What Is Harmony in Art?
Harmony is a principle of art which refers to how well all the visual elements work together. Elements which are in harmony should have some kind of logical progression or relationship. It should just look like it works.
If there is an element which is not in harmony with the rest of the artwork, it should stick-out and be jarring to look at; kind of like an off note in a song.
When I think of harmony, the first paintings which come to mind are Monet's water lilies series:
Below are some more examples of harmony in art.
Harmony in Color
Harmony in color refers to paintings which utilize a fairly limited range of hues. For example, a painting which features mostly different tones of green, or different tones of blue. Pablos Picasso's The Old Guitarist is united by the dull, blue tones used in the painting. Even the orange guitar looks like it is bathed in soft, blue light.
Monet's painting below demonstrates harmony in color with mostly greens and blues used. This is known as an analogous color scheme.
In John Singer Sargent's Fisherwoman, notice the similar oranges and browns used for both the subject and the landscape. The subject's dress almost blends in with the shore.
Harmony in Shape
Shape is a strong feature in most of Paul Cézanne's work. The painting below from his Mont Sainte-Victoire series is united by the rigid, geometric shapes throughout the landscape.
Harmony in Value
Value is a powerful visual element which refers to how light or dark a color is. You can promote harmony in your painting by uniting colors which are under a tight or compressed value range. For example, a group of light colors has a certain harmony because they are all light. The same goes for a group of dark colors or colors within the middle-value range.
The two paintings by Monet below are in a high key and utilize mostly light colors. Even though many different hues are used, there is a sense of harmony as most of the colors are in the light value range.
[Exercise] Place several different colors on your palette and observe the strong contrast between the colors. Then gradually add more white to each color. Notice how when more white is added, the more in harmony the colors appear to be.
The painting below by Joaquín Sorolla, on the other hand, is united mostly under a dark value range, except the burst of light around the middle.
The painting in grayscale gives a better idea of how dark all the colors in shadow are.
Sargent's Val d’Aosta features colors which are mostly around the middle-value range. There are no strong highlights or intense darks.
Harmony in Brushwork
Inconsistent brushwork is one of the most common reasons for a lack of harmony in paintings. Beginners tend to jump from tight brushwork to loose and rough brushwork without any logical progression.
The painting below by Sorolla features fairly loose brushwork throughout the whole painting which provides a strong sense of harmony. Even areas which are completely different are united by the loose brushwork, like the bright, orange rocks and the deep blue ocean. It may have looked out of place had Sorolla carefully rendered the rocks, whilst keeping the ocean loose and rough.
Moscow Courtyard, on the other hand, is united by the delicate and careful brushwork throughout the whole painting. Some areas are more simplified than others, but for the most part, the brushwork appears consistent.
Harmony in Style
When I think of harmony in style, Vincent van Gogh is first to come to mind. His paintings are characterized by bold strokes of exaggerated color.
Below is another example of harmony in style by Georges Seurat. He utilized a pointillism style, which involved painting small dabs of distinct color to depict form.
Harmony in Subject
Harmony in subject usually applies to busy scenes with vast numbers, like Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting below. Umbrellas and other blue shapes take up so much of the painting that it creates a sense of harmony.
Monet's water lilies series is another example; the vast number of water lilies creates a certain harmony throughout the painting.