THATKid Tuesday: Perspective (Part 1)

THATKid Tuesday is a dose of Art History terms for kids, simplified and illustrated. These terms are culled from the glossary found in our Kid Packs, booklets you receive on Luxe Hunts that offer travelling families exercises that I, as a mother, have found useful giving to Storsh and Balthazar at restaurants when travelling. The Kid Packs have art fun such as a Botticelli spot-the-difference, Michelangelo connect-the-dots or some da Vinci Decoding (do you know he kept his journal in a secret language?!!)

Today’s THATKid Tuesday is … perspective. This is the 1st of 2 posts on perspective as it’s unreasonably complicated and can confuse plenty of adults, too.

Perspective is a word for various techniques that artists use to show a 3D world on a 2D surface (like a canvas or page).

It can be broken into two areas: Linear Perspective (such as Single-point perspective, which uses a typ of Linear Perspective) and Atmospheric Perspective.

painting of an empty city by Piero della Francesca
See the Vanishing Point in Piero della Francesca’s View of an Ideal City?

One point perspective is a system to assist in realistically rendering a three-dimensional scene on a two-dimensional surface by using lines which radiate from one point (known as a vanishing point) on the horizon line. One point perspective differs from two point and three point perspectives in that there is only one vanishing point. See the Renaissance painting above, by Piero della Francesca?

Perspective can be quite complicated (besides linear perspective there’s aerial/atmospheric perspective (just think of the Mona Lisa‘s landscape in the back), single-point and multi-point perspective). The nitty gritty of perspective in art is the way that objects appear smaller when they are further away and that objects are foreshortened. Foreshortening is when an object appears shorter than it would be, in order to give depth to the painting. We’ll be writing another THATKid post with some examples of foreshortening soon, so don’t worry if you don’t know what it means!

In Renaissance Italy, artists were rediscovering the rules of perspective and paying special attention to how they were depicting volumes and spatial relationships on flat surfaces. The word “perspective” comes from the Latin perspicere, meaning to see through. When perspective is used, it’s as if we’re looking through a window (2D) into the world of the painting (3D).

The first type of perspective we’ll be covering, though, is one-point perspective. This is a type of linear perspective, which is used for paintings or photos where the subject, which could be a building, a room, or something else, is directly facing the viewer. With one-point perspective, there’s a horizon line, which is the viewer’s eye level in the painting. Often, it’s the point where the sky meets the land or water in the painting.

Another important element is the way parallel lines appear to meet each other at the point in the distance, which is somewhere on the horizon line, and is called the vanishing point.

Sound complicated? Let’s see some examples!

Look at this photo of a railway track below. The horizon is pretty obvious – it’s where the sky meets everything else in the picture. But can you see how the railway lines seem to get closer together the further away they get? And, in the distance, they appear to meet – this is the vanishing point (where the lines meet the horizon and “vanish”). Of course, the tracks aren’t really getting closer together, it just looks that way, which is something that artists can use when trying to imply perspective and distance.

Sometimes, as in the photo above, the vanishing point – where the parallel lines meet – is visible in the painting, but not always. It can be imagined, and well outside of the plane of the painting.

For example, in this painting above, the Oath of Horatii by Jacques-Louis David, the straight lines which make up the building and the floor tiles meet up at a central point, as seen below. The point where all the lines meet is the focal point of the painting.  For David’s painting, which is in the Louvre, the father’s hands, holding the son’s three swords is where our eye is drawn. This is also highlighted by the muted colors in the background against the sharp light telling us where to look.

A focal point is the element in a scene or painting that pulls in the viewer’s eye and is the centre of attention. There are many different ways the artist can achieve this.

Next THATKid perspective will attack other elements of perspective, such as Atmospheric/Aerial Perspective, a whole ‘nother monster!

Any questions about perspective in art? Leave us a comment with any questions!

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