What Is The Difference Between Shape And Form In Art?

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.

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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.

2-D 3-D
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
Shape Vs. Form Explained.

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:

“In relation to art the term form has two meanings: it can refer to the overall form taken by the work – its physical nature; or within a work of art it can refer to the element of shape among the various elements that make up a work.”

TAte – London

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:

“Remember, that a picture, before it is a picture of a battle horse, a nude woman, or some story, is essentially a flat surface covered in colours arranged in a certain order.”

Maurice Denis

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.

Abstract Art

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:

“Abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead use shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect.”

Tate – London

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:

“Biomorphic forms or images are ones that while abstract nevertheless refer to, or evoke, living forms such as plants and the human body.”

Tate – London

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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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the definition of shape in art?

Shape in art refers to the two-dimensional area that is defined by a boundary, such as a line or color, and does not have depth

What is the definition of form in art?

Form in art refers to the three-dimensional aspect of an artwork that has height, width, and depth

What is the difference between shape and form in art?

The main difference between shape and form in art is that shape is two-dimensional and has no depth, while form is three-dimensional and has height, width, and depth.

Can shapes be used to create form in art?

Yes, shapes can be used to create form in art. By arranging and overlapping shapes, an artist can create the illusion of three-dimensional form.

What are some examples of shapes in art?

Some examples of shapes in art include circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles

What are some examples of forms in art?

Some examples of forms in art include cubes, spheres, cylinders, and pyramids

How can an artist use shape and form to create contrast in their artwork?

An artist can use the contrast between shape and form to create visual interest in their artwork. For example, they may use angular shapes to create a sense of tension or use organic forms to create a sense of flow.

How can an artist use shape and form to create depth in their artwork?

An artist can use overlapping shapes and forms to create the illusion of depth in their artwork. By placing forms in the foreground, middle ground, and background, they can create a sense of spatial depth.

How can an artist use shape and form to create texture in their artwork?

An artist can use variations in shape and form to create a sense of texture in their artwork. For example, they may use irregular shapes to create a rough texture or use rounded forms to create a smooth texture

Can an artwork contain both shapes and forms?

Yes, an artwork can contain both shapes and forms. An artist may use flat shapes in the background and three-dimensional forms in the foreground to create a sense of depth.

What Is The Difference Between Fine Arts and Visual Arts?

Fine art is a broad term used to describe many different types of art; one of the arts under the umbrella of fine art is visual arts. Fine arts can include arts such as music, theatre, dance, literature, and art forms. In contrast, Visual art is about only visual arts such as painting, sculpture, or film making.

By clicking here, you can discover more by reading What Is The Difference Between Fine Arts and Visual Arts?

Is Procreate Easier Than Photoshop? What One Should An Artist Learn?

Procreate is a much easier computer program to learn than Photoshop, especially if you are new to the Adobe program. The Procreate program is a great computer program to lay out your artwork before painting on the canvas. Photoshop can also design your artwork, but as it is a more robust program than Procreate, it will take much longer to master.

You can discover more by reading Is Procreate Easier Than Photoshop? What One Should An Artist Learn? by clicking here.