What Is Geometry in Art?

Posted by Robert Lange on

Geometry has always been a critical element in art, but movements like Cubism took it to another level, creating artworks based purely on different cubes. Shapes also helped artists from various movements create symmetry and a sense of balance in their pieces. Nowadays, geometry is used for a plethora of reasons – from giving the viewer a different perspective to building up whole images out of different, fixed shapes. Let’s discuss it further in this article.

What Is Geometry in Art?

For starters, we shall answer the question from the title: what is geometry in art? It is the use of geometric shapes to create art pieces. It can be both direct – building whole paintings out of shapes – or indirect – using the shapes to balance the piece.

Geometry has always been an inspiration in art, but it was taken to a completely new level in the 20th century. Many avant-garde art movements emerged at the time, one of which was geometric abstraction – the use of geometric forms to create whole images. 

It wasn’t the first time such an idea occurred – take, for instance, stained glass windows in churches and mosaics that were created much earlier. Yet, the 20th century was the time when geometry truly thrived in art and was brought to more mediums.

The History of Geometry in Art

Geometry has been present in art since its very beginnings, so let’s look at a brief overview of its history before it became a major theme in the art movements of the 20th century.

It all starts in the time of ancient civilizations like Egypt or Mesopotamia. There, geometry was primarily used in decorative art and architecture. Pyramids and many Greek vases are excellent examples of the early influence of geometry on artists.

Later on, other cultures adopted geometry, especially those of Islamic origins. During the Islamic Golden Age, artists started utilizing shapes like circles and squares for architecture, calligraphy, and decorative arts. It became so important in the artistic world of the Middle East that certain shapes gained their own symbolism. For instance, a circle represents unity and the source of all diversity in creation.

In Europe, geometry wasn’t used in such a raw form in art, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t present. The Renaissance raised its importance as artists applied mathematical principles of perspective to display a more realistic representation of space and depth in their art. Symmetry became of the utmost importance, and geometry was used to achieve it – da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is the perfect example of that.

Vitruvian Man

Geometry was also utilized during the Baroque and Rococo periods, though it wasn’t as common as before – mostly used for architecture. It was not until the 20th century that geometry in art underwent its own renaissance.

Examples of Artistic Movements Using Geometry in Art

The 20th century was filled with artists who utilized geometry in their art, so let’s look at a few examples of movements that they derived from.

  • Cubism – This is one of the first movements of the century that emerged on the verge of the 1900s and 1910s. It involved breaking up and reassembling objects into an abstract form to depict them from multiple angles and perspectives – all done with geometrical shapes.
  • Vorticism – It’s a sub-movement of modernism that was created and followed in London. Its artists applied dynamic and abstract geometric shapes, emphasizing angular forms to convey the energy and speed of modern life.
  • Suprematism – Another movement in the history of modern art that embraced geometry in art. Created in Russia, it was focused on geometric abstraction and using simple geometric shapes like squares, circles, and rectangles to express a spiritual and non-objective reality.
  • Bauhaus – As you might expect, this is a German movement. Thriving in the 1920s and for the first few years of the 1930s, this movement was focused on emphasizing geometric shapes, clean lines, and functional design, combining art and craftsmanship in a unified aesthetic.
  • Minimalism – This movement emerged much later than the previous ones, namely in the 1960s and 1970s. Artists embracing it experimented with a minimalistic approach towards art, which often included using geometry in the purest, most simplified state.
  • Fractal Art – This is perhaps one of the most intriguing and futuristic ways to use geometry in art. It involves not creating but rather generating art by using mathematical algorithms and receiving intricate and self-replicating patterns known as fractals.

PERPETUALPerpetual- 36" x 48" oil on aluminum - Nicola Johnson

The Takeaway

Geometry plays an important role in art, proven by the various examples of it being used throughout history. Yet, it is most prominent in Islamic art and the movements from the 20th century, which use raw geometric shapes to build whole images. But you can find it in almost every art piece – just try to look for it next time you visit an art gallery and admire paintings and sculptures.

You may also read: What Is an Artwork?

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