Artists make choices that reflect their unique intentions about their artworks. They select their medium, such as, painting, drawing, sculpture, film; they choose their materials, such as clay, paint, video cameras; they apply particular artistic techniques, and they organize and manipulate their artworks to communicate meaning (which may or may not be immediately obvious). A viewer becomes more knowledgeable about an artwork by asking and answering such questions as: Which medium? Which materials? What techniques? What organizational design?
Certain principles are commonly used by artists to compose their artworks. Knowing some of these principles and noting how artists follow them, or even purposefully violate them, may guide the examination of a work of art. These principles include proportion and scale, balance, rhythm and unity. Viewers can use these principles by pondering such questions as: How do the parts of the object relate to each other and to the whole object (proportion)? What is the relative size of the artwork in relation to other objects (scale)? Has the overall mass of the object been distributed to achieve an impression of harmony (balance)? Is there repetition of certain components of the artwork that suggests a cadence (rhythm)? How is an overall sense of oneness or wholeness achieved (unity)? Traditionally, artists used their materials and techniques to adhere to these principles; in contrast, many contemporary artists choose to contradict one or more of these principles as they push the boundaries of artmaking into new frontiers. Artists develop an individual style or approach to artistic processes and principles that reflects their particular experience and interests, as well as their social and historical circumstances.