Shape and form (visual arts)

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In the visual arts, shape is a flat, enclosed area of an artwork created through lines, textures, colours or an area enclosed by other shapes such as triangles, circles, and squares.[1] Likewise, a form can refer to a three-dimensional composition or object within a three-dimensional composition.[2]

Specifically, it is an enclosed space, the boundaries of which are defined by other elements of art. Shapes are limited to two dimensions: length and width.


A form is an artist's way of using elements of art, principles of design, and media. Form as an element of art is three-dimensional and encloses space. Like a shape, a form has length and width, but it also has depth. Forms are either geometric or free-form.


Geometric and organic[edit]

Geometric shapes are precise edged and mathematically consistent curves,[citation needed] they are pure forms and so consist of circles, squares, spirals, triangles, while geometric forms are simple volumes, such as cubes, cylinders and pyramids.[3] They generally dominate architecture, technology, industry and crystalline structures.

In contrast, organic shapes are free-form, unpredictable and flowing in appearance. These shapes, as well as organic forms, visually suggest the natural world of animals, plants, sky, sea, etc... The addition of organic shapes to a composition dominated by geometric structures can add unpredictable energy.[4]

Bell-shaped flowers

Positive and negative[edit]

A positive shape is a shape, that has details inside it, such as an outline of a human, with body features. Contrarily, a negative shape is a shape without any details; it's just an outline.


A shape that is representative is created by the flattening out of three-dimensional objects. [5] Nothing is actually geometric, but can be interpreted as such by breaking it down to shapes that, when put together, form a recognizable silhouette.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ NIU School of Art Vocabulary Archived 2004-06-24 at the Wayback Machine URL accessed December 15, 2008
  2. ^ Stewart, p. 381
  3. ^ Stewart, pp. 378–384
  4. ^ Stewart, p. 32
  5. ^ a b Fisher, Mary; Zelanski, Paul (1996). Design Principals and Problems. San Antonio: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. p. 90. ISBN 0-15-501615-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gatto, Porter, and Selleck. Exploring Visual Design: The Elements and Principles. 3rd ed. Worcester: Davis Publications, Inc., 2000. ISBN 0-87192-379-3
  • Stewart, Mary, Launching the imagination: a comprehensive guide to basic design. 2nd ed. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2006. ISBN 0-07-287061-3

External links[edit]