Art History Lab

Shape in Art: Understanding the Fundamentals and Examples

Shape is fundamental to art. From geometric shapes, such as squares and circles, to organic shapes, like those found in nature, they all play a role in creating visual art that is both appealing and meaningful.

By understanding the various types of shapes in art, we can learn to appreciate the designs of popular artworks, discern different mediums of art, and even create artwork ourselves. What Is Shape in Art?

Shape is the two-dimensional depiction of an object on a flat surface. Shapes are defined by their width and length, and are often made up of enclosed lines.

In art, shape is an essential element of design. The shape is the foundation upon which art is built, and it is used to both create and convey meaning.

From the smallest dot that is the foundation of an artwork to complex shapes that make up the art itself, shape is a crucial element of visual art. One of the characteristics of shape in art is the way that shapes can be used to represent objects that are not actually visible.

For example, the shape of a circle can be used to represent the sun, even though the sun is round and three-dimensional, and cannot be represented accurately in a two-dimensional space. Additionally, shape can be used to create the illusion of depth and three-dimensionality in a two-dimensional piece of art.

Comparison of Shape and Form

While shapes are two-dimensional depictions of objects, forms are three-dimensional. Forms have width, length, and height, and are commonly used in sculpture and other three-dimensional art pieces.

While shapes serve as a foundation for artwork, forms are the actual objects in the art piece. In contrast, shapes are limited to two dimensions, while forms are three-dimensional and can be seen from multiple angles.

Types of Shape in Art

While there are various types of shapes in art, two of the most common examples are

Organic Shapes and

Geometric Shapes.

Organic Shape

Organic shapes, also known as free-form shapes, are irregular and asymmetrical shapes that mimic the fluidity found in nature. These shapes can be seen in the human body, plants, and landscapes.

Examples of organic shapes include leafs, flowers, human form, mountains, and water bodies. Organic shapes are often curvilinear and do not have corners or sharp edges.

These natural and flowing shapes are often found in paintings and drawings, where they are used to convey a sense of movement and fluidity. They can also be used to convey a sense of the natural world or to represent emotional and poetic concepts.

Geometric Shape

Geometric shapes, on the other hand, are measured and man-made. They include shapes like squares, rectangles, circles, triangles, rhombus, parallelogram, trapezium, pentagon, octagon, hexagon, and polygon.

These shapes are known for their clear lines, sharp edges, and regular composition. They can be used to create a sense of order and balance in artwork.

Geometric shapes can be found in graphic design, architecture, and other man-made structures. Geometric shapes are often used in abstract art, where they can represent mathematical concepts or perfect forms.

The use of geometric shapes in artwork can create a sense of precision and symmetry, showing the artist’s attention to detail and preciseness.


In conclusion, shape is a fundamental element of visual art. Shapes are used to create an underlying structure of an artwork, convey meaning, and provide balance and order in various mediums.

Organic and geometric shapes are two of the most common examples in art, each with their own unique visual appeal and meaning. By understanding the different types of shapes in art, we can both appreciate the art we see and create our artwork with purpose and intention.

3) Contextualizing Shape in Art

Shape is one of the fundamental elements of art, alongside line, texture, color, and form. Each of these elements contributes to the overall design of an artwork.

However, there are also principles of art, which are the guidelines that help artists create meaningful and well-crafted pieces of art. The principles of art include balance, unity, harmony, variety, proportion, scale, rhythm, movement, pattern, and repetition.

These principles can be used alongside the elements of art to create an overall design that is aesthetically pleasing, emotionally evocative, and intellectually meaningful. Shape plays an important role in the principles of art.

Shapes, along with forms, help to create a sense of space in an artwork. Space is the area within and around an artwork, and it can be depicted using various techniques such as overlapping shapes, use of color, and even perspective.

Different shapes can be used to depict different environments and objects. As such, shapes can play a significant role in the subject matter of an artwork.

Shapes can be used as building blocks in an artwork. They can be arranged and combined in various ways to create an overall design that is unique and visually appealing.

Artists often use shapes to express emotions, convey a sense of motion or movement, and create unity and balance in an artwork. When used appropriately, shape can transform an artwork into a cohesive and harmonious whole.

4) Relationship between Shape and Space

Shapes are not only important in creating an artwork, but they are also crucial in defining the sense of space within the artwork. Positive space is the area within the art that the subject matter occupies.

Negative space is the area surrounding the subject matter. Positive and negative shapes work in tandem to create an overall sense of space in an artwork.

By balancing positive and negative space, artists can create depth and dimensionality in their artwork. For example, the Fauvist artist Henri Matisse often used positive and negative shapes in his work.

In his painting “Icarus,” Matisse used a combination of organic shapes and bold colors to depict the ancient Greek myth of the boy who flew too close to the sun. The bold, bright colors draw the viewer’s eye towards the central image of Icarus, which is painted in positive shapes.

The negative shapes surrounding Icarus evoke a sense of the open sky and infinite space, creating a sense of scale and proportion in the artwork. The use of positive and negative shapes can also be seen in other art styles, such as Cubism and Constructivism.

In these movements, artists deliberately fragment the subject matter into geometric shapes in order to evoke a sense of movement and dynamism in the artwork. These shapes are often painted in bright, contrasting colors to create a sense of energy and excitement in the artwork.

In conclusion, shape is a crucial element of art, used to create visual appeal, emotional resonance, and intellectual depth in a variety of mediums. By understanding the principles of art, artists and viewers alike can appreciate the role that shape plays in creating a sense of space, subject matter, and overall design in an artwork.

Positive and negative shapes work together to create a harmonious whole, demonstrating the importance of careful balance and proportion in the art-making process.

5) Examples of Shape in Art

Artists have been using shapes in their work for centuries. From ancient cave paintings to modern digital art, shapes have played an important role in art, illustrating everything from the natural world to abstract concepts.

Here, we’ll explore examples of organic and geometric shapes in art, and examine the role they play in creating meaning and emotion within an artwork.

Organic Shape in Art

Organic shapes are those shapes found in the natural world, free-form and irregular. One artist who frequently used organic shapes in his work was Joan Mir.

His abstract works were inspired by the natural shapes and landscapes of Catalonia, where he spent much of his life. One of his most famous works, entitled “Harlequin’s Carnival,” features organic shapes that form the face of the harlequin, as well as the landscape and buildings in the background.

Another artist known for utilizing organic shapes in his work was Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky, who is credited with being one of the pioneers of abstract art, used organic shapes to convey a sense of emotion and spirituality in his work.

In his painting “Composition VI,” organic shapes in warm hues dominate the foreground, representing a sense of vitality and warmth.

Geometric Shape in Art

Geometric shapes, on the other hand, are those that are measured and man-made. Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter who was at the forefront of the De Stijl movement, which emphasized a reduction of form to basic geometric elements.

Mondrian’s paintings often featured strong horizontal and vertical lines, and geometric shapes such as rectangles and squares. In his work “Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red,” he plays with geometric shapes of primary colors, implying a sense of balance and proportion between the lines and the colors.

Another artist who worked extensively with geometric shapes was Kazimir Malevich. Malevich was a Russian artist who was a key figure in the development of abstract art.

In his work, he often used geometric shapes such as squares, triangles, and circles. In his famous painting “Black Square,” Malevich reduces the subject matter to a simple black square on a white background, foregrounding a geometrical shape which is devoid of any connotation of representational meaning.

Frank Stella is another artist who is known for his use of geometric shapes in his work. Stella is recognized for his minimalist approach and his use of hard-edged geometric forms; his paintings often incorporate stripes, squares, and circles.

Stella is not only known for his use of shapes but also for his use of color to create a sense of depth and dimensionality. In his painting “Prairie,” Stella created a composition of nested squares, creating a sense of movement and repetition with the placement of the shapes.

Cubism as a movement was also known for its use of geometric shapes to break down and deconstruct subjects. Pablo Picasso was one of the primary creators of Cubism, using geometric shapes to create a fragmented and abstract representation of his subjects.

His portrait of his friend Georges Braque, entitled “Ma Jolie,” is a classic example of Cubist art, featuring layered and fragmented geometric shapes that make up the facial features and other details of the portrait. In conclusion, organic and geometric shapes are important elements in art.

Both can be used to convey different meanings, emotions, and concepts. Organic shapes can represent freedom, emotion, and the natural world, while geometric shapes can represent order, measurement, and control.

The use of shapes in art can be seen throughout history and across different styles and movements, serving as a constant and versatile tool for artists to convey their ideas. Shape is a fundamental element in art, serving as the building blocks for creating visually appealing and meaningful compositions.

It can be categorized into organic shapes, reflecting the natural world, and geometric shapes, representing man-made forms. By understanding the elements and principles of art, recognizing the relationship between shape and space, and exploring examples of shape in various artworks, we can appreciate the role shape plays in communicating emotions, conveying subject matter, and creating balance and harmony.

The use of shapes in art has been prevalent throughout history, with artists like Joan Mir, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso utilizing them to evoke different meanings and styles. As we engage with art, let us value and explore how shapes contribute to the beauty and impact of artistic expression.

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