Choosing Artwork for Your Home – How to Interpret a Painting

First look for the narrative, simply describe what you see. Who or what is depicted, what’s going on? If you see people and things, the painting is figurative; if you see lines and splashes – go for non-figurative. The name of the painting might come in handy, especially when it comes to Dali.

What seems to be more important for the artist – representation or expression? Compare the paintings in the styles of hyperrealism and expressionism – you can always tell if the images look idealized or expressly distorted.

Notice the feelings you get looking at the painting, the general impression produced by the entire painting and its elements – later you will dig deeper to understand what inspired those emotions. There is a reason why you like one painting more than the other. Your taste in art is as unique as your taste in food or clothes, inspired by your background, upbringing and even professional expertise.

THE BACKROUND

Collect information on the artist and the historical background. To analyze “Guernica” by Picasso, you need to know that Guernica is a town demolished by the Nazi, and you have to read up on the essential features of cubism. To interpret the image of kissing people covered by a piece of cloth in Magritt’s “The Lovers”, whatever you guess by looking at the painting falls flat once you know that the artist’s mother got drowned in the river, and when found, a piece of cloth was wrapped around her head. So, don’t rely on your skills and taste too much, there are things you need to KNOW before you start making assumptions.

The historical background of the paintings itself is important. Was the artist an innovator, did he start a new trend or movement, whose steps did he/she follow? What experiments was he involved with? How was the painting perceived by the contemporaries? Claude Monet started impressionism with the painting “Sunrise. Impressions”. Malevych started suprematism as a development on abstractionism, laying out the new artistic theory of the color, the form and the composition of the painting. The rough lines and raw colors in the fauvist paintings may be traced back to Van Gogh. Do you think there is something new suggested in the painting you are looking at, or is there anything at all distinguishing about it?

THE GENRE

This is easy. There is a limited number of genres in fine arts for you to categorize the painting: is it a portrait, landscape, seascape, cityscape, genre painting, battle piece, historical painting, religious or mythological painting, literary painting, self-portrait, animalistic painting, nude, still life, or an abstract painting?

THE STYLE / MOVEMENT

The fastest way to interpret a painting is to determine what movement it belongs to, or at least what movements and styles influenced the artist. The style influences the choice and treatment of the subject, the color, the perspective and the symbols.

Impressionists, for instance, experimented with unusual perspectives – bird’s eye or frog’s eye; their brushwork is visible and the colors are laid separately to mix in the eye of the viewer rather than on the palette. In impressionism the light is more important than the people it bounces off – quite different from romanticism.

In romanticism you have to be a poet, a revolutionary, a gypsy or a vagabond to make your way into the painting – they appreciated the bold spirit, the freedom and the people who were different.

Primitivist (naive) artists depicted objects in a solid monumental manner, as seen by a child who perceives the world as a whole, without analyzing it and breaking into unnecessary components.

In symbolism you do need to look for the hidden meaning, and it’s absolutely pointless in pop art, op art, art nouveau or hyperrealism. Each style and genre sets forth its requirements, so brush up on the movement the artist belongs to before you proceed.

THE COMPOSITION

Now go back to the subject and your first impressions about the painting. It’s time to analyze how the artist made you feel the way you felt using the artistic means it his/her disposal. The composition is the position and the balance of the objects and figures in the space, the interrelation of their size, coloring, shading etc. How exactly does all that impact your perception? Let’s dig in.

First consider the size of the painting. The more impressive the subject, the higher the emotions it appeals to, the bigger it is. Religious, mythological paintings are often huge – their massive energy makes you shiver. It is pretty understandable with figurative paintings like Rafael’s “The Sistine Madonna”, and more subtle with color field paintings of Mark Rothko. People are often overwhelmed with religious tremor in the presence of his artwork, and the size factors in. Also, the subject often calls for larger canvases – battle scenes need space and cannot be fitted into a smaller painting, while some subjects will get lost unless depicted in a smaller size.

Now take a look at the form of the canvas – you might take it for granted, but it does influence the subconscious feeling you get when enjoying a piece of art. Round and oval canvases produce the impression of serenity and completeness, they are often picked for feminine, soft portraits, like Ingre’s “Turkish bath”. Rectangular paintings – vertical or horizontal – are more complicated. While widely used in landscapes, the horizontal format may serve to diminish the figure portrayed, impose or convey some limits, as you can see in Vrubel’s “Demon”. Vertical format ensures monumentality and steadiness.

Now let’s proceed to analyzing the center of the composition. There is an optical center in the middle – you will notice that the center of the composition, the major element will never be placed there, otherwise the scene will look artificial. The center of the composition will always be the most striking element, and the rest will just serve to make it more expressive. The artist may use various means to achieve this effect – the color contrasts, light and shade effects, size of objects and distance between them. Secondary elements are depicted with less detail and vigor – they have to bring forward the center, not block it.

Notice the way your eyes travel the painting – intuitively you will start at the center and will proceed to the rest of the elements to refine the story.

The perspective. Do you feel the distance between you and the painting? Are you an observer or a participant? The way you feel is dictated by the artistic choice – it’s never a coincidence. An artist thoroughly selected the angle: you may look upwards, or downwards, or be at the same level with the objects depicted. If the horizon is at your eye level, the impression you will get is calm, stable. The high horizon will reveal more space, in landscapes it provides a majestic view. Paintings with the low horizon, so common with Dali, are monumental, highlighting the size of the objects and figures. The unusual views of Paris by Pissarro appeared as he painted from the hotel rooms.

THE LIGHT AND COLOR

The light and color in the painting will always be dictated by the artist’s intention, the concept of the painting. So, consider the sources of color, the time of the day, the emotional impact of light and shades.
Is the light neutral, sharp, mystical?
Are the contours rough or concealed?
What colors are prevailing – tonal or local, warm or cold?
What are the major color fields in the painting and their role in the entire composition? Is the light optically realistic or expressive as in Matisse’s painting?
Can you feel the rhythm in repeating some color or combination?
Is some color dominating?
What emotions does it produce?

THE BRUSHWORK

Depending on the art movement and personal peculiarities of the artist, the brushwork can range from delicate and almost invisible to rough and plastic.

CONCLUSION

Once again go through the images and the story of the painting. Was your first impression different from what you see now?

Take a 5-minute online test to explore your preferences in fine arts. In 5 minutes you will confidently say “I prefer impressionist cityscapes”, or “This room calls for a color field painting”, “I need to have an art nouveau nude in my bedroom” – and you will know what you are talking about!

Ancient Egyptian Artistic Paintings: The Foundation of Modern Painting

The ancient Egyptian artistic paintings encapsulate the embodiment of modern painting, though the latter is refined due to the advancement of human knowledge, technology, and discovery. However, the root for the success of modern painting is credited with the humble beginnings of the profession by the ancient Egyptian masters in painting. From the generation and production of the media for production through to the selection of appropriate subjects for paintings, techniques through to its essential roles it plays in the society acts as a stepping stone for the marvelous development in the field of painting today.

In their quest to obtain a permanent and durable coloring medium for painting, the Egyptian painters’ ground ochres into powder and mixed them with gum. The resulting pigments were dissolved as the painters wet the brushes and rubbed them over the surface much as the watercolor paint used today. The application of the paint was done by the use of brushes which were creatively made from the trimmed stems of other marsh plants. Bristles which held a supply of wet pigment were made by chewing one end of their stems to separate the fibers. The supports for the painting included Papyrus paper, wooden panels, stone tablets, walls and surfaces of pyramids and temples. Today, color manufacturers, use binders which are in the likeness of the gum used by the ancient Egyptian painters mixed with pigments in producing colorants in the form of dry media like pastels, crayons and the like as well as wet media like acrylics, gouache, poster and watercolors, emulsion and oil paints and many more. Modern painters have strived to increase the scope of supports for painting while the traditional supports still remain very instrumental.

The theme for the paintings of the Egyptians depicted their belief in life after death and the affluent life of the elite class in the society. The themes included people hunting and feasting, Pharaohs, the affluent and other important people journeying to the land of the dead, people worshipping deities, scenes of musicians and dancers, Judgment in the underworld and familiar scenes from the earthly existence of the deceased. Today, genres of everyday life activities that reflect the ideologies and beliefs of modern societies are the principal theme for painting as was done by the ancient Egyptians. This includes political themes, entertainment themes, and themes on social sensitization on health, education, agriculture and religion.

Moreover, various techniques were used by the ancient Egyptian painters. For example, the representations of the images in the paintings followed the conventional Egyptian pose. The head and legs are in profile with the torso and eyes in frontal view. Men were painted bigger and darker than women and children. Prominent people and noblemen in the communities were painted bigger and darker than slaves. This is a visual representation of the class distinction that existed in Egypt. Distance or depth in drawing (perspective) was depicted by the placement of one body on top of another. Animals and plants in their natural habitats were painted to show naturalism based on careful observation. The technique of their painting was mural painting (fresco secco) that is painting on a dry plaster or surface. This painting technique allowed the trained professional Egyptian painter to express an exact knowledge of the theme or subject painted. Today, the concept of perspective which was the only parallel perspective has been heightened to include aerial perspective with varied forms of linear perspectives like isometric and angular forms of perspective. Moreover, the painting styles have been furthered to include canvas, realistic, abstract and semi-abstract renderings.

In terms of function, the paintings of ancient Egypt were made primarily to serve the dead in the metaphysical world. They provided the ka or soul with familiar scenes from the earthly existence of the deceased. They also showed the royal power of the Pharaohs. For instance, the king depicted on the painted chest is portrayed as a successful hunter pursuing droves of fleeing animals in the desert and also as a great warrior. Most of the paintings showed the nobility, richness, and prosperity of Egypt. Paintings were used to lavishly decorate the interiors and exteriors of private and public buildings to accentuate their aesthetic values. Today’s paintings are also used for this same purpose which is to immortalize and remember past personalities and heroes as well as remembering iconic moments and experiences of life. They are also used in enhancing the visual appeal of places.

The significant contribution of the ancient Egyptians to the field of modern painting must be recognized. The rich historical account must be studied by learners of art in various educational levels to deepen their appreciation of the efforts of the past forebears in the advancement of art in modern societies. It would charge them to mimic the path of their creative exuberance and determination to remedy the woes of mankind and satisfy their insatiable needs through the services of art.

Classic Tips for Drawing Inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere. It does not matter what kind of artist you are, from a painter to a writer, inspiration can be found anywhere. Some find it in nature; some find it deep in the cities; some have the purpose of creating detailed figurative drawings; while some tend to care more about the process of being creative. The one thing that remains the same, though, is that artists are more productive when they know how to find and use inspiration around them.

If you’re up for some creative challenges, here are a few classic favorites:

1. Look at People

There are many ways to use your surroundings to find inspiration. If you are the kind of artist that likes to search for inspiration outdoors, you can go to a park and people watch. You can observe their interactions with one another, or with their kids, or even with their pets; you can observe them in contrast to the environment around them. Then, you can use those people’s experiences as inspiration for your art. You can paint them exactly as you seem them, or you can use what they represent and draw inspiration from the merging of nature with people.

2. Look at the Horizon

If you prefer to observe an environment free of living things, and just focus on landscapes, you can look at the horizon. It makes no difference if it is the one you see when staring at the ocean or the one you see hidden behind skyscrapers in a big city, you can use it as inspiration and you can come up with a few words to describe it. Once you have those words, you can paint what they represent to you, instead of the horizon you derived them from.

3. Look at Your Feet

If you prefer to stay in the comfort of your own home, you can draw your inspiration from random things around the house. One idea is to look at your own feet, and the spaces in between them. You can use those highlights as points, and you can draw a picture by connecting those dots. You can also try to connect the dots on anything else around the house and draw a picture from them, from the shadows the furniture casts on the floor to the different levels of the paintings hanging on the walls.

There are several other ideas that can help you to find inspiration. Try these:
Paint images found on the negative spaces between buildings
Draw things you think of when watching your favorite TV show
Create a scene of how you would have liked a certain book to have ended
Analyze what has been done in the past, and create your own take from it

Or you can use a combination of any of the things mentioned above, and anything else that has ever inspired you.

There is no exact science for finding inspiration; the only thing that is needed is for you to never stop looking for it. As long as you keep looking, you are sure to find inspiration everywhere.