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What Is Harmony in Art? (Examples and Tips Inside)

harmony in art

Like many principles in art, harmony is best explained through examples artworks that exemplify harmony and those that do not.

Harmony in art refers to the cohesive arrangement of different elements, such as color, balance, and proportion, to create a visually pleasing and unified composition. It involves balancing these elements in a way that creates a sense of order and aesthetic unity within the artwork.

In this post we breakdown different examples of harmony in art, how to make your artwork achieve better harmony, and why harmony may not be a strict set of guidelines but rather a certain aesthetic or feeling a piece of art helps evoke.

Harmony in Art – Key Takeaways

  • Harmony in visual art pertains to the organized arrangement of various elements to create an overall pleasing, aesthetic composition.
  • The principle of harmony can be explained further by examining famous artworks such as Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” and Claude Monet’s “Stacks of Wheat”.
  • Harmony in art can be achieved by using recurring visual elements like color, line, texture, and shape.
  • Keep in mind, harmony is often a subjective concept, varying widely among artists and audiences
  • Variety is often seen to be the opposite of harmony in art (and can be used to help better explain harmony)

Below are two examples which show harmony vs variety

Harmony: Van Gogh’s Starry Night
Variety: Dali’s The Temptation of St. Anthony
CharacteristicArtwork with Harmony (Van Gogh’s Starry Night)Artwork with Variety (Dali’s The Temptation of St. Anthony)
Use of ColorHarmonious color scheme with dominant blues and yellows, creating a soothing effect.Diverse color palette with stark contrasts, highlighting surreal elements.
CompositionCohesive composition with swirling patterns and rounded shapes that create a sense of unity.Disparate composition with varied elements like elephants and a saint, creating a sense of dissonance.
Emotional ImpactEvokes a sense of tranquility and wonder through its dreamy, rhythmic qualities.Provokes intrigue and unease, reflecting the bizarre and surreal nature of the scene.
Visual FocusEvenly distributed visual focus, leading the eye smoothly across the painting.Scattered visual focus, drawing attention to multiple, distinct elements.
Stylistic ElementsConsistent use of impasto technique and expressive brushstrokes.Mix of realistic detail and surreal imagery, combining different stylistic approaches.

What is Harmony in Art?

Again, harmony in art refers to the visual equilibrium or balance that is achieved by an effective arrangement of elements within a piece of artwork include color, shape, texture, and proportion.

You can think of it as the magic that happens when all the elements in a piece of artwork coexist in a balanced manner, tangibly communicating the artist’s intent.

What Creates Harmony in a Painting (with Examples)

Harmony in a painting generally originates from a careful and calculated arrangement of various artistic elements.

The factors that create harmony in an artwork that we will go through in this post with examples are:

  • Color
  • Balance
  • Proportion/Scale
  • Repetition
  • Unity/Variety
  • Other Factors to be aware of are:
    • Texture/Brushwork
    • Composition
    • Light/Shadow
    • Focal Points/Emphasis
    • Theme/Subject Matter

1. First Up – Color Harmony

Springtime by Pierre-Aguste Renoir

Simply put, color harmony refers to the aesthetic balance and cohesion achieved through careful arrangement and interaction of specific hues in a composition.

Color harmony can often be achieved by:

  • using a limited palette
  • specific placement of lighter and darker tones (warm and cool balance)

If we’re talking about color harmony, we must look at Claude Monet. He often used specific color schemes that lend to brilliant use of harmony.

Notice that there are not dark or sudden shifts in color or colors that are not balanced by other complementary tones. In his painting below Water Lillies with Bridge we see the darkest tones balanced by the lightest tones on opposite sides of his painting:

Harmony can also be established using complementary colors (which lie opposite to each other on the color wheel).

Look at Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic “Starry Night,” wherein the contrast between the fiery yellows/oranges and cool blues form a visually striking, yet harmonious, spectacle.

2. Next, Understanding Balance

Balance, whether symmetrical or asymmetrical, involves the thoughtful arrangement of elements within a space to achieve a sense of visual equilibrium.

In symmetrical balance, elements on either side of a central axis mirror each other, imparting a formal, orderly, and often serene aesthetic (as in The School of Athens by Raphael).

Conversely, asymmetrical balance employs different elements or contrasts in size, color, or texture to achieve a dynamic equilibrium that is more spontaneous and lively. A good example is “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Notice that: The central figures are off-centered and the scene is very dynamic with varied characters in the background as well as darker shadows not balanced by lighter tones.

As we see in the example above balance is not just about the physical placement of objects; it extends to the distribution of light, color, and even conceptual weight.

3. Don’t Forget Proportion Harmony

Proportion harmony revolves around the spatial relationships between objects, shapes, or parts of a whole, ensuring their sizes and scales align cohesively. Intriguingly, achieving harmony in proportions often roots in mirroring the ratios and scales found in nature’s design.

Proportion harmony doesn’t merely aspire to mathematical precision, it also threads an emotive narrative, gently guiding the viewer’s eye to where the artist wants the focus to be

Lastly, the ‘Golden Ratio’ or ‘Divine Proportion’––a mathematical ratio of approximately 1.618, often denoted by the Greek symbol Phi––also has been used significantly to create proportion harmony. For an example we can look at Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earing:

the intended or unintended use of the “Golden Ratio” draws your eye to the earing

4. Repetition and Harmony

Repetition is another fundamental element in establishing harmony within an artwork, acting as a visual glue that binds various components of a composition together.

By repeating certain elements – whether they be shapes, colors, lines, or textures – an artist can create a sense of rhythm and order, guiding the viewer’s eye across the canvas in a smooth, cohesive flow. This repeated pattern or motif becomes a familiar thread throughout the piece, creating a comforting sense of predictability and stability.

As in the example above, Edward Hopper (one of my favorite artists of all time) uses repeated geometrical shapes as well as repeated colors to create an overall harmonious scene in his Nighthawks painting.

5. Unity and Variety

As we have mentioned, harmony is about creating a visually pleasing relationship between different elements such as color, texture, and shape, often through repetition or mirroring.

Unity, in contrast, refers to the overall cohesion of an artwork, encompassing not just the visual elements but also the thematic and emotional aspects. It’s about the total coherence of the piece, integrating its structural and conceptual elements into a single, unified narrative.

There are many artists who have expertly played with both unity and variety to create an overall alluring piece of art. A good example of this is Guernica by Pablo Picasso. He used the unity of a monochromatic color scheme but then created a variety of drastically figures throughout his painting.

Other Factors That Effect Harmony:


The texture and brushwork offers an added layer of harmony. One way it can be used to add to the richness or complexity of the colors (and add to the overall color harmony). to of an artwork contribute to its overall harmony.

For example, when I first saw Starry Night by Van Gogh in person, first, I was surprised by how small it was and second, I also really enjoyed how thick his painting was applied which added a unique texture to the that made you almost want to touch it.


The composition of an artwork, which includes the arrangement of its elements and the way they occupy space, is pivotal to achieving harmony.

It interacts with the fundamental harmony factors by providing a structural framework like:

  • Balance which is directly influenced by composition; a well-composed artwork can achieve symmetry or asymmetry, both contributing to visual equilibrium.
  • Next, proportion of elements within the composition affects how the viewer’s eye moves across the artwork, enhancing its overall harmony.
  • It also affects color distribution, ensuring that hues complement each other and contribute to a cohesive visual experience.


The use of light and shadow in an artwork profoundly affects its harmony, interplaying with color, balance, and the overall mood.

Light and shadow can enhance or subdue colors, directly impacting color harmony. They play a crucial role in creating balance; for instance, a stark contrast between light and dark areas can provide visual weight to certain parts of the artwork, achieving an asymmetrical balance.

Focal Points/Emphasis

Focal points and emphasis areas in an artwork are another element that can effect harmony and are essential for directing the viewer’s attention.

They are often strategically placed to create a sense of balance, drawing the eye to areas of importance without overpowering other elements. This relates to the principle of balance in harmony, as focal points can anchor the composition.

What Are the 5 Aspects of Harmony?

The 5 main aspects of harmony in art are color, balance, proportion, repetition, unity/variety.

  1. Color Harmony: This involves using a cohesive or limited color palette that complements the entire artwork. It can be achieved through color schemes like analogous, complementary, or monochromatic, ensuring that the colors in the artwork work well together and enhance each other.
  2. Balance: Achieving visual balance is crucial for harmony. This can be either symmetrical (mirror-image balance) or asymmetrical (different elements balanced by their visual weight). Balance ensures that no single part of the artwork dominates over others, creating a sense of stability.
  3. Proportion and Scale: Proper proportion and scale of the elements within an artwork contribute to a harmonious look. This means that the size relationships between different parts of the artwork are pleasing to the eye and appropriately scaled in context with one another.
  4. Repetition and Rhythm: Repeating certain elements (shapes, lines, colors, textures) in a regular or cyclical fashion creates rhythm, which can lead to visual harmony. This repetition helps to create a sense of cohesiveness and unity within the artwork.
  5. Unity and Variety: A harmonious artwork often strikes a balance between unity (elements that tie the work together) and variety (elements that add interest and contrast). While unity creates a sense of order, variety keeps the composition dynamic and engaging. The interplay of these aspects is key to achieving harmony.

Tips for Achieving Harmony in Your Artwork

Here are our top tips for achieving harmony in your artwork:

  1. Use a Cohesive Color Palette: Select colors that complement each other well or choose to use a limited color palette such as Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red
  2. Balance the Composition: Strive for a balanced distribution of visual elements. This can be either symmetrical (mirroring elements) or asymmetrical (balancing different elements) to create a sense of equilibrium in the artwork.
  3. Incorporate Repetition and Rhythm: Repeat certain elements like shapes, patterns, or colors to establish a rhythm in your artwork. This repetition can help unify the composition and guide the viewer’s eye across the piece.
  4. Manage Proportion and Scale: Pay attention to the size and scale of the elements in your artwork. Proportionate and well-scaled elements contribute to a harmonious and cohesive look.
  5. Blend Unity and Variety: While maintaining unity in the overall theme and style, introduce variety through different textures, forms, or contrasting elements to keep the artwork engaging and dynamic.
  6. Control the Focal Point: Decide where you want to draw the viewer’s attention. A well-placed focal point can create harmony by organizing the composition around it.
  7. Consider the Use of Texture: Similar or complementary textures can tie different parts of the painting or sculpture together, contributing to the overall harmony.
  8. Maintain a Consistent Style: Whether it’s realism, abstraction, or impressionism, sticking to a consistent style helps in achieving a unified appearance.
  9. Align with the Theme or Message: Ensure that all elements of the artwork support the overall theme or message. This conceptual harmony is as important as visual harmony.
  10. Reflect on Emotional Impact: Consider the emotions you want to evoke. Harmonious artworks often have a balanced emotional tone that resonates with the visual elements.

Related Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Meaning of Visual Harmony?

Visual harmony in art refers to the cohesive arrangement of different elements, such as color, balance, and proportion, to create a visually pleasing and unified composition. It involves balancing these elements in a way that creates a sense of order and aesthetic unity within the artwork.

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