2-Dimensional: Definition, Shapes & Art

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  • 0:00 What Does 2-Dimensional Mean?
  • 0:32 Shapes
  • 1:27 Positive and Negative Shapes
  • 2:00 Shapes in Art
  • 2:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brandon Williams
In this lesson, learn about 2-dimensional shapes as an element of art and learn their basic use and function in art and design. Also, learn to distinguish between geometric shapes and free-form or organic shapes.

What Does 2-Dimensional Mean?

Remember when you drew your first circle? How about the times you drew trees, flowers, animals, or skeletons on motorcycles in the margins of your notebook? Whether you knew it or not, you were creating 2-dimensional areas known as shapes. Shapes are one of the building blocks of art and design.

When a work of art is classified as being 2-dimensional, it means that the composition possesses the dimensions of length and width but does not possess depth. All 2-dimensional pieces of art, such as drawings, paintings, and prints, are made up of shapes.


A shape is a 2-dimensional area that is defined in some way. It could be by a line, space, color, texture or a variety of other ways. There are two types of shapes: geometric and free-form. Free form shapes are also referred to as organic.

Some shapes are geometric. Geometric shapes are defined by name, through the contours that make up that shape. These shapes are classified by name like circle, square, rectangle, triangle, and so on. What makes geometric shapes unique is that their contours can be described mathematically.

Shapes that defy the classification of a geometric shape are considered to be free-form or organic shapes. Free-form shapes are generally irregular and uneven. One of the reasons free-form shapes are considered organic is because these types of shapes can be found in nature. Plant life, rock formations, clouds, animals, and the human body are all considered to be free-form shapes.

Positive and Negative Shapes

When looking at a 2-dimensional work, there are both positive and negative shapes that are incorporated into it. A positive shape is usually defined as the figures or subject matter of a composition. A positive shape is explicitly defined by a line, color, value, or texture. A negative shape, however, is defined by space, or more accurately, what is known as negative space. Negative space is best thought of as empty space or a space that is not occupied by a defined object.

In this image, when looking at the design of the black leaf, the leaf is the positive shape.

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