The quality of a distinct object or body in having an external surface or outline of specific form or figure.
The shape often dictates the form.
As a sculptor I am constantly amazed when merely the shape of something creates the art around it. A great example is the hurricane shape. This distinctive swirl is well known. When I create a hurricane piece I often let the shape of the hurricane dictate to me what the piece is meant to be.
You see its very important we as artists sometimes choose the shape first.
Look at a photo of a forest sometime and rather than seeing the forest, see the shape and contour of the landform instead. Transpose the whole piece of art into shape and see how it changes your viewpoints. Then paint the shapes first and see what you get. Some of you may already do this automatically. I know most of the time that I don't even realize I am doing it.
It may be an oddly shaped bowl for sale in a shop or the shape of industrial cranes dancing on the skyline. There are more examples than I can cite.
Today I went down to the banks of the Mississippi River to gather driftwood for a new sculpture and I found myself rather than matching the wood I picked up to the art in my head, instead I chose very distinctive shapes and fashioned the art around them. As I sorted through random piles of wood washed up on the shore, I chose the pieces that spoke to me about shape first.
Take this piece of wood for example.
Even before I picked the piece of wood up my mind instantly started a close examination of the shape. After a moment or two in my hands I'd already formed a nearly complete sculpture around it. Like a flash in my mind I could see this simple piece of driftwood with its exposed roots as a work of art.
Its this inspiration that is most valuable to us as artists. If we pre-plan every single piece of art to the exclusion of all else, we often miss this flash of inspiration that is so crucial. It is our ability to create this flash that makes creators what they are. If you miss the flash you may end up with art still but it will not contain that spark of the soul that inspiration brings.
This is not limited in any way to just sculpture. Every type of art can benefit from understanding shape before form. Take time over the next few days to observe shape in everything around you and see if it doesn't change at least subtly how you create your art. More importantly, see if any ideas jump instantly to mind for art based on those shapes. You may surprise yourself in what you find.
As for me, I'm taking my oddly shaped wood and making a sculpture to challenge my imagination!