Geometry is studying the relationships between lines, angles, and surfaces. In art, artists have often used regular shapes. This means shapes that you can measure and plot, and that have equal internal angles. (You’ve probably learnt all this in maths).
Many artists have made artworks that don’t represent the world around them from these shapes. Some European artists thought these regular geometric shapes were ‘pure’ forms.
Geometric and repeating patterns are traditional in Islamic art. Many contemporary artists are inspired by their traditional art training. Others come to the traditional crafts of tessellation and repetition later.
Folding, cutting and sticking
Many artists use collage to arrange their geometric shapes. Folding paper or other materials creates new shapes out of flat planes. Cutting straight lines into a plate for a print can also create texture from geometry. You can also stick 3D shapes together to bring geometry off the flat paper or canvas.
When we first start drawing, we often create figures from shapes – circles for heads, rectangles for legs, triangular bodies. Many artists have refined this to create figures from geometric shapes. And it’s not just human figures. Constantin Brancusi manages to suggest a fish or a bird with the simplest smooth shape.
Other artworks can use colour and shape to make you feel as if the flat surface is receding into space, or hovering above the picture frame. Josef Albers made hundreds of compositions using squares set inside each other. The different colours and size relationships mean every work feels completely different.
More Geometric illusions
Have a go!
Make your own illusion
Brazilian artist Lygia Clark managed to make a simple geometric line drawing appear to fold. Just by using black, grey and white, she tricks our brain into seeing the shapes rise and fall
- Make a composition from some simple repeating line shapes. Make them fit together without gaps (tessellate). Use a ruler to measure and a set square or protractor to make sure you get the same angles in your repeating shapes. Use a compass if you want circular or curved shapes.
- Make more than one version of your line composition, so you can experiment with them.
- Use different materials and colours to colour your compositions. Put dark colours on some shapes and light colours on others. How does this change the visual relationship of the shapes?
- Can you make some shapes recede and others come forward? Do your shapes start to suggest anything?