Image of Black & white exclamation marks with one exclamation in red color depicting Emphasis in Art

Emphasis in Art: Drawing the Attention of the Viewers

The Emphasis in Art is when an Artist gives importance to any specific object or area in his artwork, thereby dominating the viewer’s eyes.

It is the first thing that someone notices in an artwork.

It usually stands out; thereby, it attracts viewers’ interest.

A viewer will first see or observe unusual things out of the ordinary. A viewer will also look at a direction arrow on the road.

Picture of blue designed Ceramic cups and one red color cup depicting Emphasis

An artist takes this as an advantage and tries to emphasize the subject where he wants his viewers’ attention, and that principle is called Emphasis.

Sometimes an artwork can have multiple emphasis points, but mostly only one dominates, leading to clarity.

Principle of Art Emphasis

Emphasis is one of the principles of art that helps pull viewers’ attention to a specific point. The other Principles of Arts are as follows: –

  1. Balance in Art
  2. Proportion in Art
  3. Unity in Art
  4. Harmony in Art
  5. Variety in Art
  6. Emphasis in Art
  7. Rhythm in Art
  8. Movement in Art

What is the Definition of Emphasis in Art?

The emphasis on Art is one of the 8 Principles of Art. An Artist uses the Elements of Art to draw (pun intended) attention to a specific object or section referred to as a Focal point when creating his artwork.

The key factor which creates Emphasis is the interest it makes in a specific object (focal point). If there is no attention, we can say there is no emphasis on the artwork, and it will look bland.

However, knowingly or unknowingly, an artist creates Emphasis in his painting to make some interest in the artwork.

To give emphasis only to beauty makes me think of a mathematics that deals with positive numbers only.


How to create Emphasis?

You can try this for yourself a few times. Take a picture or painting, pause a movie scene on television, go out of the house, and look at what is outside.

Now please close your eyes for some time and open them. What is the first object you noticed, or what is the first area in the picture that attracted you?

That point or that section is the Focal point where the artist stresses the Emphasis.

A visual artist creates Emphasis using several techniques with the elements of art. The artist gives more importance to a specific object than its surroundings, thereby creating Emphasis.

Emphasis in Art – Creation of a Focal Point

Bridge with pillars on both side and middle water converging at a focal point depicting Emphasis by Focal point

An amateur artist copies a scene that he sees or imagines, and the composition does not focus.

A professional creates a focal point to attract the viewer’s eye to a specific object or topic in the art. The artist uses different techniques depending on how intensely he wants his viewers to see the point. Emphasis is a skill you will gain from sheer practice and over time.

An artist, from his experience and practice, can gauge how the artist will appreciate his focal point placement.

Emphasis by Convergence

Photo of Buildings converging in the sky depicting Emphasis by convergence

Convergence in art refers to linear perspective, and all the lines converge to a single point: the focal point or the vanishing point.

Line of convergence, arrows, and perspective draw attention to the focal point. These lines draw closer as it moves further and automatically lead our eyes to the focal point.

Artists use implied lines to direct attention to a specific object or section.  

We can see Emphasis by convergence in outdoor drawings, especially in pictures where people draw buildings and perspective and implied lines.

The lines converge to a certain point, emphasizing that object or that part of the work.

Emphasis using Contrast

Oil painting with various color of which yellow and red are in contrast depicting Emphasis by Contrast

Artists mostly use contrast to show Emphasis, which they do by using one or more elements of art.

The artist can use color contrast, texture contrast, and value contrast to create a focal point. This contrast can help show depth in the artwork and draw desired interest.

He highlights specific points when a student writes notes using a highlighter pen. The reason is that he wants to revise the notes again; these points should bring his attention. It is a form of Emphasis as it creates attention. 

It saves a lot of time searching for the point he wants and grabs immediate attention.

In art, this is called an isolated color.

Emphasis by Separation or Isolation

Isolation means separation from others. It is a well-known fact that something which stands out will grab attention.

It grabs attention because it should either be above the ordinary or below the normal and kept separate. The human brain psychologically tries to probe why it is t different from the usual, thereby drawing attention.

A house or a tree in the middle of the farmland will create attention

Simply put, it emphasizes a particular subject or part of the artwork by separating it from the rest.

Emphasis by Creation of Exception

Paper cuttings of 5 images of which 4 blue and one red color depicting Emphasis by Exception

Emphasis by the creation of exception is like an odd man out.

It is the easiest way to create Emphasis and does not require great explanations. The human eye naturally seeks an exception.

To exaggerate, if you put a dot on the white paper and ask your friend what it is, he will say it is a black dot. He will ignore the white space in and around it. Why?

Our brain can notice only exceptions first, and that is natural.

The artist uses the same principle to create Emphasis here. He makes something different, abnormal, an exception to the rule in the artwork, which will trigger the viewer’s eye.

A square inside smooth shapes, a high-rise building on a field, an alien animal in the market, these kinds of subjects in the image immediately create Emphasis.

This exception not only creates interest in the work but also creates discussion and debates.

Emphasis by Subordination

Your friend draws a line on a piece of paper and asks you to make it big without touching it.

How do you make the line big without touching it?

It is simple, draw a smaller one by the side, and the first line automatically becomes a bigger one.

The above logic is precisely how the principle of Emphasis by Subordination works.

It is simply downplaying everything else around the Emphasized object.

Emphasis creates attention, and subordination reduces concentration.

In photography, they blur the other areas and keep only the site of importance sharp.

Example of Emphasis in Art?

Oil painting of a Sunset on the Marshes example of Emphasis in art
Sunset on the Marshes, by Martin Johnson Heade, 1867

The above painting of Sunset on the Marshes by Martin Johnson Heade is an Oil painting on canvas. If you observe the artwork, it has all the elements. But the most critical thing which stands out here is the yellowish sun.

The artist has created the Sunset with a yellowish mixture and has given prominence to the painting.

Though the canvas covers such a wide area, we mostly see the sun, which is the Emphasis in Art.

What is the Importance of Emphasis?

The simple duty of Emphasis is to draw attention to the viewer’s eye. An artist does this by creating interest in a subject using the elements of art.

The second reason is to create importance for the artwork. The artist adopts a technique by emphasizing that specific object and de-emphasizing the other things surrounding the focal point.

The emphasized subject or object tells the story to the viewer, and it is a subject through which the artist communicates his agreement or disagreement to the viewer.

There can be more than one emphasis point in an artwork, but there will mostly be one that stands out.

What Next?

Next time you want to tell a story or convey information through artwork, you should try the principle of art emphasis in your art.

Do not do this just for your academic purpose; let this be part of your routine.

In the future, when you see a painting see what the artist is emphasizing and communicating.

Learn and put that into your practice.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are a few ways to create Emphasis in an Artwork?

    Different artists employ different techniques to create Emphasis in their artworks. Some of the best ways to create Emphasis in an artwork include light and dark contrast, color, line, texture, pattern, shape, space, and form.

  2. What are some common mistakes artists make when trying to create Emphasis?

    Common mistakes artists make when trying to create Emphasis are using too many colors. Another one is using too much contrast, which will be overwhelming if used excessively. Sometimes artists need to consider the overall composition. Being mindful of these mistakes can help an artist create successful artwork.

  3. What is an Emphasis in art Appreciation?

    n art appreciation, an emphasis is the part of the composition that stands out most in relief and grabs the viewer’s attention. It can be created through various means, including color, light, shading, and texture. An artist may use Emphasis to draw the eye to a particular composition element or create a sense of drama or tension.

  4. What is an Area of Emphasis in Art?

    An “area of emphasis” in art is a specific concept, design element, or media an artist focuses on in their work. This could be something as general as still life painting or as specific as using a certain type of brushstroke. Often, an area of Emphasis will be used to highlight the piece’s subject matter or to add visual interest.

  5. What is the opposite of Emphasis in art?

    The opposite of Emphasis in art is de-emphasis. De-emphasis makes an element in a work of art less noticeable or essential than other elements. This de-emphasis can be done using various methods, such as less saturated colors or lower contrast. De-emphasis can also be achieved through placement by positioning an element further away from the viewer or in a less eye-catching location.

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