"Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a female nude or some sort of anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order."
The first thing that comes to mind when we see a photograph, a movie or a painting is their rectangular shape, while a long and detailed look at the history of painting will reveal that a considerable number of pictures mankind has produced is either a square or a rectangle.
The majority of images produced since the Renaissance era is based on the geometric properties of rectangles and squares, and some of the most iconic images known to mankind have been constructed by using the rules of the perspective, that relies heavily on the properties of these geometric shapes.
Our perceptual systems have certainly played a large part in the evolution of images into symmetrical and centric shapes, however, today an entire century after the rules of perspective have ceased to rule the world of art, artists are still producing rectangular images, even though the literal shape of their canvases can have any regular or irregular shape.
Paul Cézanne's geometrization of the figures depicted in his paintings has encouraged the artists of the early 20th century to use geometric shapes to mold the figures and objects on their paintings. Braque, Picasso, El Lissitzky or Mondrian follow the same line of thought that suggests that the literal shape of the canvas is directly related to the way we perceive a painting.
In the second half of the 20th century, artists like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock or Barnett Newman have produced work that further emphasized the distinction between the literal shape of the canvas and the shape of the pictorial space. Their work has set the background for an entire generation of artists who dared to experiment with shapes of images.
In the early 1960's Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitsky started a new art movement that focused on discovering new shapes of images mankind can use to tell their visual stories.
Despite their efforts, the Shaped Canvas movement failed to reach the mainstream culture, and as a consequence, some seventy years later, a huge number of painters are still using the same shapes of images that were used by the great masters of the Renaissance era.
The Shaped Canvas movement has proved that a photograph or a painting can have any given shape, but this discovery hasn't really affected the way images are produced several decades later. In the 21st century the rectangular shapes are still modeling the art world, and more importantly, the entire reality we live in. The great canvases that populate the walls of galleries and art museums still stick to the rules that guided the art of the previous centuries, even though in our day and age we don't need the properties of basic geometric shapes to create images that reflect the values of our time. ©Matt Perlman