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Color and Form

William N. Copley
Untitled (Apples & Oranges), 1986
Acrylic and lace on canvas
195.6 x 152.4 cm (77 x 60 in.)
© 2020 William N. Copley Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS),New York.

Color and form are distinctly important to works of art. An artist’s choice of color palette often conveys emotion, may embed their work in a certain genre or time, and some artists can choose to use one consistent palette for long periods of work or their lifelong practice. Form refers to shape and line - the very elements which make up an artist’s composition. Artists can choose to paint the forms that they see, as they see them (Realism) to manipulate reality (Surrealism) or to invent new forms entirely (Pure Abstraction).

Color and form have been investigated by many artists through their works, but no more than the Russian artist and Bauhaus teacher, Vasily Kandinsky. Kandinsky was one of the first artists to analyze the way in which different colors and shapes affect emotion, leading to his ‘color and form theory’ which assigned each of the primary colors to basic geometric forms.

Some theorize that Kandinsky was highly synaesthetic, meaning he was able to experience two senses at once, and would automatically attribute different colors or forms to sounds or feelings. He theorized, for example, that yellow could disturb; warm reds and oranges were lively colors that could also generate harsh emotions; and cool green, blues and purples were peaceful and subdued. It was during his studies at the Kunstakademie, Munich in the early 20th century that Kandinsky began to write about color and form, and published his first book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1910). As the book explained, Kandinsky intended to transcend recreating recognizable shapes and aimed instead to express feelings through color and abstract form – for him, copying shapes from nature stifled artistic expression.

Color wheel for Vasily Kandinsky’s Preliminary Course, Gerd Balzer, 1929
Gouache on paper, pasted on black paper
Courtesy of the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA

Related categories



Color Field Painting


Abstract Painting



(Inspired by) Abstract Expressionism

Geometric Abstraction

American Abstract Expressionism


Color Field Abstraction

(Inspired by) Realism



Geometric Forms


(Inspired by) Expressionism

Acrylic Paint

Restrained Expression

Balanced Composition

(Inspired by) German Expressionism

Gestural Abstraction



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Op Art