Geometry in Art: Exploring Nature and Order in Chaos
Artwork: Damian Hirst – “L Isoleucine Methyl Ester”
In many ways, geometry is the basis of art. The combination of shapes allows artists to depict the world or experiment in abstract designs. Some uses of geometry in art are obvious, others are more subtle. The closer we begin to examine, the more we can appreciate the wonderful ways artists use geometry.
Artists Who Use Geometry
Studying the laws of nature, Leonardo da Vinci brought complex geometric ideas into his brilliant work. Always ahead of his time, he often used the golden ratio as a guide for composition and proportion.
Abstract artists like Hilma af Klint and Mondrian use simple geometric shapes in bold ways. These paintings give us a greater sense of how shapes can order a canvas and create emotion and meaning out of line and color.
The mobiles and sculptures of an artist like Alexander Calder use elementary three-dimensional shapes, relying on the way they interact to surprise us. Calder’s delicately balanced mobiles are a sublime example of this.
Still other artists have used their work to say something profound about the geometry of the real world. The Cubists famously painted subjects using multiple perspectives on a single canvas. These paintings challenge our sense of reality, breaking up the idea of a single point of view.
Pop artists turned to simple shapes to mirror and critique the cartoonified, Madison Avenue-created visual landscape of the 20th century. Andy Warhol used geometric shapes in his silkscreened imagery, often breaking down photographic images into basic outlines. Similarly, Roy Lichtenstein found inspiration in the frames of comic strips that constructed the world out of simplified lines and shapes.
Damien Hirst explores the simplest shape — the circle — in some of his work to describe his own inner chemical journey. From hypnotic mandalas out of butterflies, to his unique version of Mickey Mouse made completely out of circles.
How Geometry Changed Art and Art Changed Geometry
As art developed over the last two thousand years, geometry elevated the laws of perspective. Artists return again and again to this study, always coming back with better ways to represent reality or turn reality on its head.
Geometry helps artists understand physical reality and order it in a way that viewers can understand. From the sketch artist who begins by drawing the body using simple circles and rectangles to the architect who begins with simple blocks — geometry breaks through the chaos of existence with forms that act as a foundation to creating order.
But geometry also helps us see beneath the chaos into something that is more sacred. Artists who create mandalas, yantras and other forms of sacred geometry have used their creations as technology that unlocks mystical experiences.
Artists working in digital design even helped mathematicians clarify their understanding of fractal geometry by creating complex mountainscapes through increasingly complex fractal patterns of triangles.
Geometry is a field where mathematics and art come together to create new ideas and describe the world in new ways. It’s always an exciting frontier, one that will always hold the deepest visual and spiritual fascination.
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