Principles of Good Design: Movement

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movement in artMovement is the principle of good design which gives the artist control over what the viewer sees next. Using this principle, the artist can create the path our eyes will travel as we look at a work of art. For example, our attention is first captured by the main focal point and then it proceeds to move around the composition as one element after another catches our attention.

Defining Movement in Art

Movement shows action and creates a feeling of motion within a composition. It also serves as a guide to direct the eye from one element to the next. An artist controls and forces the progression of the viewer’s eyes in and around the composition of the painting using eye travel. For instance, the eye will travel along an actual path such as solid or dotted line, or it will move along more subtle paths such as from large to smaller elements, from dark to lighter elements, from color to non-color, from unusual to usual shapes, etc.

Repetition and Rhythm

Movement also contributes to the overall unity in a piece by creating a relationship between the various components of a work. There are various ways to create this relationship, it can be done by using repetition and  rhythm.

rhythm in artThe use of repetition to create movement occurs when elements which have something in common are repeated regularly or irregularly thereby creating a visual rhythm. Repetition doesn’t always have to mean exact duplication either, however, it does require similarity or near-likeness. Slight variations to a simple repetition are good, as this will add interest. Repetition tends to relate elements together whether they are touching or not.

Rhythm is the result of repetition which leads the eye from one area to another in direct, flowing, or staccato movement. It can be produced by continuous repetition, by periodic repetition, or by regular alternation of one of more forms or lines. A single form may be slightly changed with each repetition or be repeated with periodic changes in size, color, texture, or value. A line may regularly very in length, weight, or direction. Color may also be repeated in various parts of the composition in order to unify the various areas of the painting.

Movement Through Action

implied movement in artMovement can also be created by action. In two-dimensional works of art, action must be implied. Implied action in a painting creates life and activity. This is best illustrated by the direction the eye takes along an invisible path created by an arrow, a gaze, or a pointing finger. Action can also be indicated by the “freeze frame” effect of an object in motion, such as a bouncing ball suspended in mid air, a jogger about to take that next step, or a swimmer taking a dive, etc. You get the idea.

Examples of the Effective Use of Movement

Movement in this painting is created in several ways. You see it as your eye travels from the little girl on the blanket and moves up the stairs. You will also see repetition in color. The color of the building is very similar to the blanket the child is sitting on. In addition, the stairs create a repetition effect.

repetition in design

Repetition creates the movement in this painting. The color of the gowns is repeated leading the eye into the painting. The pattern on the floor also creates repetition. You also get the feeling of movement created by implied action.


  1. What are some specific ways movement can be created in a composition?
  2. In what way does movement create unity in a work of art?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

More Art Lessons

Basic Elements of Art, The

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

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UPDATED: 26 October 2020

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