The Art of Painting

Painting is the artistic activity of applying pigments, colorants and other media to a base to realize a visually expressive image. A painting may represent a natural scene or object, describe a narrative, or be wholly abstract. It has a long history, with the earliest examples dating back to prehistoric cave paintings. Earlier cultural traditions-of tribes, religions, guilds and royal courts-controlled the craft, form, imagery, and subject matter of painting; and painters were usually viewed more as skilled artisans than creative artists. In the Renaissance and later, however, painters began to be considered more highly, and their work was more widely viewed as an art form.

Traditionally, a painting’s medium is an oil or other liquid, which is applied to a support, such as canvas, wood, paper, glass, or a combination of these. The artist’s choice of paint, colorants and other media, as well as the application technique and style used, all combine to create a specific visual expression. The art of painting has been shaped by a number of different factors, including the evolution of the materials and technology of paints, the development of new forms and styles, as well as a wide range of historical and contemporary movements.

The practice of painting is one of the oldest and most universally practised art forms. Its importance in culture and society can be traced back to early humans, who used pigmented powder to sketch scenes from everyday life on the walls of caves. Throughout the centuries, people have continued to express themselves through painting in a wide variety of styles, from realism and abstraction to impressionism and modernism.

A key element in the art of painting is a sense of rhythm, created by the repetition and alternation of lines, tones, and colors. Paintings also use shapes, sizes, and other forms, as well as varying textures, to convey depth and movement.

Linear design in a painting comprises the edges of painted masses and contours, axial directions of shapes, the varying gradations of tone, and other figurative elements. The manner in which these various elements are echoed and repeated across the surface of a painting animates the design and gives the painting its expressive life.

For example, the shape of a circle or square is a universal symbol for the sun or moon, and artists from Paul Klee to Adolph Gottlieb have borrowed this basic geometric form in their designs. Moreover, all paintings are implicitly based on such archetypal forms, which are represented in the form of an eye or a cross in a religious painting or the halo surrounding a Christian or Buddhist deity.

Historically, history paintings were revered as the highest form of art. During their height in the 18th and 19th centuries, they required that the artist be capable of depicting human figures in motion (requiring skillful knowledge of anatomy), rendering a complex arrangement of diverse elements into a coherent whole, and narrating a sophisticated story. Moreover, such works required that the artist be able to evoke and communicate a complex spiritual or moral message.