The story of form in art is above anything else a story that concerns issues of space, depth, light, and the construction of an illusion. As one of the elements of art, along with the line, shape, texture, value, space, and color, form in art helps artists to produce an illusion of 3D and depth on a two-dimensional surface. In contrast to the idea of a shape, which explains the nature of two-dimensionality, form in art refers to objects which have length, width, and height. When shapes receive the third dimension of depth, they become forms and as such a circle becomes a sphere, squares become cubes, and the triangle becomes a cone or a pyramid. When we are thinking about the examples of form in art, we can say that it exists in both real and implied manners. In sculptural pieces, the form is real, while in drawing and in painting, the sensation of depth needs to be implied through the use of light and the contrast of highlights and shadow areas.
Referring to the idea that objects need to have length, width, and height in order to be considered forms, the division of form in art came to two major categories. The first is the idea of geometric forms. These, as mentioned above, we define as usually man-made, ie. artists use the effects of light and modeling to produce them. Attempting to paint or draw representationally, artists need to understand the effects of light on an object, as this helps them create an illusion of form. The light on an object is understood through highlight – the area where the light directly hits the object; the mid tone as the middle tone of the color on an object; the core shadow as the area which is shaded on the object and as such the darkest tone of color, the cast shadow which represent the shaded effect on surrounding object and the surface due to the blocked light, and the reflected highlight which is a light area of the objects due to the surrounding forms. Through this understanding of form in art, the typical two-dimensional shapes such as a square or a circle receive the third dimension and become geometric forms ie. a cone, cube, sphere, and cylinder. These forms were extremely influential on the birth of abstract art and avant-garde art, particularly Cubism. Due to the extensive application of the cube in numerous Cubist paintings or drawings, the movement in fact, took its name and became the most revolutionary period of the 20th-century art.
On the other hand, organic forms also have length, width, and height but are not angular and strict in construction. They rely more on chance and the laws which for many apply to the laws in nature itself. They are more free and random and as such no organic form can be an identical copy of the other. These organic forms were crucial for the birth of abstract sculpture.
As we have mentioned in the beginning, the discussion of form in art is also a talk concerning the surroundings and depth in art. In the sculpture discipline, the idea of form in art is understood without many questions, as these already inhabit the three-dimensional space of a room, gallery, or the outdoor. This is not the case when it comes to painting or drawing and many artists use this play with three-dimensionality to create mesmerizing examples of form in art which tease public perception. Using the notion of both positive and negative space, M.C Escher created amazing artworks which confused the eye and made it difficult for us to understand whether the highlight of the pieces was on the background or the shape. With the help of a trompe l’oeil technique, many authors play with the idea of perception and three-dimensionality as well. Such images and murals produce the idea of depth within a two-dimensional surface and play with various geometric or organic forms to do so. By mastering the principles of form in art and playing with purely two-dimensional form, artists produce amazing three-dimensional forms on a flat canvas, paper or even pavement.
Visual artists rely on the effects of light and shadow in order to produce an illusion of three-dimensional forms. The street artist Banksy uses this technique a lot and many of his celebrated images rely on the contrast between black, gray, and white. Alongside Banksy, Aakash Nihalani uses the juxtaposition between colors to produce the idea of depth. Great examples are his geometric art pieces and urban art installations which play with the perception of the eye and application of form in art to create contemporary trompe l’oeil images. The famous sculptor Richard Serra creates massive free-standing forms by bending flat sharp metals while Jeff Koons relies on volume to create his large-scale sculpture.
Form in art needs to be understood as a story concerning space and the idea of three-dimensionality as much as it is a tale of light and dark. Alongside perspective in art, volume, the notion of the rhythm, and contrast, form in art helps artists become magicians and produce magic on a two-dimensional surface.
Editors’ Tip: Making Art: Form and Meaning
This comprehensive introduction to art and design explores making artifacts as a process of making meaning. Making Art: Form and Meaning offers a framework for understanding how all the aspects of an artwork--subject matter, medium, form, process, and contexts--interact. The text's wide array of examples and its emphasis on late-modernism and postmodern art give students a thorough look at the expressive possibilities of traditional design elements and principles and contemporary practices, including the use of computer-based, time-based, and lens-based media. With artist quotes, clearly defined key terms, and a chapter dedicated to studio critiques, Making Art allows students to join the conversation of contemporary art and gives them a jump start in thinking and talking about their work using the language and concepts of today's art world.
All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image: Geometric Forms in Art. Image via thevirtualinstructor.com