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Form and Shape

Form and Shape

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore form and shape as elements of composition and of the analysis of works of art.

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Tutorial

Exploring form and shape as elements of a composition.

Video Transcription

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Well, hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring our History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about form and shape. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and find today's key terms, distinguish between Representation and Abstraction, and distinguish between Naturalism and Illusionism. Key terms, is always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. The first key term is Abstraction, the simplification of form into shapes, lines, or areas of color. Representation is the act of depicting what one sees or encounters in lived experience in a work of art. Geometric Shapes are basic hard-edged shapes, such as squares, triangles, rectangles and circles.

Continuing on. Biomorphic shapes are shapes that are free form or amorphic, which are formless, and resemble amoebas, jellyfish, another simple life forms. Naturalism is an artistic approach that involves reproducing objects as they appear to the eye. This term is often used in our history as a substitute for realistic, to avoid any confusion with realism as an artistic movement. And Illusionism is very similar to naturalism. It involves the attempt to convince the viewer that what is being seen as not representation, but rather the thing itself.

The big idea for today is that form and shape refer to elements of an art work's composition, and cover a spectrum ranging from very realistic to very abstract. So we'll begin with artistic representation, which can be broken further down into two categories, Naturalism and Illusionism. In Naturalism, the key word being natural, is the discipline associated with reproducing objects as they appear to the eye of the artist, or to the viewer. The intention is to produce artwork that appears realistic or natural. Illusionism, keyword illusion, is similar to naturalism with one key difference, the artist's intention is to convince the observer that the artwork's subject matter is actually real. And I'll show you some examples to illustrate the point I'm trying to make. So this painting by William Bliss Baker, titled Fallen Monarchs, is a great example of naturalism and how it realistically depicts its subject matter. It almost looks like a photograph.

The next image is of the ceiling fresco of the Jesuit Church in Vienna, Austria, and is rendered in a technique called trompe l'oeil, which depicts realistic imagery in such a way that an optical illusion is created, suggesting the images are three dimensional. In this example, as realistic as it looks, this ceiling has no dome. It's flat.

The third example is of a painting that uses the same technique and is titled Escaping Critcism, which is a really well-known utilizing the trompe l'oeil technique.

So to review, representation has an element of congruity with real life. And that the depictions are recognizable by almost anyone in more or less faithful reproductions of what can be seen or experienced. Now abstraction is an art style that emphasizes the simplification of form into shapes, lines, and areas color. And with abstraction, we're departing from I would call the literal representation of things, which gives the artist really tremendous freedom in depicting the intangible, for example. Like emotions or music. And to illustrate my point, here are some examples of representation and abstraction.

The first is an Egyptian bust of the Queen Nefertiti. Clearly, a realistic representation of what she looked like. The second painting is by one of my favorite 20th century artists, Wassily Kandinsky. And it's really left to the viewer to draw their own conclusions or interpretations about the subject matter. But Kandisky was also a musician. And something to consider is that because he was musician, he often experienced, or experimented with the visualization of music.

Now complete abstraction relies on the use of purely geometric and biomorphic shapes as a means of rendering any discernible form. Geometric shapes are your basic hard-edged shapes like circles and squares, where biomorphism refers to the free form or amorphic, which means no shape, shapes that resemble simple life forms like amoebas or bacteria. Now the De Stijl movement was an artistic movement of the early 20th century and it depicted complete abstraction where artists only utilized very basic geometric shapes and primary colors in their works of art. This is an oil painting by the official founder of the De Stijl movement, Theo van Doesburg, and it's titled Composition Number V.

I think my favorite artist of the 20th century is Joan Miro. And aside from as artwork, he had a well-known appreciation for the artwork of children. Which is pretty cool. In particular how we felt it was a very pure form of artistic expression. It was something he emulated during his career. Now Miro, in my opinion, is probably the best example of an artist using biomorphic shapes in his artwork. And as a nod to Miro, I'm going to give you the 45 second version of one of my favorite paintings of his, The Flight of the Dragonfly in Front of the Sun. And you are in for real treat to see an artist of my caliber working on a painting of Miro's. So look at me go.

Even though this is considered abstract art, you can still make out some of the form, or at least what he's trying to convey. This is the sun, gorgeously rendered by myself. And here is our dragonfly. Finish it up there with a little dot of black. And there you go. I think Miro would be proud.

Before we end today, let's take a moment to talk about Gestural Abstraction. Gestural Abstraction, or action painting, is an art form where the paint is applied in a spontaneous manner. Jackson Pollock, a 20th century artist, was a well-known Gestural Abstractionist and his drift-style compositions became his signature form of painting. And just like gestural lines, action paintings are characterized by the way in which the medium, in this case paint, is applied. The forms may not be recognizable, but that doesn't mean there isn't a structure to the composition.

So in my example, I'm going to splash some yellow paint on top of some blue, and I'm using a stick tool to smear the paint into some whirly shapes. And notice how I'm not so much deliberately defining the form as I am letting it take shape on its own, based on the way I twirl the paint. To finish it off, I'm spraying some poster paint over the top.

So let's take a look at our objectives, now that we've reached the end of the lesson, to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you distinguish between Representation and Abstraction? And can you distinguish between Naturalism and Illusionism?

And one more time, the big idea is that form and shape refer to elements of an artwork's composition, and cover a spectrum ranging from very realistic to very abstract. And that's it. I'd like to thank you for joining me. And I'll see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Illusionism

    Very similar to naturalism, it involves the attempt to convince the viewer that what is being seen is not a representation, but rather the thing itself.

  • Naturalism

    An artistic approach that involves reproducing objects as they appear to the eye. This term is often used in art history as a substitute for realistic, to avoid any confusion with realism as an artistic movement.

  • Biomorphic Shapes

    Shapes that are free-form or amorphic (formless) and resemble amoebas, jellyfish, and other simple life forms.

  • Geometric Shapes

    Basic hard-edged shapes, such as squares, triangles, rectangles, and circles.

  • Representation

    The act of depicting what one sees or encounters in lived experience in a work of art.

  • Abstraction

    The simplification of form into shapes, lines, or areas of color.