Examples of Shape in Art

Throughout the arts, a shape is defined as a surface enclosed by a bounded area, usually two-dimensional and having both length and width. An artist uses shapes to create images on a canvas and in our minds, which are among the seven elements of art. In addition to lines, colors, and textures, other aspects of art define the boundaries of shapes. Shapes can be transformed into their three-dimensional cousins by adding value. A person who appreciates art or who is an artist should fully understand the use of shapes.

Every time you draw a line and join it at both ends, you make a shape. This post will explain the various shapes you’ll experience in art and show you some of the best examples of shape in art from master painters.

What Is Shape in Art

Painting, sculpture, and architecture all use the shape as a fundamental building block of every subject. An area that is surrounded by an outline is a shape at its most basic level. A shape is an external form, a contour, or an outline of a subject in the context of art. Despite painting and drawing being two-dimensional, other elements such as color, line, shadow, and value give the impression of three-dimensionality to shapes.

In order to create a shape, a line must be enclosed. Art uses both shapes and lines together almost exclusively. A triangle can be constructed with three lines in mathematics, while a square can be created with four lines.

An artist can also differentiate shapes by varying their value, color, and texture. It is possible to create shapes without a line, for example, through collages, where shapes are defined by the edges of materials that contrast.

Different Types of Shape

Geometric Shapes

A geometric shape is one that has a mathematical definition and a common name. Artists often use a protractor and compasses to make them mathematically precise by giving them clear edges or boundaries. This category contains shapes like squares, circles, triangles, polygons, rectangles, etc.

Typically, paintings and photographs are canvassed on rectangular canvases that define each piece’s clear edges and boundaries.

Organic Shapes

A biomorphic or organic shape is the opposite of geometric forms that are well-defined. You can draw an organic shape similar to an amoeba by drawing a semicircular line and connecting it to where you began.

Shapes of the organic kind are created by the artist and have no names, are not defined by lines or angles, are not standardized, and are not supported by tools. Organic shapes often come from nature, where they can be as amorphous as clouds or as precise as leaves.

Positive and Negative Space

It is essential to remember that the spaces that one fills and the spaces that one leaves empty are purposefully created. The positive shape of an object is its shape, such as a square. Objects with a negative shape are spaces between them, such as the column in between two squares. Involving both horizontal and vertical axes, artists can pair circles with squares to create hourglass figures by pairing circles with squares, for example, to activate the space between them and draw attention to the negative shape. It is important to notice that the proportions of the area used in geometric art can be just as important as those that remain unused.

Seeing Shape Within Objects

A common first step in the drawing is to break down your subject into geometric shapes. In this way, an object can be created with more details and correct proportions based on the smaller one.

For example, an artist may begin drawing the wolf’s ears, nose, eyes, and head with basic geometric shapes. Using this as a foundation, he can construct his final work of art.

10 Examples of shape in art

Below is a selection of artworks that we selected for their innovative use of shape. We have demonstrated how great artists use the visual element to enhance their creativity through these examples of shape in art.

Two-Dimensional Shape

examples of shape in art
Reptiles by M.C. Escher, 1943

The lithograph by Escher creates the illusion of two as well as three dimensions. The flat outlines of the reptiles are given life by adding tonal values to an interlocking pattern in his sketchbook. The objects they look at have been carefully selected for their variety of textures and shapes as they step away from their two-dimensional world. In the process of exploring the new environment, they lose their tone and adopt their former location in the design – returning to their original format.

Three-Dimensional Shapes

examples of shape in art
Paul’s Turn by Anthony Carlo, 1971

Anthony Caro constructs his metal sculptures by cutting, bending, welding, and bending industrial beams, bars, pipes, and sections, then painting them and bolting them together. This three-dimensional abstraction can be interacted with by walking around it and between it to view the changing relationships of its delicately balanced art forms.

This sculpture defies gravity despite being made of heavy gauge steel and weighing about the same as a typical family car. Despite the dead weight of its materials, the arrangement of this sculpture and delicate balance between its component parts elevate it for its elevated status as an artwork.

Representational Shapes

examples of shape in art
Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life by Harmen Steenwyck, 1640

Representational art entails the drawing of shapes that are accurate to some degree. While accuracy plays a significant role in art, it is not the only objective. Various levels of detail can be added to the form, ranging from a simple outline to a detailed form with color, tone, texture, and pattern. Still, life paintings are accurate representations, but in the form, the tonality and texture become a primary focus, while in the latter the color becomes the major theme.

It is the pinnacle of representational art, a testament to the vainness of human life. The painting is executed in a realistic manner, but it is much more than just a display of skill. As a group, the objects work to articulate a moral narrative through their symbolic meanings.

Abstract Shapes

examples of shape in art
Still Life with a Peach and Two Green Pears by Paul Cezanne 1883-87

Abstract art is a form of art where shapes are abstracted by modifying them with other visual elements.

Cézanne’s distortions of perspective led to a series of intensely abstract and contemporary styles and movements, including Constructivism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, De Stijl, Minimalism, and Op Art.

Cézanne tilts the plate of ‘Still Life with Two Green Pears’ toward the picture plane in Still Life with a Peach and Green Pears. In doing so, the composition is flattened, and the shapes’ abstract outline is emphasized. Additionally, the diamond-shaped molding in the painting and the circular handle on the cabinet in the background emphasizes the flatness. Cézanne believed that paintings should not be denied their two-dimensional qualities.

Broadway Boogie Woogie

examples of shape in art
Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian, 1942-43

Mondrian’s ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ is one of his last great works. In contrast to its arguably ‘purest’ painting, its title paradoxically references Broadway in New York with its musical reference. Due to this, it becomes impossible not to compare the work with an aerial view of Manhattan’s buildings and traffic flow. When thinking of it in that way, the pulsing of the small squares takes on the appearance of movement, and yellow colors become unintentional references to New York taxis. We are still able to be moved by this painting, despite the representational distraction.

Positive and Negative Shapes

examples of shape in art
Colonial Cubism by Stuart Davis, 1954

Stuart Davis’ ‘Colonial Cubism’ subverts our perception of positive and negative shapes by subverting our interpretation of space through color. In this work, certain forms seem to advance or recede based on the adjacent colors and shapes. The fact that they are both flat and on the same plane does not change their interpretation of their space, which alternates between positive and negative.

As a painter, Davis was greatly influenced by two things: New York and jazz. Despite its references to New York, the title of this painting recognizes the European influence that has influenced the shapes and colors in work. A recurring theme in his compositions is an alternating positive and negative reading of shapes, demonstrating his love of jazz.

Geometric Shapes

examples of shape in art
S-E by Al Held, 1979

Al Held was an American artist who created Geometric Abstraction with a hard edge. Holden’s paintings, such as “S-E” above, are metaphors for this situation. They reflect the chaotic nature of our minds and the world with their multiple perspectives, scales, transparency, opacity, consistency, and contradiction. In cropping the activity at the edges of the painting, the artist suggests that the way we live is characterized by chaos and complexity. Even so, Held’s images don’t seem ominous; on the contrary, they are quite lovely and inviting. Despite the illusionistic geometry of the images, there is enough continuity in both line and shape for us to remain engaged in our search for a sense of reliability.

Organic Shapes

examples of shape in art
Pastoral by Graham Sutherland, 1930

The organic shape can suggest qualities such as softness, sensuality, flexibility, fluidity, and a sense of formation and development.

Graham Sutherland’s “Pastoral” depicts a cast of organic forms in a walled garden. The hollowed-out trunk of one ancient tree and the bent and twisted branch of the other communicate using abstract shapes. The clouds give this organic drama an organic backdrop, while the geometric garden wall creates a counterpoint.

Symbolic and Decorative Shapes

examples of shape in art
Illuminated Ornamental Cross by Lindisfarne Gospels, 715-721

In the Lindisfarne Gospels, the “Illuminated Ornamental Cross” combines decorative and symbolic shapes. An elaborate network of Celtic decoration is composed of the symbolic shape of the cross. There is another layer of symbolism within its complex ornamentation. The spirals and knots symbolize our interdependence with each other, God, and nature.

The Perspective of Shapes

shape in art
Around the Cake by Wayne Thiebaud, 1962

A witty demonstration of perspective drawing is Wayne Thiebaud’s “Around the Cake.” Two cakes are illustrated in this painting: one centered on the canvas and one cut into eight equal slices. The numbers are arranged in a circular pattern like those on a clock, each on its own plate. As each slice of cake advances around the clock, it has been rotated by 45° to evoke the sense of time and motion. There is a contemporary irony to Thiebaud’s work that you might expect to find in Pop Art. Still, he draws on unexpected inspirations such as Morandi and Chardin and their historical art tradition.

Final Words

It is impossible to ignore shapes, as they are everywhere. A shape is created in two dimensions, length and width when you paint or draw. You can make it appear three-dimensional by adding value to it. In sculpture, a shape does not become three-dimensional until it combines form and shape.

It is necessary to add a third dimension, depth, to the flat dimensions to define form. The shape can be found in many art forms, including abstract art. But shapes, organic and geometric alike, are a vital element in almost all artworks. We hope that these examples of shape in art helped you better understand why the shape is important to art.

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