Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More on the Painting Marathon

Tips for "Reading" a Painting

If you want to prepare yourself to sound sophisticated at the CoCA Painting Marathon and Auction coming up in November, here are a few timely tips for the neophyte to give you some background about paintings generally.

While there are many genres of paintings, it is useful to put them in two general categories to start with: representational and abstract. You won’t have trouble distinguishing the two because a representational painting is one where you can easily identify the elements or subject of the painting. Whether you see a bowl of fruit or a scene in nature, an animal or a person, you can readily tell what is in the painting and what the focus of it is.

Abstract paintings are often considered more difficult to understand and interpret by the average person. Why? Because most of us are focused on using our sight to make sense of the world around us as our minds routinely employ the “gestalt” of our normal way of seeing objects by placing them in context. Abstract paintings are specifically designed to eliminate the “crutch” of conventional forms.

Basically abstract paintings are designed, specifically, to eliminate the standards of conventional seeing, in effect, to rid you of the distraction of conventional form to give you greater access to your deeper psyche. In a sense it is a trick to disorient you in order to help you directly access the power of the painting itself. The artist’s job is to change how you feel or experience your world, your feeling of existence in the world, or to help you share their consciousness of it.

Emotions play a vital role whether paintings are representational or abstract. The Painter might want to communicate about a specific emotion, the result of being captured by an idea or ensnared with a circumstance in life. It can be anything: an illness, a political situation or a relationship or struggle of some kind. Essentially they want to take you from the mood you walked in the gallery with and transport you to their world.

Another way of analyzing a painting is to separate the elements of it and ask yourself questions about how the artist is employing them. The basic building blocks of art are: line, form, shape, space, text, value (lightness or darkness of color), color, and light. Most of the time the questions will occur naturally to you as you ponder. You might ask something like: why are all the lines jagged and the forms blurry and the colors bright? How does this all work together?

It also helps to learn a little about recent art history. Contemporary paintings have depicted emotions, social movements, political realities, ideas, and more. Certain dominant themes like “Thinkism”, “Massurealism”, “Futurism”, “Bitterism”, and “Stuckism” are often labels applied “after the fact” to describe a certain period or mood in the art community and can provide a context to a work but this is not certain. Every piece stands on its own, so understand these descriptions to be nothing more than general context rather than conclude that every piece created during this period fits in the same category. Sometimes the best way to get a hint about what an artist means is to read the title of the piece the curator posted next to it.

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