Linear perspective is, of course, used to show space. But it can also be used in artworks (including photographs) to express emotion, dramatic atmosphere, or to convey movement. Perspective can also be exaggerated or distorted – its rules broken – in order to deepen the drama or heighten the tension in an image. Or it might be distorted to convey some important information that the artist could not show with a mathematically accurate drawing.
Perspective, then, is just another tool in the language of image-making. Although there are mathematical rules and principles that govern how it works, they are there to be (consciously, or not) bent or broken by the artist. Once you understand the principle, it is for you, the artist, to use, to play with or to re-invent – for whatever purpose it needs to serve in your artwork.
Talk About This
Look at the images on these two pages.
Can you identify the devices used to show space and distance in these images?
Have the artists distorted or exaggerated the perspective in any of these images? How can you tell?
In some cases, the perspective may be accurate but is given an unusually important role in the image.
Have these artists used perspective in any of these ways, to convey a feeling, or to heighten the drama or tension in the image? What particular feelings do you think the use of perspective creates in these works? Try to explain your responses (always referring to the image).
Let’s look at just one of these examples.
Cyprian Shilakoe created this print of Johannesburg (left) while studying at the art school in Rorke’s Drift, in a rural part of KwaZulu-Natal. As one of only two students there who had ever lived in the big city of Johannesburg, Shilakoe created this image to show his fellow students what city life was like. As you can see, he uses two-point perspective here. He emphasises the dramatic intersecting diagonals of streets and buildings. He has taken a fantastically high viewpoint, which increases the sense of speed and of flying.
One can only imagine how impressed those fellow students must have been with this image of speed and excitement. Do you think it is “truth” or a mix of truth and fantasy? Why do you think this?