The Elements of Art: Line

Grade Level: K–4

Students will be introduced to one of the basic elements of art—line—by analyzing types of lines used in various works of art to help students understand how artists use line to convey movement and mood. They will then create an abstract line art piece based on an activity they enjoy to do or watch.

stella

Frank Stella
American, born 1936
Jarama II, 1982
mixed media on etched magnesium, 319.9 x 253.9 x 62.8 cm (125 15/16 x 99 15/16 x 24 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Lila Acheson Wallace

 

NAEA Standards

1-B Students describe how different materials, techniques, and processes cause different responses.
1-C Students use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS

  • Performing Arts

MATERIALS

  • Smart Board or computer with ability to project images from slideshow
  • Variety of art media for students to choose from (suggestions: markers, watercolors, colored pencils, colored paper for collage, oil pastel, etc.)

WARM-UP QUESTIONS

If this painting could move, would it move quickly or slowly? Is there something about the lines that make you think so?

BACKGROUND

Line is a mark made using a drawing tool or brush. There are many types of lines: thick, thin, horizontal, vertical, zigzag, diagonal, curly, curved, spiral, etc. and are often very expressive. Lines are basic tools for artists—though some artists show their lines more than others. Some lines in paintings are invisible—you don't actually see the dark mark of the line. But they are there, shown in the way the artist arranges the objects in the painting.

Artist Frank Stella is a racing fan. This metal relief painting, Jarama II, is named after an automobile racetrack outside Madrid, Spain. Here, Stella used winding, curving strips of metal painted in bright, dynamic colors to forcefully carry the motion and excitement of professional racing.

GUIDED PRACTICE

Lines in art express different things. View the slideshow below and have students answer the questions beneath each image:

Slideshow: Exploring Lines in Works of Art

  • Exploring Lines in Works of Art Lessons & Activities http://media.nga.gov/public/objects/7/6/4/0/3/76403-primary-0-740x560.jpg

    Roy Lichtenstein
    American, 1923–1997
    Leo Castelli Gallery (publisher)
    Chiron Press
    (printer)
    Brushstroke, 1965
    color screenprint on heavy, white wove paper, 58.4 x 73.6 cm (23 x 29 in.)
    Corlett/Fine 1994, Vol. II, no. 5
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein

    What type of line is this?

    Now, look closely at these lines. Which group of words best describes them?

    (1) Calm, serious, quiet

    OR

    (2) Energetic, fun, dynamic

  • Exploring Lines in Works of Art Lessons & Activities http://media.nga.gov/public/objects/1/0/5/5/9/6/105596-primary-0-740x560.jpg

    Charles Sheeler
    American, 1883–1965
    Classic Landscape, 1931
    oil on canvas, 63.5 x 81.9 cm (25 x 32 1/4 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Collection of Barney A. Ebsworth

    What types of lines do you see?

    Where do you see the following:

    Long

    Continuous

    Straight

    Diagonal

    Vertical

    Horizontal

    Now, look closely at these lines. Which group of words best describes them?

    (1) Solid, serious, organized, planned

    OR

    (2) Silly, energetic, dynamic, in motion, chaotic

  • Exploring Lines in Works of Art Lessons & Activities http://media.nga.gov/public/objects/6/9/6/6/0/69660-primary-0-740x560.jpg

    Joan Miró
    Spanish, 1893–1983
    The Farm, 1921–1922
    oil on canvas, 123.8 x 141.3 x 3.3 cm (48 3/4 x 55 5/8 x 1 5/16 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mary Hemingway

    What types of lines do you see?

    Where do you see the following:

    Straight

    Short

    Long

    Zigzag

    Curved

    Look closely at these lines. Which group of words best describes them?

    (1) Busy, topsy turvy, active

    OR

    (2) Serious, calm, quiet

  • Exploring Lines in Works of Art Lessons & Activities http://media.nga.gov/public/objects/5/2/3/5/8/52358-primary-0-740x560.jpg

    Morris Louis
    American, 1912–1962
    Beta Kappa, 1961
    acrylic on canvas, 262.3 x 439.4 cm (103 1/4 x 173 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of Marcella Louis Brenner

    What types of lines do you see?

    How is this painting different than the previous ones?

    Look closely at these lines. Which group of words best describes them?

    (1) In motion, festive, fun

    OR

    (2) Calm, sleepy, still

  • Exploring Lines in Works of Art Lessons & Activities http://media.nga.gov/public/objects/7/1/0/7/1/71071-primary-0-740x560.jpg

    Henri Matisse
    French, 1869–1954
    Woman Seated in an Armchair, 1940
    oil on canvas, 54 x 65.1 cm (21 1/4 x 25 5/8 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Given in loving memory of her husband, Taft Schreiber, by Rita Schreiber

    What types of lines do you see?

    Where do you see the following:

    Zigzag

    Curved

    Straight

    Short

    Broken

    Look closely at these lines. Which group of words best describes them?

    (1) Motion, festive, fun

    OR

    (2) Calm, sleepy, still

  • Exploring Lines in Works of Art Lessons & Activities http://media.nga.gov/public/objects/3/0/2/2/8/30228-primary-0-740x560.jpg

    Winslow Homer
    American, 1836–1910
    Breezing Up (A Fair Wind), 1873-1876
    oil on canvas, 61.5 x 97 cm (24 3/16 x 38 3/16 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of the W. L. and May T. Mellon Foundation

    Can you find the hidden lines in this painting? This painting of a fast-moving sailboat is full of diagonal lines. Why? Artists use diagonals to show energy and movement. Diagonals also lead the viewer into the painting. Try to imagine the boat without the diagonals, sitting flat on the water—horizontally—with the mast going straight up—vertically—into the sky. Would the boat be moving, or sitting still, without the diagonals?

    Now, compare this boating scene to the next slide image...

  • Exploring Lines in Works of Art Lessons & Activities http://media.nga.gov/public/objects/5/7/6/1/1/57611-primary-0-740x560.jpg

    Fitz Henry Lane
    American, 1804–1865
    Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay, 1863
    oil on canvas, 62.5 x 96.8 cm (24 5/8 x 38 1/8 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Francis W. Hatch, Sr.

    Is this boat moving fast or slow? It looks like it is standing still. Does the water seem calm or churning? How hard is the wind blowing? (No sails up = very little wind!) Are there any diagonal lines in this painting? (Very few—mostly straight lines here, vertical and horizontal. Without diagonal lines, the artist created a quiet, calm scene with a slow moving boat.)

ACTIVITY

Students will select an activity they enjoy watching or participating in that involves movement such as playing a sport, dancing, climbing a tree, biking, jumping rope, etc. They will list adjectives that describe both the activity and feelings they have while doing or viewing this activity. Then, students will write next to each adjective what type of line and color would reflect this activity best. For example, watching a ballet may be soft, thin, wavy lines in pastel colors, while jumping rope may be thick, zigzag lines in bold hues. Using Stella’s Jarama II as their inspiration, students will create an abstract line art piece in a medium of their choice that evokes the feeling of their activity. Remind students that selection of media is very important; markers create a much bolder impression than watercolors so they should think about the whole picture they wish to depict.

EXTENSION

Students will then post their finished works of art for class discussion. First, their fellow classmates should guess what activity is being depicted and give their reasons for their answer: What is it about the shape of the line? the thickness? the number of lines included? the color? choice of media? Then the student artist will justify their decisions to the class.

The Elements of Art is supported by the Robert Lehman Foundation

More Lessons in this Unit

Related Resources

Borrow the DVD Making Art

View the children’s video tour about Homer’s Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)

Contact

Questions or comments? E-mail us at classroom@nga.gov