Roman Church Floor Tiling

What IS Geometric Art?

Needless to say, given that I’m building a whole site devoted to the subject, this is a question that I’ve given a lot of thought to.  I don’t believe there’s one right answer, but I think it’s worth putting a definition out here as a guiding principle for the site:

Geometric Art (or more broadly, “the Geometric Arts”): visual art, crafts, or decoration whose purpose is to explicitly celebrate the beauty inherent in geometric shapes and patterns

In everything that follows, I am taking this as my definition and explaining, based on this, what does or does not constitute geometric art  as I mean it. Of course, you are most welcome to disagree and leave a comment below arguing your point. :-)

Taking Apart the Definition

There are a few key words in my definition that are there for particular reasons, to rule certain things in or out:

  • Visual. I start with “visual” simply because there are other non-visual art forms (e.g. music, dance) that are not the focus here. While there is certainy plenty of math involved in music, and certain forms of dance (like square dancing) can be highly geometrical, the focus of this site is on the visual: painting, sculpture, and the like.
  • Crafts. Why include “crafts”?  Because I didn’t want to rule out functional objects whose whole aesthetic is centered around geometry: woven rugs, baskets, wood inlay, etc. If these objects use geometry as their primary aesthetic, then in my book, they’re fair game!
  • Decoration. Similarly, I included this word because I simply couldn’t bear ruling out things like the incredible tile work at the Alahambra, or other similar architectural decoration. As with the crafts, while they are part of a functional object (typically a building), clearly they were meant to be enjoyed at an artistic level.
  • Explicitly. There is a lot of art that implicitly uses geometry in its composition–for example, the use of the golden mean in classical painting and architecture, the geometry used to paint in perspective, etc. But just because geometry is used in the construction of a piece of art does not, in my mind, make it geometric art. Origami is another wonderful example. The creation of any piece of origami intimately involves geometry, but I would not call this geometric art
    Goatfish (designer: R. Lang; folder: P. Webster)

    Goatfish (designer: R. Lang; folder: P. Webster)

    while this

    Roman Church Floor Tiling

    Roman Church Floor Tiling (designer: C. Bettens; folder: P. Webster)

    I certainly would!

  • Geometric Shapes and patterns. This is the obvious part. :-) Basically, for it to be geometric art, there has to be some sort of geometric shape (like a polyhedron, fractal, etc.) or pattern (2- or 3-dimensional tiling, etc.) that is the main focus of the piece.

What Geometric Art is NOT

Conversely, there are a number of things that might come to mind when reading the phrase “geometric art” that are not what I have in mind. Here are a few examples:

  • Perspective painting and drawing
  • Art and architecture with golden mean composition
  • Most origami
  • Woven objects in general (just having a grid basis doesn’t
    count if the final pattern is not geometric!)
  • Most furniture (unless based on obvious geometric forms)

What’s In the Gray Zone?

As with any definition, there will be things that are hard to classify.  Here’s one: crop circles. They are visual, are clearly (most of them) composed of geometric shapes and patterns, but are they art, craft, or decoration? I tend to think yes, but they’re definitely an edge case. What examples can you think of that test the boundaries of my definition?


About Phil Webster

Phil is the creator of You can reach him on the Contact page.

2 Responses to What IS Geometric Art?

  1. avatar
    Cathy (Your sister-in-law) Wallace July 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I can’t even fold a fitted sheet well, let alone do origami, but I have always loved geometric designs and tiles. I am so excited that you are doing something that you love and you are so talented!!! It was fascinating to see you make your beautiful creations in person! Your site is beautiful and I will enjoy checking in from time to time to see your new creations!

    • avatar
      Phil Webster July 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

      Hi Cathy,

      You win the prize for being the VERY FIRST person to leave a comment. Now I just have to figure out what the prize is… LOL Glad you enjoy the site, I imagine the background appeals to you knowing your penchant for Islamic design.