DECODE:

PERSPECTIVE

One of art's fundamentals, perspective describes how artists choose to represent space and three-dimensional objects in a flat work. But it can be as expressive as it is technical.

Essentially: The depiction of three-dimensional objects, spaces and depth in a work of art.

Etymology: From the Latin perspectiva, which means "science of optics."

Example: Asakusa Rice Fields and Torinomachi Festival (Asakusa tanbo Torinomachi mode), from the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (Meisho Edo hyakkei)”, Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857

Perspective describes how an artist chooses to depict and recreate dimension in a flat work, which requires the right blend of scale, shadow and light.

And the concept has evolved over the centuries. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic artists depicted humans with eyes off to the side rather than set in a spherical skull. European art during the Middle Ages, such as that bound in illuminated manuscripts, also looks relatively flat by modern standards. For many, the use of perspective in Western art reached its pinnacle in the work of Renaissance masters who regularly employed grand architecture and densely populated scenes or landscapes to showcase their command of depth. One way they managed to do this was by honing linear perspective, a technique where parallel lines appear to merge in the distant horizon.

But how perspective is ultimately created can be accomplished in countless artistic styles. Utagawa Hiroshige's Asakusa Rice Fields and Torinomachi Festival from 1957 is a strong example of how Eastern art traditions and materials have interpreted the concept. Made using a wood-block printing method – a Japanese specialty – the work has a centuries-old kind of flatness while still creating a sense of distance by using abstracted trees and a hazy mountainscape viewed through a window. How these subjects are strategically made smaller and blur together mimics how the human eye sees. The colors also grow more muted and less distinct for these distant objects, which is known as atmospheric perspective.

And these variations on perspective have proven to be catalysts for experimentation. American painter Mary Cassatt was highly influenced by Japanese prints and implemented elements of their style into her impressionist works. Today, artists like Lucas Arruda continue to play with the boundaries of perspective by making paintings with soft, intricate brushwork that evoke the vastness of grand landscapes while often remaining highly abstracted. It's this quality that underlines the value of perspective in a work – it goes beyond simply making a scene look realistic and instead recalls the emotions and memories intimately tied to the human experience.