Elements of Art: Space | KQED Arts

Elements of Art: Space | KQED Arts

Space is always part of an artwork. Sometimes, in multiple ways. No art form
demonstrates this more than site-specific work. Site-specific art is
designed exclusively for one particular space. For this type of art, it's impossible to isolate the work from its surrounding environment. So, for many artists then, space and how to transform it is the artwork. Space is one of the 7 elements of art along with line, shape, form, texture, value, and color.
Space is the area in which an artwork is organized. It encompasses the area within
a work of art and can also include the area immediately outside of and around a
work of art. In paintings, drawings, and other two-dimensional work, the space of an artwork is usually
contained within the borders of the paper or canvas it's made on. The main
objects in a work of art take up positive space — the area around them then is called negative space. Sometimes artists intentionally try to blur the boundaries between positive and negative space. In sculpture and other three-dimensional
arts, positive space is the area that objects actually occupy and negative space is all the other areas between and around the objects. Many two-dimensional works create the illusion of three-dimensional space by using some
very specific techniques. Notice how painter Kehinde Wiley overlapped some of the background pattern onto the front of people in these portraits. This
overlapping gives a sense of three-dimensional space. Landscape
painter Wang Wei placed objects in different parts of the canvas to imply
three-dimensional space. Notice how figures towards the top of
the painting seem to be moving further back in space, even though they are
roughly the same size. Some artists do use relative size to
give their work the illusion of real space. The smaller human figures in these
paintings by Ben Shahn seem to be more distant and further away from the larger
ones. Roy DeCarava often contrasted sharply focused figures with blurry soft
backgrounds in his photographs. Such a contrast in detail gives the sense of lush, real depth. Varying hues and values will also give two dimensional works the illusion of real space. See how
painter Georgia O'Keefe used a variety of red values and abused her work with a
feeling of true depth. Painter Alex Roulette uses classic single and two point perspective in his work to create the impression of deep, expansive space. Notice, too, how objects get smaller, in order to seem more distant from each
other. Some other ways to describe how artists use space are: dense, open, cluttered, symmetrical,
shallow, flat. How would you describe the way artists
approach space in these works? What qualities do you see? How artists use space is one way they are able to create a unique style and reinforce the
messages they hope to communicate. The next time you're looking at a painting,
photograph, or sculpture, try to notice how the artist is using space in their work.
And, when you're making your own artwork, try to develop an approach to space
that resonates with other ideas you're trying to communicate. That way your
messages will surely travel far and wide.

20 thoughts on “Elements of Art: Space | KQED Arts


  2. Can someone tell me where I can find the third photo of the three monochromatic portraits?? This whole picture is fantastic and sparked such rich conversation with my third and fourth graders.

  3. Love these videos in the Elements of Art. They are clear and contemporary. The music is just right to calm the mind and allows the students to focus on the content. Bravo!

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