Surface and Depth

What makes paintings feel as deep as the view from a window or as flat as a wall?


This video is part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Art Explainer series.

Using three artworks from the Art Institute’s collection, this video unpacks a central theme and uses innovative visual storytelling to highlight the choices artists made to shape form and meaning in their works. Ultimately, it shows that each of us already possesses a powerful tool for making sense of art: looking closely. Art Explainer videos empower you to look at and understand art from any historical period or culture. Designed for students as well as adults, this video series is produced for the web and usable in a wide range of learning environments, from mobile devices to formal school classrooms.

The following works from the Art Institute of Chicago appear in this video:

Poussin, Landscape with St. John on Patmos
Harnett, For Sunday’s Dinner
Mondrian, Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red, and Gray


Cite this page as: Art Institute of Chicago, "Surface and Depth," in Smarthistory, January 26, 2018, accessed June 10, 2024,