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Form and content

Updated: May 28, 2021

A piece of art consists of colours, lines, shapes, structures, planes. All the elements complement each other, they are integral parts of the whole work. Lines define the boundaries of shapes and planes, they can be delicate or bold. All of them have some structures, colours. Elements merge into systems/arrangements and we can recognize objects, which we can see in everyday life or at least are comparable to them, or we may be presented with some abstract creations as well. All of the elements of a piece of art determine its form and construction. Form is the way of using and arranging all those basic components. It may serve a purpose of depicting something in a piece of art or be a value in itself. Of course, it may also combine both of those appropriations. Form may make a piece of art aesthetically pleasing, impact our senses or catch the viewer’s eyes with its uniqueness. Realistic painters want to ensure that those lines, colours, shapes and structures, etc. create the impression of spatiality in a two-dimensional piece of art. However, it is not what abstract painters usually seek for. Instead of the realistic depiction, they focus on making the form extraordinary, unrealistic, imaginary and on some aspects of what they see and they want to find a unique, exceptional, unconventional way of presenting something to the recipients.

According to Wassily Kandinsky form is “the external expression of inner content”. And content is another aspect of a work of art. It is the meaning and the feeling, and it is not synonymous with the subject. A subject may be: still life, portrait, landscape, biblical or mythological scene. However, content is what an artist meant to convey to the recipients or what occurred during or after the creating process. It is the meaning of a piece and it may be the history it tells. Concerning realistic pieces, we can see the content in presented objects, characters or scenes. It can be described using words. Form allows an artist to present the content. Creating depictions of natural and everyday objects, it is possible to show the meaning and in some cases, the symbolism of the piece. Then, the content appears as those items and figures that reflect the real world things and beings. Symbols are also part of the content. Although they are presented as common objects, they link the recipients to something else and have conjectural, allusive meaning except for the visual one. They add a different part of the story to the artwork.

Form and content are distinct, but they cannot be separated. When talking about a piece of art, we mention both of them and they are tightly related and cannot occur without each other. Although, sometimes the form may be the content. It happens when the purpose of the piece is to show a fancy, imaginative form or to present a different perception of reality. It may be seen in modern art, created at the time when artists realised that camera does work better than painters. They wanted to make art that is shocking, interesting concerning its form. However, it does not occur in all the abstract paintings. The form may be unrealistic and the content may be something else than the form at the same time.

To sum up, the term “form” refers to the visual and physical aspect of the artwork. It does not change unless the piece is damaged. It involves all the small elements like lines, shapes, colours, etc and them arranging in bigger parts. And content concerns concepts, representations, meanings, often ambiguous ones. It is never ultimately established and depends on the changing times and people’s perception of the world.


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