Artistic Expression Arts and 21st Century Learning The Arts and Lifelong Learning

What’s My Line?

Line is one of the most fascinating and essential elements of artistic expression. Artists create emotional impact in their works by exploring the visual and aural qualities of line, which can be short, long, straight, curved, thick, thin, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, zigzagged, combined, or implied.

Diagonal Lines
Diagonal Lines

Every line is a sort of pathway that connects two points. It can even be a path made by a moving point in a choreographed dance, staged drama, or melodic line. The powerful emotional impact that can come from what may seem like a simple line is widely varied, ranging from feelings of calmness or stability to excitement or anger.

A line is a dot that went for a walk.
~ Paul Klee

There are several aspects that can be used to explore the impact of line, but line direction has the potential for the greatest expressive power. Here are a few examples:

  • Vertical Lines of a Stained Glass Window
    Vertical Lines of a Stained Glass Window

    Horizontal lines create the feeling of expanded space or time—a sense of peacefulness, quiet, tranquility, or serenity.

  • Vertical lines seem to defy gravity and create a feeling of stability and strength. They draw your attention upward.
  • Diagonal lines create a sense of instability and restlessness—the feeling of activity and movement.
  • Zigzag lines create a sense of energy, life, and excitement.
  • Curved lines create the feeling of gracefulness, softness, and balance. They express the impression of flexibility and movement. Spirals and wavy lines are more complex versions of a curved line.


While the nature of these lines can change depending on other design elements and there are endless combinations, the expressive aspects can lead us to a deeper understanding of the power of pathways in our own lives.


Line is a rich metaphor for the artist. It denotes not only boundary,edge or contour, but is an agent for location, energy, and growth.It is literally movement and change – life itself.

~ Lance Esplund


Curved Path, Monk’s Garden - Gardner Museum, Boston, MA
Curved Path, Monk’s Garden – Gardner Museum, Boston, MA

We can develop awareness through the artistic process and understand line in our daily lives. Our personal goals are not necessarily achieved in a straight line. Can you imagine setting a goal to lose weight and you go straight to your target without any zigzags or curves along the way? Have you ever thought that the only way to get what you wanted was to take a certain path only to discover that a different kind of path actually gave you greater opportunities and richer experiences? Look at the interior design of your office and home, the design of buildings on your street and in your town, and the lines of your clothing. What feeling do you experience in these environments? Can you imagine the impact of a different line—a more vertical space, clothing with horizontal stripes, a curved pathway rather than the shortest route?

Straight lines go too quickly to appreciate the pleasures of the journey.They rush straight to their target and then die in the very moment of their triumph without having thought, loved, suffered or enjoyed themselves.

~ Rene Crevel

Lines can be thick or thin, long or short, solid or dashed, clear edged or fuzzy. Learn to be an artist in your everyday life by becoming more aware of the feeling and impact of line in reaching your goals, in accomplishing tasks, in creating stimulating or relaxing environments, and in moving throughout your day. Be open to taking a different path. You never know what you might discover along the way.

— Pat

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