Learn Something Good: Art Appreciation

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer, (1657-1658). (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The number of deaths, ongoing vaccine development, mass panicking, and other similar headlines are published on a daily basis by most news outlets around the world. There’s nothing but doom and gloom. Yet, sitting behind our windows and staring outside, we see that hope is still there. Life on Earth continues even as our usual hectic schedules have undergone a toss.

Reliving the past

We may be confined and isolated right now, but this provides us with ample opportunity to deepen our knowledge. A worthy subject to pursue is the appreciation of classical art.

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Artyfactory defines art appreciation as the knowledge to identify the universal qualities of all great art. To appreciate art, we must first familiarize ourselves with the different movements, eras, styles, and techniques, which, if you’re an artist, all have a resounding effect on your work.

For starters, the visual elements of art are line, shape, color, tone, pattern, texture, and form. Most images are conceived from simple lines born into shapes — sometimes repeated to create patterns. Then tone and color breathe life into shapes. Texture adds to the feel, and to project the work in three dimensions. The intelligent use of these elements can convey movement, depth, structure, and various human emotions.

Suppose you look at Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ painting Daniel in the Lions’ Den. You’ll notice the usage of tone (lightness and darkness of color). Sir Rubens, a master of the chiaroscuro technique, uses strong contrasts between light and dark colors.

(Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)
‘Daniel in the Lions’ Den’ by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, (1614-1616). (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The light tones of Daniel, the main subject of the painting, make him easily identifiable, while the darker colors were employed for the lions that make up the rest of the painting. The light and dark tones add depth, meaning, and emotion.

Sir Rubens is among the most influential artists in the baroque movement. Along with him are exceptional artists like Carravagio, Rembrandt van Rijn, Diego Velázquez, and Nicolas Poussin.

An art movement is a term identifying artists belonging to a certain art era. Baroque is just one of many movements to check out (during your journey into art) along with mannerism, pre-raphaelite brotherhood, and high renaissance, to name a few.

The fun of appreciating art doesn’t just stop with the visuals. Oftentimes, stories and meanings behind the paintings provide food for thought. Through this in-depth exploration of every facet of the painting, both inside and outside the canvas, we acquire “cultural literacy.” Author E.D. Hirsch defines this as a “network of information that all competent readers must possess.”

For a deeper look at art, Jeff Minick, a teacher and author, suggests picking up Patrick De Rynck’s book How to Read a Painting: Lessons From the Old Masters, and The Story of Painting by Sister Wendy Beckett.

The former explores 18th-century paintings and teaches the meanings behind Christian symbolism and mythological figures. As for Sister Becket’s book, she takes a tour of various paintings across many centuries, ranging from Minoan and ancient Greece to medieval art. These books are great reads for you to familiarize yourself with classical works.

The sacredness of art

Modern art movements have been dominating the spotlight in the art world. But in recent times, paintings, in their purest and traditional form, have begun resurging after decades of neglect as a result of modernist themes occupying the mainstream. These humble artists who hailed from ateliers like the Florence Academy, Grand Central Atelier, and Atelier Canova have immersed themselves in the sacred value of traditional art.

Similar to the works of legendary creators like Georges de La Tour, these modern painters take great inspiration in realistic images and representations. Paintings with soft-as-silk subject skins are rarities in a world dominated by abstract depictions requiring written explanations to connect with viewers.

(Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)
The Repentant Magdalen by Georges de La Tour, (1635-1640). (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

In a time of great confusion, realistic representations of the world provide therapeutic powers for us to make sense of everything else.

Art will always be relevant and powerful. As to how Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, likens the creation of art to a house opening its closets and letting the air out of the cellar and attic — it brings about healing.

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