Skip to main content

How to anaylse use of shape

Watch this to analyse the use of shape in Higher Art (and why it shapes everything)

search thinkfour.

We all come in different shapes, and so does the rest of the world too.

Wherever we have a line that defines a form, we have a shape.

They are the boundaries to our world and they give structure to our view. They can be simple or complex arrays; they may be organic forms found in nature, or shapes designed and built by humans.

The use of shape in art is very important. It can be used to draw the eye and the attention of the viewer, or shapes can separate and act as boundaries in your work, providing deeper meaning as well as visual impact.

Let’s knock this idea into shape.

This is thinkfour.

Let’s unpack David Hockney’s approach to shape and look at Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two figures), painted in 1972.

This painting includes the three main themes reoccurring in Hockney’s work at this time – swimming pools, double portraits and homosexuality. This painting was the result of a heartbreak. The standing man in the pink jacket is Peter Schlesinger, Hockney’s ex-lover. Hockney is portraying his torture at looking at Peter looking at another man. So.....how does shape play a key part in this painting and how can we identify the connotations behind its use?

Let’s consider contrasting shapes within the composition. The geometric and regimented shapes of the patio contrast with the rounded, organic shapes in the pool water. Hockney could have used this obvious contrast to portray the difference in personalities of the two men. Peter, standing out of the pool, could be portrayed here as more controlled and holding back in a regimented way, much like the patio....whereas the swimmer is portrayed as much more relaxed and carefree in the water.

There is a contrast between clarity and fuzziness within the shapes. The shape of Peter is very clear, especially his face. This contrasts with the blurry shape of the swimmer who comes across as quite annonymous. This gives us an insight into the artist’s relationship and familiarity with Peter – he knows this man and the shape of his face intimately, whereas the swimmer is unknown, an unclear shape and a threat to his happiness.

When analysing a painting, it is important to consider all factors regarding the prompt you are being asked to analyse. Here, we look to the shapes appearing in the background. The organic shapes in the landscape, point symmetrically into the centre of the painting. This draws direct focus down to the swimmer – the hill is flush with Peter’s direction of sight, letting us know that all of his focus and attention is on the swimmer and potential new love interest.

A comment could also be made on Hockney’s overall use of shape within the painting and how you could describe it. The majority of the shapes are clearly defined throughout the composition, creating a graphic and clean-cut feel to the painting. This element of control almost creates a feeling of tension, possibly between the two figures, or even Hockney himself and his own portrayal of his feelings towards the scene before him.

Hockney’s use of shape to portray the raw emotion of picturing his ex-lover desiring someone else is powerful. It is also a painting that sold for 90 million dollars!

So shape matters in your art. Be receptive to it. Notice it around you and what it does to your perception of a scene. See how artists have used it to control the experience for the viewer and the meaning of their work.

The impact of shape is powerful in art, so make sure you are in shape to use it properly.

This was thinkfour, thanks for watching.

Close Menu