Aesthetically speaking, the “shape” of an object within a picture frame is two-dimensional. It appears flat. Forms, however, like everything in the real world, are three-dimensional. As such, they convey a sense of presence, as if the viewer could reach in and touch the subject.
If the objective of the image is merely the quick recognition of a subject, for instance as a commercial logo or sign, the subject could better be represented as a shape. The Apple logo is an example. But if the objective is to give the viewer a fuller, closer to reality, more tactile sense of the subject, then the better approach would be to enhance its form. The more dimensionality and texture the better. The following are ways to accomplish that.
Because photographs and paintings are two-dimensional media, they require the techniques of lighting, point of view, and depth of field in order to render a subject in three dimensions. With regard to photography, a form is best represented in black and white. Without color to distract, the gradations and shadows alone convey a sense of roundness and volume.
Whether color or black and white, forms are enhanced when the light—diffuse or specular—comes from the side, raking or grading across the surface.
Point Of View
A form is enhanced when a subject is viewed from a position that reveals its third dimension. The front of this barn is flat. When the camera is moved to the side where at least two surfaces can be seen, the image shows three dimensions.
Depth Of Field
Form is enhanced when there are other objects in front of and/or behind the primary subject. Relationship to other objects creates the illusion of depth in a two-dimensional medium, particularly if they overlap. Selective focus can accomplish the same thing, as when the foreground or background is out of focus relative to the point of critical focus.
Illusion of depth
Contemplating Three Dimensions In Another Context
As noted, a subject in a painting or photograph has form, the quality of presence, when it’s represented in three dimensions. This magic number—three—applies to us and everything we see in the real world. As persons we have dimension. For instance, we have three modes of being—physical, mental and spiritual. Body, mind, and spirit. Parsing it further, according to Lajos Egri in The Art of Dramatic Writing, there are three dimensions that contribute to the revelation of character—physiology considers how a person’s body helps or hinders them in the pursuit of a goal, psychology reveals their early family life and education, and sociology, the socioeconomic and cultural aspects relating to a person’s status. According to Egri, these three traits should provide a fiction writer with the information needed to develop a well-rounded, “multi-dimensional” character.
Larry Brooks, an author, speaker, and coach in the art of storytelling, provides a model for introspection—how we see ourselves and others, and how others see us—by describing three “realms” of character. His first dimension, the “exterior landscape” of character, consists of “surface traits, quirks, and habits”—personality, what we present to the world. His second dimension, the “interior landscape,” consists of “backstory and inner demons”—where we come from, our scars, memories, dashed dreams, and resentments, including our fears, habits, and weaknesses—the things we prefer to hide from others. And yet, this is precisely what readers want and need to know because it helps them understand and empathize with the lead character.
Empathy is the great empowerer of stories. The more of it the reader feels, the more they’ll invest themselves in the reading experience.
Brooks’ third dimension of character is “action, behavior, and world view.” We take a stand, take risks, make decisions, dive in, and execute. We go for what we want or need. We follow our urges, seek answers to questions, and create what we can imagine. And in the process of reaching for goals, we reveal what we’re made of—character in the sense of moral substance, or lack thereof.
What we do and how we behave are a consequence of consciousness—who we think we are and how we perceive the world. Combined, how we think reveals our point of view, and visa versa. A gun, for instance, can variously be conceived as a threat, an object of art, or a deterrent to crime, and a border wall can be perceived as an impenetrable barrier, a challenge to be surmounted, an unnecessary expense, or a symbol contrary to national values.
According to Larry Brooks, the art of developing a strong, empathetic character in a story is a matter of integrating inner, outer, and expressive characteristics. Just so, I would suggest that the art of developing the fullness of personhood in real life—multi-dimensions—involves the integration or effectively exercising our physical, mental, and spiritual aspects—perceived as ever-evolving potentialities. As the British would say, “It’s good form.”
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