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Exploring Lines in Works of Art

Lessons & Activities

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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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...

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

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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.)

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.

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