The Alphabet of Art


Type Contrast Resulting Attributes
Naturalistic Maximum Emotionally Active
Esthetically dynamic
Spatially in depth
Geometric Minimum Emotionally passive
Esthetically decorative
Spatially static

Shapes can be divided into naturalistic shapes and geometric shapes. In a landscape, naturalistic shapes, such as trees, usually predominate in contrast to manmade, geometric shapes, such as houses. Landscape architecture is the art of reconciling the two extremes of landscape and manmade shapes.

Geometric shapes express minimum contrast and are thus more decorative than naturalistic shapes. Multiple or repeated use of geometric shapes increases and enhances their decorative effects.

One way of making a geometric shape more decorative or less contrasting is to employ the Golden Mean Rectangle. You construct such a rectangle as follows:

  1. Draw a square.
  2. Use the diagonal of half the square as a radius. Rotate this radius to the base line, then extend the rectangle to the point where the arc meets the baseline.
The resulting area will be 1 as to 1.618. The ratio of the width to the length will also be 1 to 1.618, and the ratio of the extended base to the original base will also be 1 to 1.618.

Marcel Duchamp's famous painting, "A Nude Descending a Staircase" shows the repeated use of geometric shapes. The multiple use of the same geometric shape was not only decorative, but demonstrated how a painting could show movement. The picture created a furor, as it was a new way of using Shape.

Choose a topic to read more about the Alphabet:
Line Line Direction Shape Size
Texture Value Color Composition
The Attributes The Picture Plane

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