Geometric Shapes in Art | Artists & Paintings that Use Geometric Shapes

Rebecca Bartusewich, Colleen Cleveland
  • Author
    Rebecca Bartusewich

    Rebecca Bartusewich has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has been teaching in higher education for over ten years. Prior to her PhD, Rebecca earned an MA in Archaeology at the University of Southampton and an MA in Ancient History at Macquarie University.

  • Instructor
    Colleen Cleveland

    Colleen has taught college level Game Development and Graphic Design and has a Master's in Interactive Entertainment and Masters in Media Psychology.

What is a geometric shape in art? Examine a range of artists that use geometric shapes, art styles that incorporate them, and the definition of geometric shapes. Updated: 04/28/2021

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Geometric Shape Definition in Art

When learning about art and viewing it in museums, you may wonder, what is a geometric shape in art and how is it significant to the creation of drawings, sculpture, and paintings? The geometric shape definition in art is characterized by a reliance on mathematical shapes such as triangles, squares, circles, and lines to organize space. Artists can use geometry to develop a theme, for example, Cubism uses cubes and Fractal Art uses statistical constants to develop a design. The use of geometric shapes in art also allows artists to isolate and display emotion in their work. As an example, Wassily Kandinsky, one of the founding fathers of geometric abstract art in the 20th century, painted geometric forms later in his life to express emotions and spirituality. Geometric shapes were used more frequently in the 20th century, developing out of the previous artistic period of figurative painting and landscapes, that in its final phase was beginning to experiment with cylinders, spheres, and cones.

Geometric and Organic Shapes

Both organic and geometric shapes allow artists to draw anything; by isolating the geometric or organic shape first and then embellishing on it. As an example, an artist might start to draw a bear with a square, a circle, and some ovals. While geometric shapes are found in items created by humans, organic shapes are inspired by and found in nature. Organic shapes have several curves and flows, for example, a clover or a river. They are different from geometric shapes because of they are not exact or predictable in their shape. The basic design elements of geometric and organic shapes art in contrasting ways. The organic shape is unpredictable and curved in natural ways while the geometric shape is predictable and often more angular as it is determined by math and science. In the 20th century, geometric shapes were preferred by artists as they began to develop more abstract forms of expression in painting and drawing.

Example of an organic shape
picture of a blue bookcover with a pattern of flowery shapes on it

Positive and Negative Shapes

In design, both the space one draws on and the space that is left empty have meaning and are purposefully created. A positive shape is the shape of the object, for example a square. A negative shape is the space between objects, for example, the column between two squares. Artists can use positive shapes to activate the space between them and draw attention to the negative shape by pairing circles and squares along horizontal and vertical axes to create hourglass figures, for example. In geometric art, the proportion of space used can be just as important as the space that is unused.

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Geometric drawing using positive and negative shapes
Drawing of geometric shape consisting of triangles, squares, and lines. Negative and positive shapes are used.

Art Styles and Artists that Use Geometric Shapes

The modern abstract movement beginning in the early 20th century featured the use of geometric shapes; painting, drawing, and sculpture are common mediums for geometric-based art and more recently digital creations using computers. This abstract movement created space for artists to develop particular styles and traditions. The following list, which is not all-encompassing, includes some 20th century artists that use geometric shapes:

  • Wassily Kandinsky
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Piet Mondrian
  • Bridget Riley
  • Georges Vantongerloo
  • Robert Morris
  • Mary Corse
  • William Roberts

A variety of art styles use geometric shapes for different purposes. The table below includes the name, date, and location of eight styles of art that use geometric shapes:

Style Time Period Location
Cubism 1907-1914 France and Spain
Vorticism 1912-1915 England
Suprematism 1915-1923 Russia
Bauhaus 1919-1933 Germany
Swiss Design 1950s Switzerland
Minimalism 1960s-1970s United States
Fractal Art 1980s-today United States

Cubism

Cubism was created by friends Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who used neutral colors and cubes to deconstruct a known image, such as a workshop, and encourage the viewer to interpret the image behind the abstraction. Cubism had several evolutions in its lifespan, including a period through which geometric shapes were used to create new objects instead of deconstructing them. The collage design of art was continued through Cubism.

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