night Watch," where only a few of the men are adequately illuminated.

Gray is the opposite of strong contrast in Value. Gray is used to show distance, and to modify distant naturalistic forms, as in Oriental painting. In interior decoration, gray can be used to provide a more spacious feeling, especially when combined with cool colors.

Maximum contrast of Value (dark and light) places objects in the foreground of a picture. Minimum contrast (gray) places objects in the background.

Choose a topic to read more about the Alphabet:
Line Line Direction Shape Size
Texture Value Color Composition
The Attributes The Picture Plane

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