Collaborations and Connections Between the Arts of Architecture, Painting and Sculpture: New Artistic Fields and Shared Significances

Colaborações e ligações entre as artes (arquitectura, pintura e escultura): novas dinâmicas artísticas e significados comuns

Dias, S.

CIAUD - Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade Técnica de Lisboa

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ABSTRACT: The paper aims to analyse the collaborations and connections between the arts of architecture, painting and sculpture, with a focus on their shared significances and in the contemporary artistic creations which propose the merging of artistic fields. After a historical contextualization, four levels of interactions are defined, each with their own specific conditions, theories and examples.  Clarifying this, aims to allow new understandings to emerge, so that new potentialities can be explored and deeper significances be made relevant in the various artistic fields.  

KEYWORDS: Visual Arts, Architecture, Significance, Union, Connection

RESUMO: O presente artigo pretende analisar as colaborações e ligações entre as artes (arquitectura, pintura e escultura) observando pincipalmente os seus significados comuns e as novas dinâmicas contemporâneas que propoem uma dissolução dos limites establecidos pelos dominios de cada uma das artes. Depois de uma breve contextualização histórica, define-se quatro níveis de interacção, cada um com os suas próprios exemplos e teorias que o sustêm. Deste modo, pretende-se permitir a emergência de novos entendimentos, de modo a que novas potencialidades possam ser exploradas e os seus significados tornados mais relevantes nas diversas áreas artísticas.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Artes Visuais, Arquitectura, Significado, União, Ligação

1. Introduction

The research paper develops from the doctorate research, where an analysis of the connections and collaborations between the arts (as well as the understanding of the new artistic fields which from them derive) was conducted as a way to understand its unified contribution towards significance. The main research question is as follows: How can the arts of architecture, painting and sculpture collaborate in creating significance?  The main objectives of the research are therefore to clarify the different ways in which the arts can interact with each other, with the same underlying significance at their core. In this way, the paper aims to be a contribution to the various artistic fields.


2. Context

The relationship between the arts of Architecture, Painting and Sculpture is not a new theme or idea, but an ongoing and constantly evolving dynamic, which is of critical clarification in the present time.

Throughout the course of history, the arts have been at times interacting and collaborating with each other in often complex ways, and at other times, becoming completely independent and autonomous, derived mainly from a focus on the individual essences of each art. In regards to architecture, for example, on the one hand it has been considered the ‘mother art’ where all the arts can be ‘housed’ and from which all other arts can grow from, on the other, the opposite view occurs, sustaining that its programmatic requisites of space do not allow it to be considered as an art at all.

What unites all the arts is mainly the common aspects they all share. The main aspect is the use of the same means of conceptualization and design methodology. Although each art uses different means of exploring and executing (brushes for painting, chisel for sculpture and construction for architecture), the artistic creative/design process is the same: use of drawing and sketching to plan, explore and execute an ‘inspired’ idea (dependent on both reason and intuition). Other more complex common traits can be seen to be: the creation of ontological and metaphysical understandings of man’s existence in the world (Pallasmaa, 2011), the artistic inutility related to an existence which is beyond the most basic needs of existence (Arnheim, 1966), and the embodied significance, which sustains that all the arts are an embodiment of a specific significance within its form as values (Pérez-Gómez, 2008; Danto, 2014) [1]. As the works will show it is these common traits and aspects that leads to the different types of artistic collaborations and interactions.

Where as the differences between the arts, which initially appear to be numerous since different art and architectural theorists and critics emphasize distinct aspects, it is made clear that these differences are all related to the individual aspects which define each artistic field (Scrutton, 2009; Steiner, 1992). Therefore, independently of each of the arts own individual essence (what distances them, and that which, in a way, has also been made redundant by the merging of artistic fields), it is crucial to understand the ways in which the arts relate to each other and how they can contribute and enhance each others significance - which is what the present article aims to understand and analyze.



Art as an embodied significance – detail of a Mark Rothko painting. Images Source: Image taken by the author in 2016, in Paris at the Pompidou.



3. Historical Understanding

It is generally understood that until the development of the modern movement in the 1920’s, the relationship between the arts was a complementary one. Plastic arts were integrated within the architectural space in order to clarify it’s ‘’ (...) imagery, allusions and nascent narratives.’’ (Pimlott, 2009, p. 1), in a cooperative relationship. For Pimlott (2009) this relationship was derived from the Renaissance, however other examples can be traced back to Egyptian, Roman, Islamic and Gothic sacred architecture, where plastic arts were used in an integrated way, in order to enhance the overall significance of the work.  In all cases, the arts were used to support each other’s understanding, purpose, function and overall significance.

In the Renaissance, however, a duality occurred. Where as on the one hand some architects engaged in all three fields of artistic practice and possessed a totalizing view (an example is the work of the architect Filippo Brunelleschi and his definition of perspective that provided new parameters for both painting and architecture), on the other, the disciplines also began to be observed, studied and approached independently, such as the treatises composed by Alberti or Palladio in the field of architecture (or by Leonardo da Vinci in the field of painting) and the work of Palladio who sustained an independent approach to the arts, believing that architecture should use painting as decoration or not at all.

This idea found echo in more recent times. John Ruskin (1903), for example, sustained that the arts should be seen as ‘ornaments’ for architecture; in this sense, sculpture and painting should be subordinate to architecture by enabling its qualities and allowing for a further understanding of the divine. The glory of Gothic Architecture, Ruskin claims as an example, that it possesses a union of all elements into the overall meaning of the whole of architecture – and this should define the standard for other collaborations.

However, what Ruskin proposed was a union between all the arts, which did not occur in a clear and simple way. With the International Style (set forth by the exhibition of the 1932), art was considered to be merely a ‘decorative’ element and therefore there should be a separation between architecture and the other art forms (Pallasmaa, 2011). And in the modern movement, when architecture began to pursue individual ideals of function, sustaining a new technological, scientific and objective approach, and when painting pursued its own enquiries leading towards abstraction, a complete independence from the other arts was established (Pimlott, 2009). With the generation of architects that followed the modern movement, such as the works of Richard Neutra, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto and Louis Khan, the independence of architecture towards the arts was continued and enhanced. This profound separation of the arts can still be found in some of the contemporary architects such as in the work of Siza Vieira who sustains an architectural space which is clean, minimal and devoid of any other conflicting elements.

However, collaborations between the arts have always emerged in parallel. Such is the case of the ones proposed by Theo Van Doesburg with the Stijl movement, developing a collaboration that maintained each of the arts independence - an artist/architecture collaboration in new terms -  or the theories proposed by Le Corbusier, which also validated the importance of the union of the arts. These different types of collaborations and connections will be analyzed as follows.


4. Collaborations and Connections

4.1.The Artist/Architect

One first level of connection can be defined by the multi-disciplinary approach of the creators: architects who are also artists, painters whom also create sculptures, and artists whom are also architects with equal artistic quality. The idea that all the arts share the same creation principles can be traced back to the Renaissance and the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci who were painters, sculptors and architects simultaneously. In 17th century Rome, it is also possible to announce the work of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (an architect known for his palaces and churches and also a sculptor). More recent examples can be found in architects who use their own painting to explore architectural concepts, such as the works of Le Corbusier, Zaha Hadid and Alvar Aalto. In this sense, Pinto (2009) claims that painting, sculpture and drawing constitute research methods that are autonomous and that trigger the imagination in an instrumentalized way for architecture. A contrary approach is found with Hiroshi Sugimoto who is a Japanese American photographer and also creates architecture, conceptualizing spatial interventions that enhance the same artistic significance as his photography does. What occurs in all the cases is that all the arts work together as key aspects which not only permit different levels of experimentations but also allow for the development of an individual and personal aesthetics, language and significance.


4.2. Drawing Inspiration from each Other

A second level of collaboration can be defined as the arts drawing inspiration and ideas from each other. This can occur either derived from the first category, from its creator who explores in different mediums, or as an observer. In both cases, the arts learn from each other, influencing each other mutually, and progressing in sync in order to define a new language and inherent significance.

The architectural figurations of the renascence painters, the abstract incursions of the modern movement, the minimalistic language of conceptual art and minimal architecture all constitute inspirations and influences between the arts. These influences, which can also be understood as a poetic relationship between the arts, have a profound impact on the disciplinary field of architecture, at both a living level and an interpretative one (Pinto, 2009). They constitute what can also be described as  ‘figurative mutual contaminations’ (an expression coined by Marchán Fiz) between the various arts, and can be seen and understood in countless examples. Besides the ones announced above, it is of relevance Luis Barragán’s obsession with a painting of an organic arrangement of dwellings, which for him, defined the essence of what architecture was really supposed to be, and also M.C. Escher’s fascinations with patterned tessellations, which defined the premise of most of his mature work, which was derived from the observation and careful study of the geometric patterned tiles of the Alhambra in Granada.

This approach to a mutually drawn inspiration between the arts was also clarified in various theories. Of relevance are those proposed by the De Stijl movement led by Architect Theo van Doesburg and by the Artist Piet Mondrian further developing the ideas proposed by the Bauhaus School which sustained that all the arts should define a new language that would permeate all artistic fields in a shared collaboration. And later in 1918, with the theories proposed by the Architect Le Corbusier and Artist Amédée Ozefrant whose purist manifesto aimed to create a new visual language and significance for all the arts.


4.3. Merging Fields

Another way of collaboration and interaction between the arts can be found in what can be understood as the merging of artistic fields.

This merging of the artistic fields, where there are no longer any boundaries between the fields of architecture, painting or sculpture (sculpture has blended into architecture, architecture into sculpture, and painting into both sculpture and architecture), in many ways defines the contemporary artistic panorama.  It can also be described as the creation of a ‘space between’, an expression coined by Jane Rendell (2006). What occurs in this case, is an expansion of the individual fields where it is not longer only possible to understand the traditional artistic distinctions of architecture, painting and sculpture. Drawing principles and values from each other, the arts are not bound within their own sphere but merge together. This merging of fields creates deeper connections and deeper experiences within the viewer (Pallasmaa, 2011) allowing for meanings and significance to become revealed in new ways. Although this may be interesting for the all fields in order to expand their values and principles, it is generally understood by contemporary critics that it does not create remarkable works of architecture.It is difficult to define and pin point the origin of these new ideas of art, however one can understand that they might have their roots in the eighteenth and nineteenth century tradition of the Beaux-Arts school system, where the three field of architecture, painting and sculpture where seen to follow the same principles. It can also be traced to theories produced by artists that defined a new artistic paradigm, as was the case with Donald Judd’s essay Specific Objects that aimed to free sculpture into space, proposing a new form of three-dimensionality that for him, would ultimately change the essence of both painting and sculpture.  But mostly, it is deeply rooted in the works produced by specific artists, which questioned the boundaries of each artistic field. Such as the works proposed by Pop Art and Art Povera where the boundaries between the individual fields began to blur and the distinction between painting and sculpture was no longer clear; Richard Serra’s sculptural forms that expanded into the architectural space;  the artworks of Yayoi Kusama, such as the ‘Infinity Mirrored Room - The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away’ (2013), which is an installation that aimed to echo the cosmos through a thee dimensional space; the works of Nancy Holt’s works, such as the installation ‘Sun Tunnels’ (1973), which is comprised of four large cylinders of concrete with the dimensions of the human being, placed in a vast arid landscape that face the movements of the sun; the works of Donald Judd such as his sculptural architectural forms made of concrete, located in his Marfa complex in Texas; James Turrell’s skyspaces, which use architectural space to create an aesthetic experience; and one last example is found in Anselm Kiefer’s approach to art, which merges sculptural forms with architecture and creates paintings which are three dimensional by the use of architectural materials – he expands each individual artistic field by using multiple techniques, materials, subjects, influences, themes (poetry, architecture, religion, nature) symbols and metaphors in an interconnected way.



Richard Serra’s architectural sculptures in Guggenheim, Bilbao. Images Source: Image taken by the author in 2017.

4.4. Shared Significance: A Symbiosis

Lastly, the previous categories lead us to a fourth: which can be defined as a unified shared significance and is derived from the union of the arts as a symbiosis.  In this sense, the arts do not need to express the same language and the same visual systems, but they collaborate on a deeper level, through enhancing the inherent significant of each artistic creation. The plastic arts are used directly in collaboration with architecture, in order to collaborate in a shared space that makes its poetical, symbolical, and even spiritual significance come alive in a more active way. The three art forms enhance each other’s significance, creating one coherent whole. Examples of this can be found in the classical tradition of Ancient Greece (sculptures and paintings in temples), in the Renaissance’s Cathedrals and basilicas (that used painting to accentuate the meaning of the space, such as the Sistine Chapel), in the modern movement with the work of Le Corbusier (that used painting to add another dimension to the space, such as the painted doors in La Ronchamp) or in the Mies Van der Rohe pavilion which would be incomplete without the sculpture that sits at the far end on the water reflexion.

This idea, that the arts should share the same significance and that they should collaborate with each other in order to amplify them, is sustained by multiple authors and by multiple schools of thought across time:  the Bauhaus’s first manifesto, in 1919, already reflected ideas that all the arts needed to be held together in one single union and in the theories proposed by John Ruskin (already summarized above). However, the best definitions of this union were not given through theories, but through concrete examples.

One fundamental example of this is found in La Ronchamp, where Le Corbusier created a synthesis between the various art forms, creating what has come to be known as a ‘total work of art’. In the chapel, art is an integral part of the architecture, through an interdependence of all the elements, in a mutual dialogue, which all contribute and cooperate as a whole (Muller, 2004).  The arts are not subservient or decorative elements added to the space (as occurs in a synthesis between the arts), but rather an integral part of the architectural significance.

Another key example can be found in Bárragan’s house and studio, where he uses private artworks (which include art works from Picasso, Josef Albers, Diego Rivera, Chicho Reyes and Mathias Goeritz), placing them strategically throughout the house, in order to enhance the architectural experience and the inherent significance of the space.


Fig. 3

A gold sculpture of a Saint completes the yellow flooded significance at the end of a narrow corridor in Barragan’s house. Images Source: Image taken by the author in 2015.


The inhabited spaces of Anselm Kiefer’s installations, with his three dimensional painting at the far end. Images Source: Image taken by the author in 2016, in Paris at the Pompidou.


5. Ending Remarks

The research made clear that the arts of architecture, painting and sculpture can interact and collaborate with each in various ways: either by being experimental laboratories to each other, by bridging conceptual links and inspiring deeper significances, by breaking boundaries between fields and merging techniques, languages and visions, and lastly by collaborating in a unified way, defining a synthesis, in order to create a shared unified significance. The clarification of these four approaches allow for new ways of envisioning and understanding contemporary creations, which should use new approaches and ideals in order to create deeper significances in all the artistic fields.


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Reference According to APA Style, 5th edition:
Dias, S. ; (2017) Collaborations and Connections Between the Arts of Architecture, Painting and Sculpture: New Artistic Fields and Shared Significances. Convergências - Revista de Investigação e Ensino das Artes , VOL X (20) Retrieved from journal URL: