Form in Art

Form in Art: Definition and Famous Examples

Form in art is the physical manifestation of an artwork’s structure, shape and composition. It defines the way in which three dimensional subjects and objects are represented. It is often considered one of the most important elements of a work of art. This is because it provides viewers with a tangible way to interpret what they are seeing. Forms can be simple or complex, abstract or representational and can create powerful impressions on viewers. In this article we will explore some of the aspects of form in art including its definition, examples and types.

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Definition of form in Art

Form can be defined as the physical structure or shape of a work of art. It is an element of art that describes how artists represent three dimensional shapes. Artists can represent three dimensional form on a two dimensional surface by rendering shape, highlights and shadows. Another method is to draw a third axis. Elements of sculptures are defined as a forms, rather than shapes, because shapes are defined a broadly as being two dimensional.

Examples of form in Art

Form can be seen in a variety of media including painting, sculpture, photography and illustration. For example, a painting may contain curved lines, shadows and highlights which form the shape of a human figure. Then a clay sculpture may be comprised of multiple cubes, spheres or more complex forms which create a three dimensional piece.

Laocoön and His Sons

Laocoön and His Sons shows the Trojan priest and his sons being attacked by serpents. Carved out of marble, the sculptors created defined muscles and deep set features to casts shadows and emphasise the forms. The forms of the marble can be seen in the contouring, highlighting and shadows. The different shapes created by the folds and creases of the drapery contribute to the overall form of the sculpture.

Rembrandt etching
Rembrandt: Etching

In this etching by Rembrandt, he has rendered the form of the grass and building using the hatching and cross hatching techniques. This creates highlights and shadows, therefore giving the illusion of form, even though it was drawn on a flat surface.

Elements of Art: Form

Form is an element of art, alongside colour, line, texture, shape, space and values. These are the elements with which artists can conduct formal analyses of an artwork. By looking at the elements and principles of art, artists can decipher the meaning, artists’ intent and age of a piece. Form relates closely to other elements of art, in that texture and space can be used to create form, then value, colours and line can be used to create the appearance of form.

Shape and Form in Art

Shape and form in art

Shapes are two dimensional forms which are created with lines or curves. While forms are three dimensional shapes which have depth and volume. Artists use both shapes and forms to create interesting compositions. It can be difficult to represent forms in traditional media such as painting and drawing but there are some techniques which can be used to create the illusion of three dimensional form. These include shading and using dark and light pigments to represent shadow and highlights.

Types of Form

There are two main types of forms in art: geometric and organic. Geometric forms are based on mathematical shapes such as circles, squares and triangles while organic forms are more free-flowing and natural such as clouds or trees.

Geometric Form

Gregor Kregar: Clouds for Richard Pearse

Forms that are geometric are based on mathematical equations and shapes which have been used by humans since ancient times. These forms can be used to create regular patterns in artwork or to draw attention to certain areas of a composition. Examples of geometric forms include cubes and pyramids.

Organic Form

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Organic forms are more free-flowing and irregular in shape. They can be used to create natural or abstract compositions which have a softer feel to them than geometric forms. Examples of organic forms include clouds, mountains and trees.

Form in sculpture

Types of sculpture

In sculpture, there are broadly two types of form that can be created, relief sculpture and three dimensional sculpture. Relief sculpture is a form of sculpture where elements are raised above a flat background, while three dimensional sculpture has more depth and volume. Three dimensional sculpture maintains its dimensionality, no matter which angle the piece is viewed from.

Sculpture history

The Ancient Greeks used both relief and three dimensional sculpture to depict myth, history, the gods and heroes. The Greeks portrayed their gods as having human form and most of their sculpture had a heavy focus on human figures.

Parthenon frieze

One of the most famous examples of sculpture from the Ancient Greek period is the relief ‘Parthenon frieze’ which is a beautiful marble high relief, that was made to decorate the Parthenon’s naos.

Michelangelo: David

Renaissance artists took inspiration from the Ancient Greeks, as there was a revival in interest in Greek and Roman art and literature. Many great sculptures were created during this period, including Michelangelo’s David.

Modern sculpture

Raymond Duchamp-Villon: The Large Horse

Modern artists, from the 20th century onwards have began using an assortment of different materials, rather than the traditional marble, stone or bronze seen in classical sculpture.

In contemporary art, sculpture has become increasingly non representational, with artists using materials such as steel, concrete, wood and even light to create form.

Otto Gutfreund: Violoncelliste

Since the 1900s, there have been many different styles and trends of sculpture. Sculptures by the artists Otto Gutfreund and Raymond Duchamp-Villon were inspired by the Cubist movement in the early 1900s.

Another artist of note is Alexander Calder, a 20th century artist who created kinetic and transformational monumental public sculptures. He was part of the modern art movement and his artworks embody the philosophy of the era, as they were experimental and dynamic.

Then the Postmodern movement saw sculptures that used instillations, multimedia and merge the sentiments of fine art and pop culture.

How to Represent Form in Paintings and Drawings

Traditional media such as painting and drawing can be used to create the appearance of three dimensional forms. Pencil artists use techniques such as shading, hatching and cross-hatching to give the illusion of depth in their artwork. It is also possible to use perspective to create an impression of form in paintings and drawings by representing objects with diminishing sizes or by using atmospheric perspective.

Winslow Homer: Sunlight on the Coast

When painting, there is much flexibility in creating the appearance of form. Mix dark shadow tones and bright highlights to represent value transitions and the way in which the light reflects off of a three dimensional form. Winslow Homer renders the form of the wave, by painting curving lines along the barrel and painting the reflective points on the ripples of the wave.

The importance of form in art

By understanding the elements of form, alongside the other elements, artists can create powerful works of art which are visually engaging and meaningful. Form is an important element in art because it can be used to create illusions of depth and perspective, enhance composition through contrast and allow for the representation of objects or figures with realistic details. Form can also be used to evoke emotion, tell stories and create a sense of movement in artwork.