Unity in Art - A Way to Visual Harmony

November 6, 2016

Difficult to define but instinctively recognized, unity in art is one of the art’s principles representing the sum of compositional elements. The arrangement of different pieces producing the harmonious, balanced, and complete whole would be a definition of unity in art. Exploring different visual languages and attempting to create the most pleasing image, artists play with different ways of achieving a harmonious visual solution. As much as authors strive for originality and their own personal expression, some rules just need to be obeyed.

Unity in painting, unity in sculpture or unity in drawing - see how unity in art is achieved by using principles of harmony and shape balance in elements
Georges Seurat - Bathers at Asnières

How To Achieve Unity in Art?

Unity is a quality of wholeness and oneness that is achieved by the proper use of art elements and principles. Understood as a complete opposite to the notion of variety in art, unity is both an idea of calmness, simplicity, or repetition of the same[1]. On the other hand, the atmosphere of unity is present in gestural and expressive paintings as well. At the core of this principle, is, in fact, a question – How does one achieve a sense of order in the composition without being boring?

Understanding that all the pieces of the work need to function in the same direction, many artists decide to restrict their color choices, to rely on the use of the same, or use of an overall texture and pattern in order to achieve harmony. The use of similar objects, common motif or background, focus on the same brushstroke, and inquiry into the notions of balance or symmetry are all understood as compositional tools. Artists do not employ these tools within one strict method but rather in the chase for harmony we recognize certain trademarks of each individual style. To achieve unity in art, some prefer to use only primary colors, repeat geometric shapes on a neutral background, or use a variety of texture created with various lines.

The emphasis of space and scale help to define unity in painting. How else is unity created through the use of rhythm and point? What is the definition of unity in art ?
Wassily Kandinsky - Several Circles. Image via wikimedia.org

Examples of Harmonious Solutions by Different Artists

Thinking back to the age of Renaissance, the golden ratio or golden rectangle was one of the first compositional tools that exemplified the search for order. This search reflected the admiration for nature and divine. Various painters, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali, or Georges Seurat implemented the idea of the golden ratio. Today, we are provided with a grid which in fact helps us to recognize the placement of the artwork parts following such an old idea. The idea of the grid today various graphic designers use to help arrange different elements in poster or web page design[2].

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Looking back at the birth of abstract art, famous artist Wassily Kandinsky was a pioneer in the development of abstract, nonrepresentational pieces. Believing in the expressive quality of abstract forms, line, and color, he often used repetition to help build his paintings. In his painting Several Circles, harmony is achieved by the repetition of the circle on the neutral background. Variety is also achieved by the various sizes and colors of the geometrical object. In his surreal painting Golconda, Rene Magritte also relied on repetition but also focused on the restriction of the color palette. Using gray tones and pastels, along with the repeated use of windows and men, a pattern was created across the entire painting. Relief from such constant motif is provided in the plain gray building placed on the right. Various artists, such as above mentioned Georges Seurat, Jasper Johns, or Cesar Santos played with texture and brushstrokes to achieve order and variety of the rhythm in their paintings.

How to create unity in art? In this painting explore the rhythm of the work and how unity in art is achieved by using principles of harmony and balance in elements
Rene Magritte - Golconda. Image via wallpaper.com

The Sense of Order in Contemporary Art Production

The spirit of postmodernism, influenced by the need to break strict definitions drives creative authors to question issues never questioned in the past. The strict border between various disciplines is gone yet what remains are the art elements and its principle. Followed by the need for order, various artists play with the idea of the chaos. Looking at Tracey Emin’s work My Bed we recognize that the refusal to follow rules became the rule itself. All the various found objects worked together to help form a unity in the context of the piece and this, of course, is yet another quality of unity in art. What may appear as a misbalanced composition, in fact, may hide an allegory of various philosophical or social issues, and in such works one needs to view each object as a symbol.

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From a practical point of view, the search for a harmonious solution influences the placement and order of lines, texture, sizes, shapes, or colors within the work. To reach the sense of order, which helps transmit the work’s message or the desired atmosphere is why unity in art is a crucial and important principle. If a certain element broke away from the underlined compositional route, a produced painting or a sculpture would seem slightly off. In the end, the work needs to communicate and without a certain order, the message of the piece would not reach its public.

Editors’ Tip: Foundations of Art and Design

The principle of unity is perhaps the most important of the design principles, yet it is often the most difficult one to understand. To understand this complex notion, the author of the book takes us to the beginning and presents the foundations of art and design. Exploring in various chapters the micro to macro topics, complex artworks and their inner systems standing at its core are brought closer to the readers. Looking at color, line, texture, proportion, and movement, the author explores how various ideas and concepts are built.


    1. Collingwood, R., G., The Principles of Art, Read Books, 2011
    2. Zakia, R., D., Page, D., Photographic Composition: A Visual Guide, Elsevier Inc., 2011

All images used for illustrative purpose only. Featured image in slider: Wassily Kandinsky - Abstract Composition. Image via widewalls.ch; Yayoi Kusama - Kusama with Pumpkin. Image via anothermag.com;Damien Hirst - Spot painting. Image via whatartdoes.wordpress.com

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