Art History Lab

The Power of Emphasis in Art: Techniques and Examples

Introduction to Emphasis in Art

Visual emphasis is a powerful technique that artists use to capture the viewer’s attention and create focal points in their artwork. It involves the use of various visual elements and principles of art to create a sense of importance and hierarchy in the artwork.

Throughout history, many artists have used emphasis to create compelling works of art that leave a lasting impression on their audiences. Leonardo da Vinci and John Sargent are just a few examples of artists known for their masterful use of emphasis.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the concept of emphasis in art, exploring its definition, historical examples, and the elements and principles used to create it.

Understanding Emphasis in Art

Emphasis is a foundational principle of art that refers to the creation of a visual hierarchy within the artwork. It is the way an artist communicates to the viewer what is important and what should be noticed first.

The primary elements of art that are used to create emphasis include line, shape, value, color, space, and texture. Each of these elements has the potential to draw attention to focal points within the artwork.

Line, for example, can be used to guide the viewer’s eye to specific areas of the artwork. A strong, bold line can create a strong focal point, whereas a delicate line can create subtler emphasis.

Shape, on the other hand, can be used to create contrast and emphasize certain areas of an artwork. Simple shapes like circles and squares can be used to create a focal point, while irregular shapes can create a feeling of movement and tension.

Value, or the lightness and darkness of tones, can be used to create contrast and emphasize certain areas of an artwork. Bright, high-contrast areas naturally draw the viewer’s attention.

Color is another element that can be used to create emphasis. Bright, bold colors can create focal points, while muted or dull colors can offer a sense of subtlety and nuance.

Space, or the illusion of depth and distance in an artwork, can create emphasis by creating a sense of perspective and guiding the viewer’s eye through the composition. Finally, texture can be used to create emphasis by adding tactile qualities to certain areas of an artwork.

A rough, textured surface can create a focal point, while a smooth surface can create a sense of calm and understatement. Contrasts can also be used to create emphasis in art, drawing attention to the focal points within the artwork.

Contrasts in color, texture, light, and shadow can be used to create striking, dynamic compositions that demand the viewer’s attention.


Emphasis is a fundamental technique in art that allows artists to create focal points and communicate hierarchy within their artwork. By using the various elements of art line, shape, value, color, space, and texture artists can create compositions that are visually striking, dynamic, and memorable.

Whether it’s Leonardo da Vinci’s masterful use of light and shadow or John Sargent’s dynamic use of color, emphasis is a technique that has proven to be essential to the history of art. By understanding and employing the principles of emphasis, artists can create works that leave a lasting impact on their audiences.

Techniques to Create Emphasis in Art

Creating visual emphasis is crucial in art to ensure the viewer’s attention is drawn to specific areas or objects in the composition. There are several methods that artists use to achieve this effect, which we will explore in this section.

Contrast is an effective way to draw attention to an element in a composition. Value contrast occurs when light and dark tones are placed next to each other, creating a sense of depth and dimension; high contrast areas tend to draw the viewer’s eye more readily towards them.

Color contrast is a method of emphasizing certain elements in art by using complementary or contrasting colors. Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green, while contrasting colors are next to each other, such as blue and green.

When used wisely, these colors can create a jarring effect, immediately drawing the viewer’s attention to the focal point. Isolation is another way to emphasize a particular element in art.

By creating distance and space around an item or object, it stands out from the rest of the composition. An artist can also use complementary colors to isolate an object further; for example, a red object in a predominantly green composition.

Leading lines are another effective technique for creating emphasis in art. These lines lead the viewer’s eye towards the focal point, providing a sense of flow and direction in the composition.

Converging lines, in particular, create depth and can also draw attention to the center of the composition.

Examples of Emphasis in Art

Now that we have explored the various techniques artists use to create emphasis let’s examine a few historical examples of artworks that effectively employ these techniques. Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks is a famous example of isolation in art.

The painting depicts a late-night diner’s interior, with three figures sitting and one standing behind the counter. The male figure standing behind the bar is isolated in the painting, both in terms of his physical placement and his distance from the others in the composition.

His placement helps to establish him as the focal point, with the viewer’s eyes drawn to him before the other figures. In Jacques-Louis David’s The Oath of The Horatii, we see an excellent example of how convergence can create emphasis.

The painting is a Neo-classical representation of the Roman legend of the Horatii brothers. The three central figures are shown taking an oath while the rest of the figures and background fade away, creating a sense of convergence and focusing the viewer’s eye towards the center of the composition.

Rene Magritte’s The Son of Man is an example of effective use of contrast. This surrealist self-portrait features a bowler-hat-wearing man with an apple obscuring his face.

The use of a suit, juxtaposed with a faceless head and the nonsensical placement of an apple, creates a stark contrast that immediately captures the viewer’s attention, making the figure appear out of place and encouraging a sense of unease.


In summary, emphasis is a crucial concept in art that allows artists to create a focal point and draw the viewer’s eye towards specific elements in the composition. The methods used to create emphasis can vary, from contrast to convergence to isolation, as each artist has their unique style and intent.

By utilizing these techniques to create emphasis effectively, artists can produce compelling works that leave a lasting impression on their audiences.

Frequently Asked Questions

As with any artistic principle, emphasis in art can sometimes be difficult to grasp. In this section, we will address some common questions related to emphasis in art.

1. What are “render amounts” in art?

Render amounts refer to the level of detail or the degree of realism employed in an artwork. An artist can choose to render an object with intricate details or create a simplified depiction using minimal details.

The use of rendering amounts can affect the emphasis in the composition; highly detailed objects may draw more attention to themselves, whereas simplified forms may allow other elements to become more prominent. 2.

What is the relationship between subordination and emphasis in art? Subordination, which is the antithesis of emphasis, involves reducing or suppressing an element’s significance within a composition.

Elements that do not warrant as much attention are subordinated, and their presence is downplayed to direct more attention towards the emphasized focal point. It is important to note that subordination does not necessarily mean elimination; rather, it implies de-emphasis.

3. What is the difference between emphasis and balance in art?

Although emphasis and balance are related, they are not the same. Balance refers to the distribution of visual weight in an artwork to create a sense of equilibrium.

Elements are given equal visual weight to ensure a sense of harmony in the composition. Emphasis, on the other hand, involves drawing attention to a specific point, causing an imbalance in the composition’s visual weight.

An absence of emphasis can result in a balanced composition, but it will not have a focal point or draw the viewer’s eye to a particular area.


Emphasis in art plays an integral role in creating engaging compositions that draw the viewer’s attention to specific elements. By using techniques like contrast, isolation, and leading lines, artists can create focal points that command the viewer’s attention and leave a lasting impression.

It is crucial to understand that emphasis can differ from balance, and subordination can dull down an element within a composition. By experimenting with different techniques, artists can create various levels of emphasis, rendering amounts, or balance to develop a style that reflects their unique perspective.

In conclusion, emphasis is a powerful technique used by artists to create focal points and command the viewer’s attention in their artworks. Through the use of various elements and principles of art, such as contrast, isolation, convergence, and leading lines, artists can achieve a range of different emphasis levels and render amounts, leading to different effects and emotional responses from their audience.

It is important to understand that emphasis differs from concepts like balance and subordination, which can also play a significant role in art. Overall, by understanding the methods and principles used to create emphasis in art, we can appreciate and interpret art more deeply and meaningfully.

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