The Alphabet of Art

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An artist uses size to make things appear near and more important, or far away and less important. Larger objects draw the eye first. In terms of the Alphabet, larger objects have maximum contrast. This results in more emotional impact and a sense of dynamism and depth.

Type Contrast Resulting Attributes
Large Maximum Emotionally Active
Esthetically dynamic
Spatially in depth
Small Minimum Emotionally passive
Esthetically decorative
Spatially static


Carol Cloar used Size in his painting "My Father Was as Big as a Tree." Cloar paints the father large in the foreground and the tree farther away in the middleground. Because the father is so large, he appears to be as big as the tree.

Other modern painters have used size to their advantage, including abstract painters such as Morris Louis, who painted pictures of such huge size that the frame was unimportant.

My Father Was as Big as a Tree by Carol Clure
Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, who never painted a picture except to illustrate an intellectual point, uses the Element of Size brilliantly in the "Mona Lisa."

The lady occupies the foreground. The landscape, in the middleground, is moved to the background by making it smaller than it would normally appear. The picture therefore goes from foreground to background and eliminates the middleground. In so doing, Leonardo obtained maximum contrast of the large lady imposed on the faraway landscape.


1. Click the buttons to resize the figure and background. As Mona shrinks and the background gets closer, Leonardo's effective use of Size to emphasize the figure gradually disappears.

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2. Move the sliders to resize the three objects in the picture. How does the importance of each object change with its size?

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