What Is Form in Art?

Posted by Robert Lange on

What is form in art? It’s one of the seven key elements of art and defines how artists represent dimensional objects in their work. A form may be either geometric or organic. For three-dimensional art (e.g., sculptures), it refers to the shape, structure, and arrangement of length, width, and depth; in two-dimensional art (e.g., paintings), the form is recreated through light, shadow, contours, negative space, or even the surrounding objects which serve as a reference point. Do you want to find out more? Then read on!

Form in Art: Definition

Form is the physical structure of an object or shape that the work of art represents. The term is used to discuss how artists represent three-dimensional objects in their artwork. As such, the form can be counted in the seven elements in art, the remaining six being:

  • line,
  • shape,
  • value,
  • color,
  • texture,
  • space.

Form in art may be mistakenly taken for other elements, like shape, especially if you look at a general definition. Therefore, we should underline that shape does refer to the same qualities as form, but for two-dimensional objects, while form is reserved for three-dimensional ones.

STUDY HOPE IS ALWAYS WITH YOUStudy Hope Is Always With You- 7" x 5" acrylic on linen - Katie Koenig

What Are the Two Types of Form in Art?

Form in art can take two…forms (pun intended!) – geometric and organic. Let’s take a look at each of them to understand the difference.

Geometric Form

What is a geometric form in art? It’s a type of form based on mathematics and geometric shapes. Geometric forms are precise and can be named depending on what they are based on. The basic ones include:

  • spheres,
  • cubes,
  • pyramids,
  • cones,
  • cylinders.

Geometric forms are typically found in architecture and are less common in sculpting or painting.

Organic Form

What is an organic form in art? It’s a much more complex form, which is highly irregular. These forms cannot be named and are typically present in nature. Anything that is not geometrical, from flower petals to human bodies, can be considered organic forms.

These forms are typically found in paintings and sculptures and are less frequently embraced in architecture.

Defining Form in Different Types of Art

As we have mentioned before, the form might be seen differently in three-dimensional and two-dimensional art. Why don’t we look at it in more detail?

Form in Sculpting

While generally we categorize sculptures as three-dimensional, we also need to remember that it is not that simple. Reliefs, for example, are two-dimensional, so the artists creating or discussing them might approach form differently. Nevertheless, sculptures are tied with form much closer than other fine arts.

At the beginning of sculpture, form was the primary element, as color and texture did not matter at the time. What is more, you would find mainly organic forms since the first sculptures, whether reliefs or in-the-round ones, were made to honor people or gods.

This changed in the 20th century when many new art movements emerged. With new materials (e.g., wires) and experimental types of sculptures (e.g., Dada readymades), the form no longer claimed the throne in sculptures, as elements such as color and texture gained importance.

Form in Painting

In painting, the form has to be conveyed through the use of light, shadows, and perspective since it requires the transfer of three-dimensional objects onto a two-dimensional canvas. Typically, this involves creating five different types of shades:

  • highlight – the area where the light hits the object directly,
  • midtone – the average value of the color of the object,
  • core shadow – the area shaded on the object,
  • casting shadow – the are shaded around the object,
  • reflected highlight – the area on the object that is highlighted by the light reflected by its surroundings.

Similarly to sculpting, painting has evolved over time. At first, it represented the objects flatly, without regard to the form(e.g., Egyptian paintings). It was only during the Renaissance that form was represented accurately, with the above mentioned three-dimensional techniques introduced. Later, abstract paintings emerged, and some artists, like Picasso, even gave up on form, preferring to concentrate on dynamics and movement through time and space.

Form in Formal Art Analysis

Finally, let’s define the role of form in formal art analysis. It is a critical part of this process, and is evaluated without regard to the context. An expert conducting such an analysis focuses on the decisions made by the artist when representing the form to find the essence of the work, its meaning and the artist’s intent – the evaluation focused on the visual side of the artwork.

A PLACE FOR USA Place for Us- 15" x 10" oil on panel - Brett Scheifflee

The Takeaway

Let’s summarize what the definition of form in art is and why it is important. Form is the structure of the object that is transferred into an artwork. It can be regular and precise (geometric forms) or completely irregular and free (organic forms). The role the form played varied over the course of history, depending on the types of art. In sculpting, it was the most important principle until modernism, while in art it gained importance since the Renaissance. In the end, the form is a part of the formal analysis of an artwork, which once again underlines its paramount role in all forms of art.

You may also read: What is Composition in Art?

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