How to Read a Painting - Deepstash
How to Read a Painting

How to Read a Painting


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How to Read a Painting

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Art doesn't have to be intimidating

Art is not only a great source of pleasure in our lives but can also further enrich and deepen our understanding of the world around us.

Developing a casual understanding of art is not that difficult. All it takes is moderate attention to detail, a bit of patience, and a willingness to reflect on your feelings.


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Art should appeal to you first through your senses. It should grab your eye in some way, such as its subject matter, its use of color, its realistic appearance, a visual joke, or any other factors.

Once you've gotten an overall look at the painting, ask yourself what the subject of the painting is. It might be a landscape, a person or group of people, a scene from a story, a building, an animal, etc. Some paintings will be abstract.


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Look for symbols in paintings - something that means something else. Often a painting will include obvious symbols. For instance, skulls were often included in portraits of the wealthy to remind them that their wealth was worldly and ultimately meaningless.

Focus on what the work says to you, instead of trying to figure out what the artist meant.


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Style is the mark of the artist's individual creativity on the canvas.

  • Some artists follow established styles, while others want to be different and challenging. Some artists create detailed works, while others use broad, haphazard strokes to create a wild, ecstatic effect.
  • Style can also convey meaning. For example, Jackson Pollock's drip paintings show the motion and freedom of the artist. Vermeer's Milkmaid is noted for its fine detail, imparting a kind of nobility to the simple act of a servant pouring milk.


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A large part of the appeal of art is emotional - some artists want to evoke strong reactions such as awe, anger, disgust, etc.

Knowing that an artist may deliberately evoke an emotional response, take a moment and question your immediate reaction. If a work angers you, ask yourself why it upsets you. If your feelings are happy, ask why the painting makes you feel happy.


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