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How to Read a Painting

Art appeals to our emotions

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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How to Read a Painting

How to Read a Painting

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/how-to-read-a-painting.html

lifehack.org

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Key Ideas

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.

How to appreciate a painting through your senses

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.

Focus on what a painting says to you

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.

Consider the style of a painting

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.

Art appeals to our emotions

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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  • The 19th Century started the Avant-garde art movement, with art becoming real, modern, futuristic and surreal. Whatever the definitions, the originality of art stands out as a time-tested measure, with new genres and manifestations like performance art, digital art, and electronic art.
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  • Art as Representation or Mimesis. Representation of art as an imitation or copying became the mainstream meaning of art in Greece. Plato first developed the idea of art as “mimesis,” which, in Greek, means copying or imitation. How immaculately it replicated the original subject became the measure of its value.
  • Art as Expression of Emotional content. Dramatic, sublime and heartfelt art becomes a way to express oneself during the Romantic movement , with audience response becoming key to the valuation of the content. The emotions that were felt when the art was witnessed became its barometer for success.
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The bodily symptoms of this strange appearance point to three dimensions:

  • Sensory: The marvelous things take hold of our senses - we stare and widen our eyes.
  • Cognitive: We are perplexed because we don't have a past experience to understand them. It leads to a suspension of breath, similar to when we are startled.
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The scale of wonder

At the mild end of this emotion, we talk about things being marvelous. More intense emotions might be described as astonishing. The extreme of this experiences is met with expressions of awe.

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Boredom sparks creativity

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Don't fill the void

Our first instinct when we experience some boredom is to fill it with Netflix lists, Instagram feeds, and TikTok videos. Riding out this boredom is vital though.

Boredom is not in itself creative. It's what it leads to that is significant. In the gap of boredom, you're motivated to look for something else, and there's a real chance you'll discover something new.

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Mandalas as a form of mediation

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Mandalas are sacred circles, that have long been used to facilitate meditation in the Indian and Tibetan religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. 

The main circle shape of a mandala is filled with a variety of geometric shapes and symbols. These are often repeated in symmetrical patterns using bold color schemes.

Mandalas as art therapy

People who color mandalas may feel a deep sense of calm and well-being. It's a simple tool that doesn't require any expertise, but it can be remarkably soothing.

Mandalas not only focus your attention but also allow you to express your creative side, which many of us neglect in our daily lives.

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For example, seeing a vague shape in the corner of a room that might be a cat or a bag. A second look is needed to satisfy our curiosity.

Color conflicts

Complementary colors lie opposite one another on the spectrum. For example, red complements blue, yellow complements violet.

When complementary colors are placed in close proximity, it is apt to cause conflict and disturb the eyes. Used subtly, it can make our eyes dance to a discordant tune.

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Early and late bloomers

Prodigies like Picasso, who created a masterpiece at age twenty, tend to be "conceptual" in the sense that they start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then accomplish it. Picasso once said that he could hardly understand the importance given to the word 'research.'

But late bloomers tend to work the other way around. Their goals are imprecise and their procedure experimental. They build their skills gradually throughout their careers, improving slowly over long periods.

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