But I would guess that you'd want your picture to say something more than "The shape of the subject goes well with the shape of the perimeter of the picture." It might be extremely well done and a pleasure to look at but what does it mean? How long can you stay entranced by a picture that hasn't much more to say than that?
Source: The Athenaeum
(Note that the tall narrow tower, which is the subject of the picture, is not depicted in a vertical format.)
Many people claim to have no meaning in mind when they paint or draw a picture, and this is probably true...but only when it comes to their conscious minds. If we're not doing it purely for profit and we are making the decisions about shapes and subject and so forth on our own, we make artwork because it gives us pleasure to make it, or else we feel compelled to make it whether it's enjoyable or not. We simply must make it. We do it to express ourselves. We can't put it in words, at least in the same way; we can only express it in paint, or with a pencil, or whatever else we might use.
And if we are expressing ourselves, obviously there must be something to express. That "something" gives the picture its basic meaning (I say "basic" because of course the viewer will bring his or her own ideas to it). It may be something very simple that you're trying to express, or it may be more complex, but you're always saying something, even if it's just by your choice of subject, or even if it's only "Isn't this a cute puppy?" or "Don't you love these shades of red?" Even little children who draw what look like almost scribbles to us are trying to say something about the subject (whether or not we can understand it).
So back to what I was saying before: I'd guess that you'd want your picture to say something more than "The shape of the subject goes well with the shape of the perimeter of the picture." (Even if it says it ever so beautifully.)
One of the ways that you can say what you have to say is by your choice of the outer shape of the picture, as well as by your choice of the basic shapes and directions within the picture (there are many other elements in the composition that are utilized in expression, but here we are only discussing these basic shapes and directions).
(Note that the sleeping woman, who is the subject of the picture, is not depicted in a horizontal format.)
I've written some posts recently about horizontality in artworks...about why artists choose horizontal shapes and directions, and now for a while I'll be writing about verticality. I will make these posts short but there will probably be several of them. The next one should be coming up soon as I've already begun it.
To subscribe to the Thinking About Art Monthly Newsletter, see toward the bottom of the page.