Does Using Perspective Lead to Stronger Artwork?

The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, c. 1435-55, tempera on wood. Renaissance perspective art at its finest.
The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello,
c. 1435-55, tempera on wood.

Perspective Art–A Renaissance Calling Card

I’d have to answer with, “I’m not so sure.” For me, studying Italian Renaissance and Baroque art meant spending a lot of time talking about how awesome linear perspective is. And to a certain extent that is still true. Artists were able to conquer three dimensions with just two.

Perspective art practitioners such as Piero della Francesca and Andrea Mantegna illustrated how to masterfully employ the effects of perspective. They sometimes emphasized them outright. That’s because the skill legitimized artists of the day and acted as a calling card.

Not So Razzle Dazzle Anymore

But linear perspective’s appeal no longer holds the same cachet it did five centuries ago. Its conventions are viewed more like tired and taxing math equations. It takes a lot of practice to make perspective work well.

Instead of talking about vanishing points and two-point perspective, now artists resolve spatial challenges of distance and proportion less rigidly. They create recessional space, atmosphere, and volume with size and pattern, compositional and light choices. Sometimes artists even use perspective not to create realistic space–but to distort it.

Harvest Talk by Charles Wilbert White, drawing.
Harvest Talk by Charles Wilbert White, drawing.

More Perspective The Better? No.

Perspective and looser interpretations of it, such as sighting, are still useful for artists to understand, especially when situating objects in space. But extreme perspective art does not yield supreme realism. Take Paolo Uccello’s warring cavalry in the Battle of San Romano series.

The carousel horses aside, Uccello pushed the perspective grid to such an extent he all but laid out his composition on a checkerboard. The end result is stilted. The lesson?  Artists should continue to search for ways to resolve the illusion of space and distance—as well as ways to creating believable wholes. It’s a compelling challenge that unites all artists who work in any level or representation.

Woman on a Porch by Richard Diebenkorn, 1958.
Woman on a Porch by Richard Diebenkorn, 1958.

Renaissance Meets Contemporary

Artists today meet spatial challenges using color, texture, line and shape. These all contribute to what Renaissance artists desired all those centuries ago—pushing the boundaries of two dimensions to capture our three-dimensional world.

With Perspective for the Absolute Beginner, you are in the unique position of learning both the historic basics of perspective art that the Renaissance artists held so dear as well as how to manipulate these techniques like contemporary masters should!

Discover dozens of ways to situate objects in space using all kinds of effective strategies. See how that ability translates beyond genre or medium. It attests to how diversely and skillfully each artist can approach perspective, and how much there is to learn from seeing that process unfold, which is what Perspective for the Absolute Beginner is all about. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

5 thoughts on “Does Using Perspective Lead to Stronger Artwork?

  1. Paul Sullivan’s comments are helpful, of course, but many recent artists like Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud actually like to use perspective as a distortion of space (aided, one presumes, by newer technology like high-powered telephoto lenses), compressing and flattening, yet not disregarding perspective.

    I personally have found the odd background on the Mona Lisa to be one of the great distortions of perspective…. espectially at a time (as you point out) when the study of perspective was important in the art world.

    Nice article.

  2. I really appreciate these articles- thank you for sharing and inviting input. I believe perspective, like so many other ‘formulae’ in art, is another tool. Tools should be used by the artist to accomplish his goal. The tools should not be allowed to dictate to the artist. ‘Breaking rules intelligently’ is what much of art is about, IMHO.

  3. As an artist and art teacher (35 years) I find that knowing many ways of thinking about and structuring space on a 2-D surface greatly enriches both the representational and expressive choices an artist can make even at the beginning level. Casual perspective (size differentiation, overlapping, and placement in the picture plane) and sighting are powerful on-the-spot and thinking tools for any artist. The greatest thing about mechanical (one point, two point, etc.) perspective is the way it enables an artist to organize thinking and images for the desired effect even when the result does not adhere to all of the technical requirements. The more we know, the greater our freedom to create what we want. Sallye Mahan-Cox

  4. “…searching for how to resolve the illusion of space and distance—as well as how to create believable proportions—is still a compelling challenge that all artists come upon in their practice.”

    Perhaps the challenge would be easily solved if artists actually used perspective. Perspective is real. It is everywhere. With our eyes we see perspective everyday, everywhere, in everything. Be observant and learn how to use it, then apply it to fit your situation. Using perspective does not mean your work has to look mechanical. (Those who successfully twist and distort perspective must still be using it otherwise there wouldn’t be anything to twist or distort.)

    Learning the basics, such as perspective, can make a great foundation for producing quality art. Perspective, properly used, can draw us immediately into the story you are telling. Whether you create representational art or abstract art, make perspective one of your strongest tools. Then you will see how you can resolve the illusion of space and distance regardless of how you are applying it.

  5. To me, perspective plays an important role in depicting the depth otherwise it would just look like a 2D drawing isn’t it? I always observe things with perspective in mind and the way they are drawn/painted depends on individual style. But some artists struggle with perspective while drawing/painting buildings. It is just that some draw with “WHAT THEY SEE” but not “WHAT THEY KNOW”. Knowing about perspective has more advantages.