Spaces in ART WORKS (help me out here please.)

Oct 2019
hey! how do I identify DEEP SPACE, FLAT SPACE OR SHALLOW SPACE in art works? (I need a long and clear explanation. PLEASE ANYONE)


Forum Staff
May 2013
Albuquerque, NM
Space is the ocean we swim in, so space is one of several component's, an inherent element, that goes into composition of visuals. This is especially true when composing/analyzing what are typically two-dimensional images regardless of media. Both Figurative and Abstraction go back to at least the Mesozoic, and rock art of those times exhibit both approaches to visual communications on more-or-less flat two dimensional surfaces. The problem has always been how does one best communicate three dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. From Classical Antiquity, we mostly have sculptural pieces though at least two examples need to be considered. First is the influence of Egypt where the figurative elements are distorted, and rather stiffly posed against a flat appearing backdrop. It was an effective way to communicate visually, and went on to influence Greek and Roman art among others. The Roman's did some really great portraits as casket decoration during the Empire Period in Egypt. Space in these forms is Flat, in modern times and modern art we see a return to flat surfaces and space. Think Mondrian. Geometry, color, texture, etc. make no pretense of creating depth today, but in earlier times things like over-lap, relative size, color/tone, and placement within the composition were used to create the illusion of three-dimensions. That sort of style reached it's zenith prior to the Fall of Rome and thereafter the aesthetics of flat compositions took back-seat to communicating religious dogma.

In sculpture, stiff three-dimensional Egyptian forms were transformed by the Greeks into far more accurate descriptions of the human form suggesting flow and movement. That made for much more complex negative space for free-standing pieces, but the relief carvings still set figures against a two dimensional background. With the rise of Christianity, aesthetics took back-seat to preaching, and much of what survives are in and made for churches. The most sophisticated of pieces are tightly composed and often influenced by Byzantine iconography. Until the development of oil painting, the water-based pigments were a major limitation. Those large Church murals were done by adding pigment to wet plaster with varied results. "The Last Supper" composition deals with the space by using many of the traditional visual tricks used to create the illusion of a third admissions, but with an added technique that was new ... linear perspective. Renaissance painters were quick to adopt the new media and use of linear perspective. After the Plague when the European population was decimated and Church supported Feudalism was on the wane, the new wealthy and powerful wanted art that was more portable, and painters began using stretched canvas and the sizes of painting shrank. The new patrons of art were more interested in glorifying themselves than the Church, so portraiture became more common, and accurate depictions of reality became the new norm. From the Renaissance to the invention of modern photography in the late 18th century, painters were expected to create "photographically accurate" paintings. The Old Masters and modern Ultra-Realists rival the camera in depicting "deep space". Technology has freed painters from the square/rectangle/triangle/circle surfaces that we've used pretty much for the past four hundred years. Modern materials make it possible to paint on three dimensional spaces blurring the lines between painting and sculpture. Acrylics have overcome some of the limitations of traditional water media, and the range of possible ways to produce interesting surfaces are pretty exciting.

Strictly speaking ... "Deep Space" really is best when dealing with 3-D sculptural-like art; "Flat Spaces" are depictions made onto 2-D surfaces, and; "Shallow Spaces" are relief carvings. Flat surfaces are either composed around creating an illusion of 3-D, or sticking to the reality of the surface and media little attempt to "fool the eye" is made. Linear and atmospheric perspectives become secondary considerations to the vision of the painter in much of Modern Art since the mid-19th century. Can I now have my MFA?