The space in flatness

One of the most significant traits of modernism paintings is the use of flatness. Based on a flat surface, the painting is an art played in two-dimension, which is the only condition painting shared with no other art. Therefore, modernist painting oriented itself to flatness as it did to nothing else (Frascina,6). Illustrating the three-dimension world on the flat canvas was once the painting tried to do. Before modernism art appears, the space was shown under the principle of perspective.

When modernism artist freed themselves from strictly record the realistic world, the principle was abandoned gradually, give way to the innovation of expressing the sense of space in the paintings. When we looked at Cézanne’ s painting during last week’s trip, the way he arranged the space in the painting impressed me. In the work At the Water’s Edge, we could see how he used color field without lines to illustrate the view. By emphasizing the grades of green color in the foreground and weaken the river, representing it only with a field of simple white, Cézanne reduced the comparison of the depth, and flattened the pictorial space. In another work, Banks of the Seine at Médan, we could also see how Cézanne used different shades of color to shape the sense of space. Cézanne refused to copied the perspective relationship in the realistic, and choose the harmony in the painting instead.

Later, the similar technique could also be found in the Cubism. Artist like Picasso and Braque was inspired by Cézanne, give up the three-dimensional perspective in the painting. Instead, they use two dimensional from many perspectives to show the integrity of a painting. They use geometric shapes to represent the objects in an abstract way. Not all the paintings use color to build the sense of depth and perspective. Some of Cubism work just indulge tridimensional view flow into a flat, compressed surface. However, some Cubism paintings, we could see how the shades of color field is used to shape the sense of three-dimensional.

In Picasso’s Figure dans un Fauteuil, the use of different shade of greys combines multiple small facets of the objects, and thus endows it with the sense of perspective. The slight shades of colors are not the actual appearance of the objects the painting represent, but the extraction of the shade and light in different perspectives. Inspired by the post-impressionism, the painters developed the technique about showing spaces in flatness through all those years.


Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison, eds. Modern Art and Modernism. London; Cambridge; Milton Keynes: Harpercollins, 1983

Cubism: Overview” (Phil Hansen, art teacher)