Space has been a major concern in art throughout recorded history and, when considering all fields of endeavor, concerns are multiplied due to the number of ways we can define space. Mathematical space, for example, takes the form of a noun. It might be conceived as a set of elements or points satisfying specified geometric postulates and identified in terms of Euclidean or non-Euclidean systems. Or, topologically, space might be defined as the infinite extension of the three-dimensional field in which all matter exists. As a verb, however, ‘to space’ implies a process of organizing and arranging. Given that visual art production includes this active quality, it is not surprising the contemporary visual artist Frank Stella sees the creation of space as the principal goal of art (see lead quote).
"But, after all, the aim of art is to create space - space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space within which the subjects of painting can live."
- Frank Stella (1986)
If we learn about space, we have to know what the most important things of space. There are parts that we have to know: overlapping, relative size, linear perspective, and atmospheric perspective.
Overlapping is where objects appear to be on top of one another each closer to the observer than the next. There is no clue, using only overlap, as to how deep the space is. All you can tell is what thing is closer to you than what. If overlap is used alone with flat shapes, like the figure/ground and balance projects, the space remains fairly flat. When items appear round (occupy space) the illusion of depth is generated.
Linear perspective is a system for drawing objects that use lines and vanishing points to determine how much an object's apparent size changes with space. It seems obvious that the apparent size of an object decreases the farther you get away from it. It is a surprise that this has not always been understood to be so. When objects of known distance subtend a smaller and smaller angle, it is interpreted as being further away. Parallel lines converge with increasing distance such as roads, railway lines, electric wires, etc
Atmospheric perspective is sometimes called aerial perspective. Relative colour of objects give us some clues to their distance. Due to the scattering of blue light in the atmosphere, creating "wall" of blue light, distance objects appear more blue. Thus distant mountains appear blue. Contrast of objects also provide clues to their distance. When the scattering of light blurs the outlines of objects, the object is perceived as distant. Mountains are perceived to be closer when the atmosphere is clear. Atmospheric perspective is create by techniques such as texture gradients, brightness gradients, color saturation, and color.
The elements of art, especially space, are important for several reasons. First, and most importantly, a person can't create art without utilizing at least a few of them. No elements, no art, end of story. And we wouldn't even be talking about any of this, would we?
Secondly, knowing what the elements of art are enables us to describe what an artist has done, analyze what is going on in a particular piece and communicate our thoughts and findings using a common language.