The Importance of Perspective in Art
It’s More Than Just Your Point of View
The importance of perspective in art was realized long ago by Florentine architect Filipo Brunelleschi. He developed linear perspective which projected the illusion of depth by using vanishing points to which all lines converged on the horizon. It didn’t take long for many Italian artists to begin using the same linear perspective in their paintings. Masaccio being the first great painter of the early Renaissance to demonstrate full mastery of perspective.
Perspective, simply put, is one’s point of view. In terms of perspective in art, it is a technique for creating the illusion of depth and space (three dimensions) on a flat surface. Perspective is what makes a work of art appear to have form, dimension, distance, and space. In other words, it makes the work of art look realistic.
What was discovered by these masters was that straight parallel lines seem to converge as they move off into the distance into what is called vanishing points. Take the image of the road above. We all know that the edges of the road are parallel lines, but they appear to converge in a point, or the vanishing point. And not just the road converges, but also the tops of the telephone poles on the right. All lines lead to this one vanishing point on the horizon, or eye level.
At some point during our childhood, we all learned how to draw a cube. Though not entirely accurate, it was pretty decent start towards perspective. The necessary basics are one, two, and three-point perspective. There are four, five, and six-point perspectives, but they involve curved lines which give your drawings a type of fisheye lens view. For this post we’ll only focus on the basics.
All points lead to one vanishing point. True one-point perspective would have all lines of the cube leading to one vanishing point. This is usually the case if, for example, we see a building standing directly in front of it.
Like the name implies, two-point perspective has two vanishing points on the horizon. Taking the building example again, we would be standing off center so that we see two sides of the building. The lines of each side converge to the vanishing point on that side and not just the edges of the building, but also any windows, ledges, doorways, etc.
Three-point perspective also has two vanishing points on the horizon but includes a third vanishing point either above or below the horizon line. This is especially important when drawing cityscapes. If you’re standing at the ground level of a skyscraper and look up, the building appears to narrow at the top. If you’re flying above the city and look down over a tall building, it appears to narrow the closer it gets to the street.
Putting it into practice…
Everything in the world around you follows these rules of perspective. At this point, it should be pretty clear how the importance of perspective in art should be to you. It’s all illusion, but absolutely necessary if you want your drawings to look more realistic. Try it out for yourself. It’s best to start off with a ruler to make sure you’re hitting the vanishing points precisely. Start off with one-point perspective and do it until you can practically do it with your eyes closed.
Perhaps draw the road above but include telephone poles on one side and a few buildings on the other side. No need for details on the buildings at this point, but feel free to add the basic outline for windows and doors. It is important to keep horizontal lines parallel to the horizon and vertical lines parallel to each other. Granted, not all buildings have straight sides, but for this exercise and until you get the hang of it, you should keep your lines precise. Once you feel comfortable and are pleased with your results, move on to two and then three-point perspective.