Shape and form are two words that are used interchangeably in art. They may seem like the same thing, but they are not.
The word shape mainly refers to flat, simple 2-D drawings; the shape 2-D drawing would have a length and width. A form is more complex and is 3-D, such as a sphere, cube, or cone. The word form has a dual meaning in art that refers to various elements that make up art. The form is essential for Formalism, abstract art, and biomorphic art.
Shape Vs. Form In Art
To understand shape and form in art, we need to understand some fundamental differences between shape and form. Form and shape have some similarities but also some very distinct differences.
Comparison of Shape and Form in Art
Below is a table to compare the basic meanings of shape and form in art.
|Rectangles, circles, triangles, and squares||Sphere, Cube, Cones|
|Has Length and Width||Has Length, Width, and Height|
|More Simple Figures||Complex Forms|
|It exists in Flat and Simple Drawings, prints, and paintings||Exists Beyond Space of Shapes|
As you can see from the above table, a shape and form are not precisely the same. The main difference is that a shape is flat, and a form has some dimension or 3-D aspect.
Even though shape and form are two different terms, they are both essential elements for the artist to understand. The terms shape can be relatively straightforward in art, but the word form can have two meanings.
Form and Art
Art forms can have a dual meaning; the form can be confusing for art and artists. The Tate in London said it best when they defined form in art as:
According to this definition, form in art has two meanings. One is the form in the work of art, and the other is the elements of the shape that make up the work of art.
Form In Formalism, Abstract Art and Biomorphic
The form has also influenced different types of art such as Formalism, Abstract Art, and Biomorphic art. All of these types of art are influenced by form in art.
Formalism is the study of art entirely based on the analysis of its form. Form, in this case, means what the art looks like and the way the art is made.
In Formalism, the most critical aspect of a work is its form; in formalism art, the visual elements are essential. The subject matter, meaning, or what the artist conveys is not as important as the art forms.
A formalist art critic would review and look at art in terms of the qualities of the color, brushwork, form, line, and composition. It would not be about the subject matter or the meaning the artist is trying to convey.
Formalism came about because of Impressionism and the post-impressionism movements, where the emphasis was placed on the visual aspects of the artwork. An example of this is many of the paintings by Cezanne.
In 1890 the post-impressionism painter and writer Maurice Denis published a manifesto where he emphasized the visual pleasures of art and the form in art, Denis wrote:
The writings of Denis have become one of the most quoted texts in modern art; many artists agree with Denis that the form in art is one of the most important things.
The Bloombury writer Clive Bell, in his 1914 book called Art, he was writing about the notion of significant form. Significant form means that the form can convey a meaning for art.
The thought that form can convey meaning in art quickly led to the Abstract movement in art. Abstract art is defined as:
In Abstract art, the use of forms is essential. Forms such as geometric shapes and even marks are all critical. Abstract art’s definition states that abstract art does not attempt to depict a visual reality; instead, abstract art is about the shapes, colors, forms, and marks to achieve the desired effect.
When speaking of form in art, we need to also talk about biomorphic and what it means to art. Biomorphic is defined as:
Even the word biomorphic relates to forms in art; the word bio comes from the Greek word meaning life, and morph means form. The literal translation of the work biomorphic means “life form.”
Biomorphic in art means artists who use forms, but they use them to refer to something living as a plant, person, or even animal.
Joan Miro, Jean Arp, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Louise Bourgeois, significant artists who practiced the biomorphic art form.
Shape and form may seem the same thing, but they are very different in art and have profound differences. The differences are essential for all artists to understand.
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