Visual arts

The visual arts are art forms such as ceramicsdrawingpaintingsculptureprintmakingdesigncraftsphotographyvideofilmmaking, and architecture. Many artistic disciplines (performing artsconceptual arttextile arts) involve aspects of the visual arts as well as arts of other types. Also included within the visual arts[1] are the applied arts[2] such as industrial designgraphic designfashion designinterior design and decorative art.[3]

Current usage of the term “visual arts” includes fine art as well as the applied, decorative arts and crafts, but this was not always the case. Before the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and elsewhere at the turn of the 20th century, the term ‘artist’ was often restricted to a person working in the fine arts (such as painting, sculpture, or printmaking) and not the handicraft, craft, or applied art media. The distinction was emphasized by artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who valued vernacular art forms as much as high forms.[4] Art schools made a distinction between the fine arts and the crafts, maintaining that a craftsperson could not be considered a practitioner of the arts.

The increasing tendency to privilege painting, and to a lesser degree sculpture, above other visual arts has been a feature of Western art as well as East Asian art. In both regions painting has been seen as relying to the highest degree on the imagination of the artist, and the furthest removed from manual labour – in Chinese painting the most highly valued styles were those of “scholar-painting”, at least in theory practiced by gentleman amateurs. The Western hierarchy of genres in visual art reflected similar attitudes.

Education and training of visual arts

Training in the visual arts has generally been through variations of the apprentice and workshop systems. In Europe the Renaissance movement to increase the prestige of the artist led to the academy system for training artists, and today most of the people who are pursuing a career in arts train in art schools at tertiary levels. Visual arts have now become an elective subject in most education systems.


Drawing is a visual art of making an image, using any of a wide variety of tools and techniques. It generally involves making marks on a surface by applying pressure from a tool, or moving a tool across a surface using dry media such as graphite pencilspen and inkinked brushes, wax color pencilscrayonscharcoalspastels, and markers. Digital tools that simulate the effects of these are also used. The main techniques used in drawing are: line drawing, hatching, crosshatching, random hatching, scribbling, stippling, and blending. An artist who excels in drawing is referred to as a draftsman or draughtsman.

Drawing goes back at least 16,000 years to Paleolithic cave representations of animals such as those at Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain. In ancient Egypt, ink drawings on papyrus, often depicting people, were used as models for painting or sculpture. Drawings on Greek vases, initially geometric, later developed to the human form with black-figure pottery during the 7th century BC.[5]

With paper becoming common in Europe by the 15th century, drawing was adopted by masters such as Sandro BotticelliRaphaelMichelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci who sometimes treated drawing as an art in its own right rather than a preparatory stage for painting or sculpture.[6]


work of visual art: Mosaic of Battle of Issus Alexander against Darius

Mosaic of Battle of Issus

work of visual art: drawing of Nefertari with Isis

Nefertari with Isis

Painting taken literally is the visual art of applying pigment suspended in a carrier (or medium) and a binding agent (a glue) to a surface (support) such as papercanvas or a wall. However, when used in an artistic sense it means the use of this activity in combination with drawingcomposition, or other aesthetic considerations in order to manifest the expressive and conceptual intention of the practitioner. Painting as visual art is also used to express spiritual motifs and ideas; sites of this kind of painting range from artwork depicting mythological figures on pottery to The Sistine Chapel to the human body itself.

Origins and early history

Like drawing, painting has its documented origins in caves and on rock faces. The finest examples, believed by some to be 32,000 years old, are in the Chauvet and Lascaux caves in southern France. In shades of red, brown, yellow and black, the paintings on the walls and ceilings are of bison, cattle, horses and deer.

work of visual art: Raphael painting of Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary from 1514-1516

Raphael: Spasimo(1514-1516)

Paintings of human figures can be found in the tombs of ancient Egypt. In the great temple of Ramses IINefertari, his queen, is depicted being led by Isis.[7] The Greeks contributed to painting but much of their work has been lost. One of the best remaining representations are the Hellenistic Fayum mummy portraits. Another example is mosaic of the Battle of Issus at Pompeii, which was probably based on a Greek painting. Greek and Roman art contributed to Byzantine art in the 4th century BC, which initiated a tradition in icon painting.

The Renaissance

Apart from the illuminated manuscripts produced by monks during the Middle Ages, the next significant contribution to European art was from Italy’s renaissance painters. From Giotto in the 13th century to Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael at the beginning of the 16th century, this was the richest period in Italian art as the chiaroscuro techniques were used to create the illusion of 3-D space.[8]

work of visual art: Rembrandt painting Night Watch two men striding forward with a crowd

Rembrandt: The Night Watch

Painters in northern Europe too were influenced by the Italian school. Jan van Eyck from Belgium, Pieter Bruegel the Elder from the Netherlands and Hans Holbein the Younger from Germany are among the most successful painters of the times. They used the glazing technique with oils to achieve depth and luminosity.

work of visual art: Claude Monet painting Déjeuner sur l'herbe from 1866 artists stiing on picnic blanket

Claude Monet: Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1866)

Dutch masters

The 17th century witnessed the emergence of the great Dutch masters such as the versatile Rembrandt who was especially remembered for his portraits and Bible scenes, and Vermeer who specialized in interior scenes of Dutch life.


The visual art of Baroque started after the Renaissance, from the late 16th century to the late 17th century. Main artists of the Baroque included Caravaggio, who made heavy use of tenebrismPeter Paul Rubens was a flemish painter who studied in Italy, worked for local churches in Antwerp and also painted a series for Marie de’ MediciAnnibale Carracci took influences from the Sistine Chapel and created the genre of illusionistic ceiling painting. Much of the development that happened in the Baroque was because of the Protestant Reformation and the resulting Counter Reformation. Much of what defines the Baroque is dramatic lighting and overall visuals.[9]


Impressionism as visual art began in France in the 19th century with a loose association of artists including Claude MonetPierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne who brought a new freely brushed style to painting, often choosing to paint realistic scenes of modern life outside rather than in the studio. This was achieved through a new expression of aesthetic features demonstrated by brush strokes and the impression of reality. They achieved intense colour vibration by using pure, unmixed colours and short brush strokes. The movement influenced art as a dynamic, moving through time and adjusting to new found techniques and perception of art. Attention to detail became less of a priority in achieving, whilst exploring a biased view of landscapes and nature to the artists eye.[10][11]

work of visual art: Paul Gauguin painting The Vision After the Sermon from 1888 nuns gathering around a small angel

Paul Gauguin: The Vision After the Sermon(1888)

work of visual art: Edvard Munch painting The Scream from 1893 man at bridge with hands to ears and mouth open

Edvard Munch: The Scream (1893)


Towards the end of the 19th century, several young painters took impressionism a stage further, using geometric forms and unnatural colour to depict emotions while striving for deeper symbolism. Of particular note are Paul Gauguin, who was strongly influenced by Asian, African and Japanese art, Vincent van Gogh, a Dutchman who moved to France where he drew on the strong sunlight of the south, and Toulouse-Lautrec, remembered for his vivid paintings of night life in the Paris district of Montmartre.[12]

Symbolism, expressionism and cubism

Edvard Munch, a Norwegian artist, developed his symbolistic approach at the end of the 19th century, inspired by the French impressionist ManetThe Scream (1893), his most famous work, is widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man. Partly as a result of Munch’s influence, the German expressionist movement originated in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century as artists such as Ernst Kirschner and Erich Heckel began to distort reality for an emotional effect. In parallel, the style known as cubism developed in France as artists focused on the volume and space of sharp structures within a composition. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were the leading proponents of the movement. Objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form. By the 1920s, the style had developed into surrealism with Dali and Magritte.[13]


work of visual art: Ancient Chinese engraving of female instrumentalists

Ancient Chinese engraving of female instrumentalists

Printmaking is visual art of creating, for artistic purposes, an image on a matrix that is then transferred to a two-dimensional (flat) surface by means of ink (or another form of pigmentation). Except in the case of a monotype, the same matrix can be used to produce many examples of the print.

work of visual art: Albrecht Dürer engraving Melancholia I from 1541 seated angel contemplating figure

Albrecht Dürer: Melancholia I (1541)

Historically, the major techniques (also called media) involved are woodcutline engravingetchinglithography, and screenprinting (serigraphy, silkscreening) but there are many others, including modern digital techniques. Normally, the print is printed on paper, but other mediums range from cloth and vellum to more modern materials. Major printmaking traditions include that of Japan (ukiyo-e).

European history

Prints in the Western tradition produced before about 1830 are known as old master prints. In Europe, from around 1400 AD woodcut, was used for master prints on paper by using printing techniques developed in the Byzantine and Islamic worlds. Michael Wolgemut improved German woodcut from about 1475, and Erhard Reuwich, a Dutchman, was the first to use cross-hatching. At the end of the century Albrecht Dürer brought the Western woodcut to a stage that has never been surpassed, increasing the status of the single-leaf woodcut.[14]

Chinese origin and practice

work of visual art: The Chinese Diamond Sutra, the world's oldest Woodblock printing book from 868 CE

The Chinese Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest printed book (868 CE)

In China, the art of printmaking developed some 1,100 years ago as illustrations alongside text cut in woodblocks for printing on paper. Initially images were mainly religious but in the Song Dynasty, artists began to cut landscapes. During the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1616–1911) dynasties, the technique was perfected for both religious and artistic engravings.[15][16]

Development In Japan 1603-1867

work of visual art: Hokusai color print "Red Fuji southern wind clear morning" from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

Hokusai: “Red Fuji southern wind clear morning” from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

Woodblock printing as visual art in Japan (Japanese: 木版画, moku hanga) is a technique best known for its use in the ukiyo-e artistic genre; however, it was also used very widely for printing books in the same period. Woodblock printing had been used in China for centuries to print books, long before the advent of movable type, but was only widely adopted in Japan surprisingly late, during the Edo period (1603-1867). Although similar to woodcut in western printmaking in some regards, moku hanga differs greatly in that water-based inks are used (as opposed to western woodcut, which uses oil-based inks), allowing for a wide range of vivid color, glazes and color transparency.

Photography in Visual arts

Photography is the process of visual art of making pictures by means of the action of light. Light patterns reflected or emitted from objects are recorded onto a sensitive medium or storage chip through a timed exposure. The process is done through mechanical shutters or electronically timed exposure of photons into chemical processing or digitizing devices known as cameras.

The word comes from the Greek words φως phos (“light”), and γραφις graphis (“stylus”, “paintbrush”) or γραφη graphê, together meaning “drawing with light” or “representation by means of lines” or “drawing.” Traditionally, the product of photography has been called a photograph. The term photo is an abbreviation; many people also call them pictures. In digital photography, the term image has begun to replace photograph. (The term image is traditional in geometric optics.)


Visual art of Filmmaking is the process of making a motion-picture, from an initial conception and research, through scriptwriting, shooting and recording, animation or other special effects, editing, sound and music work and finally distribution to an audience; it refers broadly to the creation of all types of films, embracing documentary, strains of theatre and literature in film, and poetic or experimental practices, and is often used to refer to video-based processes as well.

Computer art

Visual artists are no longer limited to traditional art media. Computers have been used as an ever more common tool in the visual arts since the 1960s. Uses include the capturing or creating of images and forms, the editing of those images and forms (including exploring multiple compositions) and the final rendering or printing (including 3D printing).

Computer art is any in which computers played a role in production or display. Such art can be an image, sound, animationvideoCD-ROMDVDvideo gamewebsitealgorithmperformance or gallery installation. Many traditional disciplines are now integrating digital technologies and, as a result, the lines between traditional works of art and new media works created using computers have been blurred. For instance, an artist may combine traditional painting with algorithmic art and other digital techniques. As a result, defining computer art by its end product can be difficult. Nevertheless, this type of art is beginning to appear in art museum exhibits, though it has yet to prove its legitimacy as a form unto itself and this technology is widely seen in contemporary art more as a tool rather than a form as with painting.

Computer usage has blurred the distinctions between illustratorsphotographersphoto editors3-D modelers, and handicraft artists. Sophisticated rendering and editing software has led to multi-skilled image developers. Photographers may become digital artists. Illustrators may become animators. Handicraft may be computer-aided or use computer-generated imagery as a template. Computer clip art usage has also made the clear distinction between visual arts and page layout less obvious due to the easy access and editing of clip art in the process of paginating a document, especially to the unskilled observer.

Plastic arts

Plastic arts is a visual art, now largely forgotten, encompassing art forms that involve physical manipulation of a plastic medium by moulding or modeling such as sculpture or ceramics. The term has also been applied to all the visual (non-literary, non-musical) arts.[17][18]

Materials that can be carved or shaped, such as stone or wood, concrete or steel, have also been included in the narrower definition, since, with appropriate tools, such materials are also capable of modulation. This use of the term “plastic” in the arts should not be confused with Piet Mondrian‘s use, nor with the movement he termed, in French and English, “Neoplasticism.”


Sculpture is visual art of three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard or plastic material, sound, or text and or light, commonly stone(either rock or marble), claymetalglass, or wood. Some sculptures are created directly by finding or carving; others are assembled, built together and firedweldedmolded, or cast. Sculptures are often painted.[19] A person who creates sculptures is called a sculptor.

Because sculpture involves the use of materials that can be moulded or modulated, it is considered one of the plastic arts. The majority of public art is sculpture. Many sculptures together in a garden setting may be referred to as a sculpture garden.

Sculptors do not always make sculptures by hand. With increasing technology in the 20th century and the popularity of conceptual art over technical mastery, more sculptors turned to art fabricators to produce their artworks. With fabrication, the artist creates a design and pays a fabricator to produce it. This allows sculptors to create larger and more complex sculptures out of material like cement, metal and plastic, that they would not be able to create by hand. Sculptures can also be made with 3-d printing technology.

United States of America copyright definition of visual art

In the United States, the law protecting the copyright over a piece of visual art gives a more restrictive definition of “visual art”. The following quote is from the Copyright Law of the United States of America- Chapter 1:[20]

A “work of visual art” is —
(1) a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author; or
(2) a still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes only, existing in a single copy that is signed by the author, or in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author.

A work of visual art does not include —
(A)(i) any poster, map, globe, chart, technical drawing, diagram, model, applied art, motion picture or other audiovisual work, book, magazine, newspaper, periodical, data base, electronic information service, electronic publication, or similar publication;
(ii) any merchandising item or advertising, promotional, descriptive, covering, or packaging material or container;
(iii) any portion or part of any item described in clause (i) or (ii);
(B) any work made for hire; or
(C) any work not subject to copyright protection under this title.

See also


  1. Jump up^ An article by art expert, Shelley Esaak: What Is Visual Art?
  2. Jump up^ Different Forms of Art- Applied Art. Retrieved 11 Dec 2010.
  3. Jump up^ “Centre for Arts and Design in Toronto, Canada”. 15 February 2011. Archived from the original on 28 October 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  4. Jump up^ Art History: Arts and Crafts Movement: (1861-1900). From World Wide Arts Resources. Retrieved 24 October 2009.
  5. Jump up^ History of Drawing. From Dibujos para Pintar. Retrieved 23 October 2009.
  6. Jump up^ “Drawing” 2006. Archived from the original on 14 March 2009. Retrieved 23 October 2009.
  7. Jump up^ History of Painting. From History World. Retrieved 23 October 2009.
  8. Jump up^ History of Renaissance Painting. From ART 340 Painting. Retrieved 24 October 2009.
  9. Jump up^
  10. Jump up^
  11. Jump up^ Impressionism. Webmuseum, Paris. Retrieved 24 October 2009
  12. Jump up^ Post-Impressionism. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  13. Jump up^ Modern Art Movements. Irish Art Encyclopedia. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  14. Jump up^ The Printed Image in the West: History and Techniques. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  15. Jump up^ Engraving in Chinese Art. From Engraving Review. Retrieved 23 October 2009.
  16. Jump up^ The History of Engraving in China. From ChinaVista. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  17. Jump up^ ART TERMINOLOGY at KSU[dead link]
  18. Jump up^ “Merriam-Webster Online (entry for “plastic arts”)”. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  19. Jump up^ Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity 22 September 2007 Through 20 January 2008, The Arthur M. Sackler Museum Archived 4 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Jump up^ “Copyright Law of the United States of America- Chapter 1 (101. Definitions)”. Retrieved 2011-10-30.


  • Barnes, A. C., The Art in Painting, 3rd ed., 1937, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., NY.
  • Bukumirovic, D. (1998). Maga Magazinovic. Biblioteka Fatalne srpkinje knj. br. 4. Beograd: Narodna knj.
  • Fazenda, M. J. (1997). Between the pictorial and the expression of ideas: the plastic arts and literature in the dance of Paula Massano. N.p.
  • Gerón, C. (2000). Enciclopedia de las artes plásticas dominicanas: 1844-2000. 4th ed. Dominican Republic s.n.
  • Oliver Grau (Ed.): MediaArtHistories. MIT-Press, Cambridge 2007. with Rudolf ArnheimBarbara StaffordSean CubittW. J. T. MitchellLev ManovichChristiane PaulPeter Weibel a.o. Rezensionen
  • Laban, R. V. (1976). The language of movement: a guidebook to choreutics. Boston: Plays.
  • La Farge, O. (1930). Plastic prayers: dances of the Southwestern Indians. N.p.
  • Restany, P. (1974). Plastics in arts. Paris, New York: N.p.
  • University of Pennsylvania. (1969). Plastics and new art. Philadelphia: The Falcon Pr.

External links

Art of Europe – Western Art

Pierre MignardCliomuse of heroic poetry and history, 17th century

The art of Europe or Western art encompasses the history of visual art in Europe. European prehistoric art started as mobile rock, and cave painting art, and was characteristic of the period between the Paleolithic and the Iron Age.[1]

Written histories of European art often begin with the art of the Ancient Middle East, and the Ancient Aegean civilisations, dating from the 3rd millennium BC. Parallel with these significant cultures, art of one form or another existed all over Europe, wherever there were people, leaving signs such as carvings, decorated artifacts and huge standing stones. However a consistent pattern of artistic development within Europe becomes clear only with the art of Ancient Greece, adopted and transformed by Rome and carried; with the Empire, across much of EuropeNorth Africa and the Middle East.

The influence of the art of the Classical period waxed and waned throughout the next two thousand years, seeming to slip into a distant memory in parts of the Medieval period, to re-emerge in the Renaissance, suffer a period of what some early art historians viewed as “decay” during the Baroque period,[2] to reappear in a refined form in Neo-Classicism and to be reborn in Post-Modernism.

Before the 1800s, the Christian church was a major influence upon European art, the commissions of the Church, architectural, painterly and sculptural, providing the major source of work for artists. The history of the Church was very much reflected in the history of art, during this period. In the same period of time there was renewed interest in heroes and heroines, tales of mythological gods and goddesses, great wars, and bizarre creatures which were not connected to religion.[3]

Secularism has influenced European art since the Classical period, while most art of the last 200 years has been produced without reference to religion and often with no particular ideology at all. On the other hand, European art has often been influenced by politics of one kind or another, of the state, of the patron and of the artist.

European art is arranged into a number of stylistic periods, which, historically, overlap each other as different styles flourished in different areas. Broadly the periods are, ClassicalByzantineMedievalGothicRenaissanceBaroqueRococoNeoclassicalModern and Postmodern.[3]

Prehistoric art

European prehistoric art is an important part of the European cultural heritage.[4] Prehistoric art history is usually divided into four main periods: Stone ageNeolithicBronze age, and Iron age. Most of the remaining artifacts of this period are small sculptures and cave paintings.

Much surviving prehistoric art is small portable sculptures, with a small group of female Venus figurines such as the Venus of Willendorf(24,000–22,000 BC) found across central Europe;[5] the 30 cm tall Löwenmensch figurine of about 30,000 BCE has hardly any pieces that can be related to it. The Swimming Reindeer of about 11,000 BCE is one of the finest of a number of Magdalenian carvings in bone or antler of animals in the art of the Upper Paleolithic, though they are outnumbered by engraved pieces, which are sometimes classified as sculpture.[6] With the beginning of the Mesolithic in Europe figurative sculpture greatly reduced,[7] and remained a less common element in art than relief decoration of practical objects until the Roman period, despite some works such as the Gundestrup cauldronfrom the European Iron Age and the Bronze Age Trundholm sun chariot.[8]

The oldest European cave art dates back 40,800, and can be found in the El Castillo Cave in Spain.[9] Other cave painting sites include LascauxCave of AltamiraGrotte de CussacPech MerleCave of NiauxChauvet CaveFont-de-Gaume, Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire, England, (Cave etchings and bas-reliefs discovered in 2003), Coliboaia cave from Romania (considered the oldest cave painting in central Europe)[10] and Magura,[1] Belogradchik, Bulgaria.[11] Rock painting was also performed on cliff faces, but fewer of those have survived because of erosion. One well-known example is the rock paintings of Astuvansalmi in the Saimaa area of Finland. When Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola first encountered the Magdalenian paintings of the Altamira cave, Cantabria, Spain in 1879, the academics of the time considered them hoaxes. Recent reappraisals and numerous additional discoveries have since demonstrated their authenticity, while at the same time stimulating interest in the artistry of Upper Palaeolithic peoples. Cave paintings, undertaken with only the most rudimentary tools, can also furnish valuable insight into the culture and beliefs of that era.

The Rock art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basin represents a very different style, with the human figure the main focus, often seen in large groups, with battles, dancing and hunting all represented, as well as other activities and details such as clothing. The figures are generally rather sketchily depicted in thin paint, with the relationships between the groups of humans and animals more carefully depicted than individual figures. Other less numerous groups of rock art, many engraved rather than painted, show similar characteristics. The Iberian examples are believed to date from a long period perhaps covering the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic and early Neolithic.

Prehistoric Celtic art comes from much of Iron Age Europe and survives mainly in the form of high-status metalwork skillfully decorated with complex, elegant and mostly abstract designs, often using curving and spiral forms. There are human heads and some fully represented animals, but full-length human figures at any size are so rare that their absence may represent a religious taboo. As the Romans conquered Celtic territories, it almost entirely vanishes, but the style continued in limited use in the British Isles, and with the coming of Christianity revived there in the Insular style of the Early Middle Ages.

Ancient Classical art

Minoan Ceramic Art

The Minoan culture is regarded as the oldest civilization in Europe.[12] The Minoan culture existed in Crete and consisted of four periods: Prepalatial, Protopalatial, Neopalatial, and the Postpalatial period between 3650 BC and 1100 BC. Not much of the art remained from the Prepalatial times, and most of artefacts still existing today are Cycladic statuettes and pottery fragments. The most prosperous period of the Cretan civilization was Neopalatial period and most of the artefacts are from this era. A large number of artefacts from the Protopalatial can be seen today in Cretan museums. Pottery – most popular in the Protopalatial period (1900-1700 BC) – was characterized by thin walled vessels, subtle, symmetrical shapes, elegant spouts, and decorations, and dynamic lines. Dark and light values were often contrasted in Minoan pottery. The spontaneity and fluidity of the Protopalatial period later were transformed to a more stylized form of art with dissociation of naturalism in the Neopalatial period.
The palaces served as organizational, commercial, artistic, worshipping, and agricultural centres in the Cretan civilization. Cretan palaces were built without defensive walls and exhibited a central courtyard which was embraced by a number of buildings. The central courtyard served as the main meeting place of the people. The palaces had throne rooms, cult chambers, and theatres where people could gather at special events. Columns and staircases were part of the artistic expression and it is believed that they served as metaphorical elements.
The Minoan palaces are richly painted with paintings. Minoan painting was unique in that it used wet fresco techniques; it was characterized by small waists, fluidity, and vitality of the figures and was seasoned with elasticity, spontaneity, vitality, and high-contrasting colours.
Not much of the sculpture survived from the Minoan civilization. The best known example of sculptures is the Snake Goddess figurine. The sculpture depicts a goddess or a high priestess holding a snake in both hands, dressed in traditional Minoan attire, cloth covering the whole body and leaving the breasts exposed. Exquisite metal work was also a characteristic of the Minoan art. Minoan metal masters worked with imported gold and copper and mastered techniques of wax casting, embossinggilding, nielo, and granulation.[13]

Ancient Greece had great painters, great sculptors, and great architects. The Parthenon is an example of their architecture that has lasted to modern days. Greek marble sculpture is often described as the highest form of Classical art. Painting on the pottery of Ancient Greece and ceramics gives a particularly informative glimpse into the way society in Ancient Greece functioned. Black-figure vase painting and Red-figure vase painting gives many surviving examples of what Greek painting was. Some famous Greek painters on wooden panels who are mentioned in texts are ApellesZeuxis and Parrhasius, however no examples of Ancient Greek panel painting survive, only written descriptions by their contemporaries or by later Romans. Zeuxis lived in 5–6 BC and was said to be the first to use sfumato. According to Pliny the Elder, the realism of his paintings was such that birds tried to eat the painted grapes. Apelles is described as the greatest painter of Antiquity for perfect technique in drawing, brilliant color and modeling.

Mummy portrait of a young girl, 2nd century AD, Louvre.

Roman art was influenced by Greece and can in part be taken as a descendant of ancient Greek painting and sculpture, but was also strongly influenced by the more local Etruscan art of Italy. Roman sculpture, is primarily portraiture derived from the upper classes of society as well as depictions of the gods. However, Roman painting does have important unique characteristics. Among surviving Roman paintings are wall paintings, many from villas in Campania, in Southern Italy, especially at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Such painting can be grouped into four main “styles” or periods[14] and may contain the first examples of trompe-l’oeil, pseudo-perspective, and pure landscape.[15]

Almost all of the surviving painted portraits from the Ancient world are a large number of coffin-portraits of bust form found in the Late Antiquecemetery of Al-Fayum. They give an idea of the quality that the finest ancient work must have had. A very small number of miniatures from Late Antique illustrated books also survive, and a rather larger number of copies of them from the Early Medieval period. Early Christian art grew out of Roman popular, and later Imperial, art and adapted its iconography from these sources.


Most surviving art from the Medieval period was religious in focus, often funded by the Church, powerful ecclesiastical individuals such as bishops, communal groups such as abbeys, or wealthy secular patrons. Many had specific liturgical functions—processional crosses and altarpieces, for example.

One of the central questions about Medieval art concerns its lack of realism. A great deal of knowledge of perspective in art and understanding of the human figure was lost with the fall of Rome. But realism was not the primary concern of Medieval artists. They were simply trying to send a religious message, a task which demands clear iconic images instead of precisely rendered ones.

Time Period: 6th century to 15th century


Helios in His Chariot.jpg

Byzantine art overlaps with or merges with what we call Early Christian art until the iconoclasm period of 730-843 when the vast majority of artwork with figures was destroyed; so little remains that today any discovery sheds new understanding. After 843 until 1453 there is a clear Byzantine art tradition. It is often the finest art of the Middle Ages in terms of quality of material and workmanship, with production centered on Constantinople. Byzantine art’s crowning achievement were the monumental frescos and mosaics inside domed churches, most of which have not survived due to natural disasters and the appropriation of churches to mosques.

Early Medieval art


Migration period art is a general term for the art of the “barbarian” peoples who moved into formerly Roman territories. Celtic art in the 7th and 8th centuries saw a fusion with Germanic traditions through contact with the Anglo-Saxons creating what is called the Hiberno-Saxon style or Insular art, which was to be highly influential on the rest of the Middle Ages. Merovingian art describes the art of the Franks before about 800, when Carolingian art combined insular influences with a self-conscious classical revival, developing into Ottonian artAnglo-Saxon art is the art of England after the Insular period. Illuminated manuscripts contain nearly all the surviving painting of the period, but architecture, metalwork and small carved work in wood or ivory were also important media.



Romanesque art refers to the period from about 1000 to the rise of Gothic art in the 12th century. This was a period of increasing prosperity, and the first to see a coherent style used across Europe, from Scandinavia to Switzerland. Romanesque art is vigorous and direct, was originally brightly coloured, and is often very sophisticated. Stained glass and enamel on metalwork became important media, and larger sculptures in the round developed, although high relief was the principal technique. Its architecture is dominated by thick walls, and round-headed windows and arches, with much carved decoration.


Folio 79r - Pentecostes excerpt.jpg

Gothic art is a variable term depending on the craft, place and time. The term originated with Gothic architecture in 1140, but Gothic painting did not appear until around 1200 (this date has many qualifications), when it diverged from Romanesque style. Gothic sculpture was born in France in 1144 with the renovation of the Abbey Church of S. Denis and spread throughout Europe, by the 13th century it had become the international style, replacing Romanesque. International Gothic describes Gothic art from about 1360 to 1430, after which Gothic art merges into Renaissance art at different times in different places. During this period forms such as painting, in fresco and on panel, become newly important, and the end of the period includes new media such as prints.


Leonardo da Vinci‘s Vitruvian Man(Uomo Vitruviano) (c. 1490), a seminal work from the Renaissance. The drawing is inspired and subsequently named after the 1st century BC Roman architect-author Vitruvius and his notions on the “ideal” human body proportions, found in his De architectura.[16][17]The drawing highlights the movement’s fascination with Graeco-Roman civilisations and appropriation of classical art, as well as his pursuit for the correlation between body structure and nature.[17]

The Renaissance is characterized by a focus on the arts of Ancient Greece and Rome, which led to many changes in both the technical aspects of painting and sculpture, as well as to their subject matter. It began in Italy, a country rich in Roman heritage as well as material prosperity to fund artists. During the Renaissance, painters began to enhance the realism of their work by using new techniques in perspective, thus representing three dimensions more authentically. Artists also began to use new techniques in the manipulation of light and darkness, such as the tone contrast evident in many of Titian‘s portraits and the development of sfumato and chiaroscuro by Leonardo da VinciSculptors, too, began to rediscover many ancient techniques such as contrapposto. Following with the humanist spirit of the age, art became more secular in subject matter, depicting ancient mythology in addition to Christian themes. This genre of art is often referred to as Renaissance Classicism. In the North, the most important Renaissance innovation was the widespread use of oil paints, which allowed for greater colour and intensity.

From Gothic to the Renaissance

During the late 13th century and early 14th century, much of the painting in Italy was Byzantine in Character, notably that of Duccio of Siena and Cimabue of Florence, while Pietro Cavallini in Rome was more Gothic in style.

In 1290 Giotto began painting in a manner that was less traditional and more based upon observation of nature. His famous cycle at the Scrovegni ChapelPadua, is seen as the beginnings of a Renaissance style.

Other painters of the 14th century were carried the Gothic style to great elaboration and detail. Notable among these painters are Simone Martini and Gentile da Fabriano.

In the Netherlands, the technique of painting in oils rather than tempera, led itself to a form of elaboration that was not dependent upon the application of gold leaf and embossing, but upon the minute depiction of the natural world. The art of painting textures with great realism evolved at this time. Dutch painters such as Jan van Eyck and Hugo van der Goes were to have great influence on Late Gothic and Early Renaissance painting.

Early Renaissance

The ideas of the Renaissance first emerged in the city-state of FlorenceItaly. The sculptor Donatello returned to classical techniques such as contrapposto and classical subjects like the unsupported nude—his second sculpture of David was the first free-standing bronze nude created in Europe since the Roman Empire. The sculptor and architect Brunelleschi studied the architectural ideas of ancient Roman buildings for inspiration. Masaccioperfected elements like composition, individual expression, and human form to paint frescoes, especially those in the Brancacci Chapel, of surprising elegance, drama, and emotion.

A remarkable number of these major artists worked on different portions of the Florence Cathedral. Brunelleschi’s dome for the cathedral was one of the first truly revolutionary architectural innovations since the Gothic flying buttress. Donatello created many of its sculptures. Giotto and Lorenzo Ghiberti also contributed to the cathedral.

Albrecht Dürer‘s Praying Hands(Betende Hände) (c. 1508), a drawing belonging to the Northern Renaissance artistic tradition, of which Dürer is a formidable figure.[18]

High Renaissance

High Renaissance artists include such figures as Leonardo da VinciMichelangelo Buonarroti, and Raffaello Sanzio.

The 15th-century artistic developments in Italy (for example, the interest in perspectival systems, in depicting anatomy, and in classical cultures) matured during the 16th century, accounting for the designations “Early Renaissance” for the 15th century and “High Renaissance” for the 16th century. Although no singular style characterizes the High Renaissance, the art of those most closely associated with this Period—Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian—exhibits an astounding mastery, both technical and aesthetic. High Renaissance artists created works of such authority that generations of later artists relied on these artworks for instruction. These exemplary artistic creations further elevated the prestige of artists. Artists could claim divine inspiration, thereby raising visual art to a status formerly given only to poetry. Thus, painters, sculptors, and architects came into their own, successfully claiming for their work a high position among the fine arts. In a sense, 16th- century masters created a new profession with its own rights of expression and its own venerable character.

Northern art up to the Renaissance

Early Netherlandish painting developed (but did not strictly invent) the technique of oil painting to allow greater control in painting minute detail with realism—Jan van Eyck (1366–1441) was a figure in the movement from illuminated manuscripts to panel paintings.

Hieronymus Bosch (1450?–1516), a Dutch painter, is another important figure in the Northern Renaissance. In his paintings, he used religious themes, but combined them with grotesque fantasies, colourful imagery, and peasant folk legends. His paintings often reflect the confusion and anguish associated with the end of the Middle Ages.

Albrecht Dürer introduced Italian Renaissance style to Germany at the end of the 15th century, and dominated German Renaissance art.

Time Period:

  • Italian Renaissance: Late 14th century to Early 16th century
  • Northern Renaissance: 16th century

Mannerism, Baroque, and Rococo

Differences between Baroque and Rococo art
Baroque art was characterised by strongly religious and political themes; common characteristics included rich colours with a strong light and dark contrast. Paintings were elaborate, emotional and dramatic in nature.
Rococo art was characterised by lighter, often jocular themes; common characteristics included pale, creamy colours, florid decorations and a penchant for bucolic landscapes. Paintings were more ornate than their Baroque counterpart, and usually graceful, playful and light-hearted in nature.

In European art, Renaissance Classicism spawned two different movements—Mannerism and the Baroque. Mannerism, a reaction against the idealist perfection of Classicism, employed distortion of light and spatial frameworks in order to emphasize the emotional content of a painting and the emotions of the painter. The work of El Greco is a particularly clear example of Mannerism in painting during the late 16th, early 17th centuries. Northern Mannerism took longer to develop, and was largely a movement of the last half of the 16th century. Baroque art took the representationalism of the Renaissance to new heights, emphasizing detail, movement, lighting, and drama in their search for beauty. Perhaps the best known Baroque painters are CaravaggioRembrandtPeter Paul Rubens, and Diego Velázquez.

A rather different art developed out of northern realist traditions in 17th century Dutch Golden Age painting, which had very little religious art, and little history painting, instead playing a crucial part in developing secular genres such as still lifegenre paintings of everyday scenes, and landscape painting. While the Baroque nature of Rembrandt’s art is clear, the label is less use for Vermeer and many other Dutch artists. Flemish Baroque painting shared a part in this trend, while also continuing to produce the traditional categories.

Baroque art is often seen as part of the Counter-Reformation—the artistic element of the revival of spiritual life in the Roman Catholic Church. Additionally, the emphasis that Baroque art placed on grandeur is seen as Absolutist in nature. Religious and political themes were widely explored within the Baroque artistic context, and both paintings and sculptures were characterised by a strong element of drama, emotion and theatricality. Famous Baroque artists include Caravaggio or Rubens.[19] Baroque art was particularly ornate and elaborate in nature, often using rich, warm colours with dark undertones. Pomp and grandeur were important elements of the Baroque artistic movement in general, as can be seen when Louis XIV said, “I am grandeur incarnate”; many Baroque artists served kings who tried to realize this goal. Baroque art in many ways was similar to Renaissance art; as a matter of fact, the term was initially used in a derogative manner to describe post-Renaissance art and architecture which was over-elaborate.[19]Baroque art can be seen as a more elaborate and dramatic re-adaptation of late Renaissance art.

By the 18th century, however, Baroque art was falling out of fashion as many deemed it too melodramatic and also gloomy, and it developed into the Rococo, which emerged in France. Rococo art was even more elaborate than the Baroque, but it was less serious and more playful.[20] Whilst the Baroque used rich, strong colours, Rococo used pale, creamier shades. The artistic movement no longer placed an emphasis on politics and religion, focusing instead on lighter themes such as romance, celebration, and appreciation of nature. Rococo art also contrasted the Baroque as it often refused symmetry in favor of asymmetrical designs. Furthermore, it sought inspiration from the artistic forms and ornamentation of Far Eastern Asia, resulting in the rise in favour of porcelain figurines and chinoiserie in general.[21] The 18th century style flourished for a short while; nevertheless, the Rococo style soon fell out of favor, being seen by many as a gaudy and superficial movement emphasizing aesthetics over meaning. Neoclassicism in many ways developed as a counter movement of the Rococo, the impetus being a sense of disgust directed towards the latter’s florid qualities.

Time Period:

Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Academism and Realism

Neoclassical art was characterised by an emphasis on simplicity, order and idealism. It was inspired by different classical themes.

Throughout the 18th century, a counter movement opposing the Rococo sprang up in different parts of Europe, commonly known as Neoclassicism. It despised the perceived superficiality and frivolity of Rococo art, and desired for a return to the simplicity, order and ‘purism’ of classical antiquity, especially ancient Greece and Rome. The movement was in part also influenced by the Renaissance, which itself was strongly influenced by classical art. Neoclassicism was the artistic component of the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment; the Enlightenment was idealistic, and put its emphasis on objectivity, reason and empirical truth. Neoclassicism had become widespread in Europe throughout the 18th century, especially in the United Kingdom, which saw great works of Neoclassical architecture spring up during this period; Neoclassicism’s fascination with classical antiquity can be seen in the popularity of the Grand Tour during this decade, where wealthy aristocrats travelled to the ancient ruins of Italy and Greece. Nevertheless, a defining moment for Neoclassicism came during the French Revolution in the late 18th century; in France, Rococo art was replaced with the preferred Neoclassical art, which was seen as more serious than the former movement. In many ways, Neoclassicism can be seen as a political movement as well as an artistic and cultural one.[22] Neoclassical art places an emphasis on order, symmetry and classical simplicity; common themes in Neoclassical art include courage and war, as were commonly explored in ancient Greek and Roman art. IngresCanova, and Jacques-Louis David are among the best-known neoclassicists.[23]

Just as Mannerism rejected Classicism, so did Romanticism reject the ideas of the Enlightenment and the aesthetic of the Neoclassicists. Romanticism rejected the highly objective and ordered nature of Neoclassicism, and opted for a more individual and emotional approach to the arts.[24] Romanticism placed an emphasis on nature, especially when aiming to portray the power and beauty of the natural world, and emotions, and sought a highly personal approach to art. Romantic art was about individual feelings, not common themes, such as in Neoclassicism; in such a way, Romantic art often used colours in order to express feelings and emotion.[24] Similarly to Neoclassicism, Romantic art took much of its inspiration from ancient Greek and Roman art and mythology, yet, unlike Neoclassical, this inspiration was primarily used as a way to create symbolism and imagery. Romantic art also takes much of its aesthetic qualities from medievalism and Gothicism, as well as mythology and folklore. Among the greatest Romantic artists were Eugène DelacroixFrancisco GoyaJ.M.W. TurnerJohn ConstableCaspar David FriedrichThomas Cole, and William Blake.[23]

Most artists attempted to take a centrist approach which adopted different features of Neoclassicist and Romanticist styles, in order to synthesize them. The different attempts took place within the French Academy, and collectively are called Academic artAdolphe William Bouguereau is considered a chief example of this stream of art.

In the early 19th century the face of Europe, however, became radically altered by industrialization. Poverty, squalor, and desperation were to be the fate of the new working class created by the “revolution”. In response to these changes going on in society, the movement of Realism emerged. Realism sought to accurately portray the conditions and hardships of the poor in the hopes of changing society. In contrast with Romanticism, which was essentially optimistic about mankind, Realism offered a stark vision of poverty and despair. Similarly, while Romanticism glorified nature, Realism portrayed life in the depths of an urban wasteland. Like Romanticism, Realism was a literary as well as an artistic movement. The great Realist painters include Jean-Baptiste-Siméon ChardinGustave CourbetJean-François MilletCamille CorotHonoré DaumierÉdouard ManetEdgar Degas (both considered as Impressionists), and Thomas Eakins, among others.

The response of architecture to industrialisation, in stark contrast to the other arts, was to veer towards historicism. Although the railway stations built during this period are often considered the truest reflections of its spirit – they are sometimes called “the cathedrals of the age” – the main movements in architecture during the Industrial Age were revivals of styles from the distant past, such as the Gothic Revival. Related movements were the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who attempted to return art to its state of “purity” prior to Raphael, and the Arts and Crafts Movement, which reacted against the impersonality of mass-produced goods and advocated a return to medieval craftsmanship.

Time Period:

Modern art

Impressionism was known for its usage of light and movement in its paintings.

Out of the naturalist ethic of Realism grew a major artistic movement, Impressionism. The Impressionists pioneered the use of light in painting as they attempted to capture light as seen from the human eye. Edgar DegasÉdouard ManetClaude MonetCamille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, were all involved in the Impressionist movement. As a direct outgrowth of Impressionism came the development of Post-ImpressionismPaul CézanneVincent van GoghPaul GauguinGeorges Seurat are the best known Post-Impressionists.

Following the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists came Fauvism, often considered the first “modern” genre of art. Just as the Impressionists revolutionized light, so did the fauvists rethink color, painting their canvases in bright, wild hues. After the Fauvists, modern art began to develop in all its forms, ranging from Expressionism, concerned with evoking emotion through objective works of art, to Cubism, the art of transposing a three-dimensional reality onto a flat canvas, to Abstract art. These new art forms pushed the limits of traditional notions of “art” and corresponded to the similar rapid changes that were taking place in human society, technology, and thought.

Surrealism is often classified as a form of Modern Art. However, the Surrealists themselves have objected to the study of surrealism as an era in art history, claiming that it oversimplifies the complexity of the movement (which they say is not an artistic movement), misrepresents the relationship of surrealism to aesthetics, and falsely characterizes ongoing surrealism as a finished, historically encapsulated era. Other forms of Modern art (some of which border on Contemporary art) include:

Time Period: First half of the 20th century

Contemporary art and Postmodern art

Modern art foreshadowed several characteristics of what would later be definied as postmodern art; as a matter of fact, several modern art movements can often be classified as both modern and postmodern, such as pop art. Postmodern art, for instance, places a strong emphasis on irony, parody and humour in general; modern art started to develop a more ironic approach to art which would later advance in a postmodern context. Postmodern art sees the blurring between the high and fine arts with low-end and commercial art; modern art started to experiment with this blurring.[24] Recent developments in art have been characterised by a significant expansion of what can now deemed to be art, in terms of materials, media, activity and concept. Conceptual art in particular has had a wide influence. This started literally as the replacement of concept for a made object, one of the intentions of which was to refute the commodification of art. However, it now usually refers to an artwork where there is an object, but the main claim for the work is made for the thought process that has informed it. The aspect of commercialism has returned to the work.

There has also been an increase in art referring to previous movements and artists, and gaining validity from that reference.

Postmodernism in art, which has grown since the 1960s, differs from Modernism in as much as Modern art movements were primarily focused on their own activities and values, while Postmodernism uses the whole range of previous movements as a reference point. This has by definition generated a relativistic outlook, accompanied by irony and a certain disbelief in values, as each can be seen to be replaced by another. Another result of this has been the growth of commercialism and celebrity. Postmodern art has questioned common rules and guidelines of what is regarded as ‘fine art‘, merging low art with the fine arts until none is fully distinguishable.[25][26] Before the advent of postmodernism, the fine arts were characterised by a form of aesthetic quality, elegance, craftsmanship, finesse and intellectual stimulation which was intended to appeal to the upper or educated classes; this distinguished high art from low art, which, in turn, was seen as tacky, kitsch, easily made and lacking in much or any intellectual stimulation, art which was intended to appeal to the masses. Postmodern art blurred these distinctions, bringing a strong element of kitsch, commercialism and campness into contemporary fine art;[24] what is nowadays seen as fine art may have been seen as low art before postmodernism revolutionised the concept of what high or fine art truly is.[24] In addition, the postmodern nature of contemporary art leaves a lot of space for individualism within the art scene; for instance, postmodern art often takes inspiration from past artistic movements, such as Gothic or Baroque art, and both juxtaposes and recycles styles from these past periods in a different context.[24]

Some surrealists in particular Joan Miró, who called for the “murder of painting” (In numerous interviews dating from the 1930s onwards, Miró expressed contempt for conventional painting methods and his desire to “kill”, “murder”, or “rape” them in favor of more contemporary means of expression).[27] have denounced or attempted to “supersede” painting, and there have also been other anti-painting trends among artistic movements, such as that of Dada and conceptual art. The trend away from painting in the late 20th century has been countered by various movements, for example the continuation of Minimal ArtLyrical AbstractionPop ArtOp ArtNew RealismPhotorealismNeo GeoNeo-expressionism, and Stuckism and various other important and influential painterly directions.

See also


  1. Jump up to:a b Oosterbeek, Luíz. “European Prehistoric Art”Europeart. Retrieved 4 December2012.
  2. Jump up^ Banister Fletcher excluded nearly all Baroque buildings from his mammoth tome A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method. The publishers eventually rectified this.
  3. Jump up to:a b “Art of Europe”Saint Louis Art Museum. Slam. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  4. Jump up^ Oosterbeek, Luíz. “European Prehistoric Art”Europeart. Retrieved 4 December2012.
  5. Jump up^ Sandars, 8-16, 29-31
  6. Jump up^ Hahn, Joachim, “Prehistoric Europe, §II: Palaeolithic 3. Portable art” in Oxford Art Online, accessed August 24, 2012; Sandars, 37-40
  7. Jump up^ Sandars, 75-80
  8. Jump up^ Sandars, 253-257, 183-185
  9. Jump up^ Kwong, Matt. “Oldest cave-man art in Europe dates back 40,800 years”. CBC News. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  10. Jump up^ “Romanian Cave May Boast Central Europe’s Oldest Cave Art | Science/AAAS | News”. 2010-06-21. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  11. Jump up^ Gunther, Michael. “Art of Prehistoric Europe”. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  12. Jump up^ Chaniotis, Angelos. “Ancient Crete”Oxford Bibliographies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  13. Jump up^ “Minoan art”Greek art. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  14. Jump up^ “Roman Painting”. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  15. Jump up^ “Roman Painting”Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  16. Jump up^
  17. Jump up to:a b
  18. Jump up^
  19. Jump up to:a b “Baroque Art”. 2013-07-24. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  20. Jump up^ “Ancien Regime Rococo”. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  21. Jump up^
  22. Jump up^ “Art in Neoclassicism”. 2008-02-26. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  23. Jump up to:a b James J. Sheehan, “Art and Its Publics, c. 1800,” United and Diversity in European Culture c. 1800, ed. Tim Blanning and Hagen Schulze (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 5-18.
  24. Jump up to:a b c d e f “General Introduction to Postmodernism”. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  25. Jump up^ Ideas About Art, Desmond, Kathleen K. [1] John Wiley & Sons, 2011, p.148
  26. Jump up^ International postmodernism: theory and literary practice, Bertens, Hans [2], Routledge, 1997, p.236
  27. Jump up^ M. Rowell, Joan Mirό: Selected Writings and Interviews (London: Thames & Hudson, 1987) pp. 114–116.


  • Sandars, Nancy K., Prehistoric Art in Europe, Penguin (Pelican, now Yale, History of Art), 1968 (nb 1st edn.; early datings now superseded)

External links


Clockwise from upper left: a self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh; a female ancestor figure by a Chokwe artist; detail from The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli; and an Okinawan Shisa lion.

Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.[1][2] In their most general form these activities include the production of works of art, the criticism of art, the study of the history of art, and the aesthetic dissemination of art.

The oldest documented forms of art are visual arts, which include creation of images or objects in fields including today painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and other visual media.

Architecture is often included as one of the visual arts; however, like the decorative arts, or advertising,[3] it involves the creation of objects where the practical considerations of use are essential—in a way that they usually are not in a painting, for example.

Music, theatre, film, dance, and other performing arts, as well as literature and other media such as interactive media, are included in a broader definition of art or the arts.[1][4] Until the 17th century, art referred to any skill or mastery and was not differentiated from crafts or sciences.

In modern usage after the 17th century, where aesthetic considerations are paramount, the fine arts are separated and distinguished from acquired skills in general, such as the decorative or applied arts.

Art may be characterized in terms of mimesis (its representation of reality), narrative (storytelling), expression, communication of emotion, or other qualities. During the Romantic period, art came to be seen as “a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science”.[5]

Though the definition of what constitutes art is disputed[6][7][8] and has changed over time, general descriptions mention an idea of imaginative or technical skill stemming from human agency[9] and creation.[10]

The nature of art and related concepts, such as creativity and interpretation, are explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics.[11]

Creative art and fine art

Works of art can tell stories or simply express an aesthetic truth or feeling. Panorama of a section of A Thousand Li of Mountains and Rivers, a 12th-century painting by Song dynasty artist Wang Ximeng.

In the perspective of the history of art,[10] artistic works have existed for almost as long as humankind: from early pre-historic art to contemporary art; however, some theories restrict the concept of “artistic works” to modern Western societies.[12] One early sense of the definition of art is closely related to the older Latin meaning, which roughly translates to “skill” or “craft,” as associated with words such as “artisan.” English words derived from this meaning include artifactartificialartificemedical arts, and military arts. However, there are many other colloquial uses of the word, all with some relation to its etymology.

20th-century Rwandan bottle. Artistic works may serve practical functions, in addition to their decorative value.

Few modern scholars have been more divided than Plato and Aristotle on the question concerning the importance of art, with Aristotle strongly supporting art in general and Plato generally being opposed to its relative importance.

Several dialogues in Plato tackle questions about art: Socrates says that poetry is inspired by the muses, and is not rational. He speaks approvingly of this, and other forms of divine madness (drunkenness, eroticism, and dreaming) in the Phaedrus (265a–c), and yet in the Republic wants to outlaw Homer’s great poetic art, and laughter as well. In Ion, Socrates gives no hint of the disapproval of Homer that he expresses in the Republic. The dialogue Ion suggests that Homer‘s Iliad functioned in the ancient Greek world as the Bible does today in the modern Christian world: as divinely inspired literary art that can provide moral guidance, if only it can be properly interpreted.

With regards to the literary art and the musical arts, Aristotle considered epic poetry, tragedy, comedy, dithyrambic poetry and music to be mimetic or imitative art, each varying in imitation by medium, object, and manner.[13] For example, music imitates with the media of rhythm and harmony, whereas dance imitates with rhythm alone, and poetry with language. The forms also differ in their object of imitation. Comedy, for instance, is a dramatic imitation of men worse than average; whereas tragedy imitates men slightly better than average. Lastly, the forms differ in their manner of imitation—through narrative or character, through change or no change, and through drama or no drama.[14] Aristotle believed that imitation is natural to mankind and constitutes one of mankind’s advantages over animals.[15]

The second, and more recent, sense of the word art as an abbreviation for creative art or fine art emerged in the early 17th century.[16] Fine art refers to a skill used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of more refined or finer work of art.

Within this latter sense, the word art may refer to several things: (i) a study of a creative skill, (ii) a process of using the creative skill, (iii) a product of the creative skill, or (iv) the audience’s experience with the creative skill. The creative arts (art as discipline) are a collection of disciplines which produce artworks (artas objects) that are compelled by a personal drive (art as activity) and convey a message, mood, or symbolism for the perceiver to interpret (art as experience). Art is something that stimulates an individual’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or ideas through the senses. Works of art can be explicitly made for this purpose or interpreted on the basis of images or objects. For some scholars, such as Kant, the sciences and the arts could be distinguished by taking science as representing the domain of knowledge and the arts as representing the domain of the freedom of artistic expression.

Often, if the skill is being used in a common or practical way, people will consider it a craft instead of art. Likewise, if the skill is being used in a commercial or industrial way, it may be considered commercial art instead of fine art. On the other hand, crafts and design are sometimes considered applied art. Some art followers have argued that the difference between fine art and applied art has more to do with value judgments made about the art than any clear definitional difference.[17] However, even fine art often has goals beyond pure creativity and self-expression. The purpose of works of art may be to communicate ideas, such as in politically, spiritually, or philosophically motivated art; to create a sense of beauty (see aesthetics); to explore the nature of perception; for pleasure; or to generate strong emotions. The purpose may also be seemingly nonexistent.

The nature of art has been described by philosopher Richard Wollheim as “one of the most elusive of the traditional problems of human culture”.[18] Art has been defined as a vehicle for the expression or communication of emotions and ideas, a means for exploring and appreciating formal elements for their own sake, and as mimesis or representation. Art as mimesis has deep roots in the philosophy of Aristotle.[19] Leo Tolstoy identified art as a use of indirect means to communicate from one person to another.[19] Benedetto Croce and R.G. Collingwood advanced the idealist view that art expresses emotions, and that the work of art therefore essentially exists in the mind of the creator.[20][21] The theory of art as form has its roots in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and was developed in the early twentieth century by Roger Fry and Clive Bell. More recently, thinkers influenced by Martin Heidegger have interpreted art as the means by which a community develops for itself a medium for self-expression and interpretation.[22]George Dickie has offered an institutional theory of art that defines a work of art as any artifact upon which a qualified person or persons acting on behalf of the social institution commonly referred to as “the art world” has conferred “the status of candidate for appreciation”.[23] Larry Shiner has described fine art as “not an essence or a fate but something we have made. Art as we have generally understood it is a European invention barely two hundred years old.”[24]


Venus of Willendorfcirca24,000–22,000 BP

Sculptures, cave paintings, rock paintings and petroglyphs from the Upper Paleolithic dating to roughly 40,000 years ago have been found,[25]but the precise meaning of such art is often disputed because so little is known about the cultures that produced them. The oldest art objects in the world—a series of tiny, drilled snail shells about 75,000 years old—were discovered in a South African cave.[26] Containers that may have been used to hold paints have been found dating as far back as 100,000 years.[27] Etched shells by Homo erectus from 430,000 and 540,000 years ago were discovered in 2014.[28]

Cave painting of a horse from the Lascaux caves, circa 16,000 BP

Many great traditions in art have a foundation in the art of one of the great ancient civilizations: Ancient EgyptMesopotamiaPersia, India, China, Ancient Greece, Rome, as well as IncaMaya, and Olmec. Each of these centers of early civilization developed a unique and characteristic style in its art. Because of the size and duration of these civilizations, more of their art works have survived and more of their influence has been transmitted to other cultures and later times. Some also have provided the first records of how artists worked. For example, this period of Greek art saw a veneration of the human physical form and the development of equivalent skills to show musculature, poise, beauty, and anatomically correct proportions.

In Byzantine and Medieval art of the Western Middle Ages, much art focused on the expression of subjects about Biblical and religious culture, and used styles that showed the higher glory of a heavenly world, such as the use of gold in the background of paintings, or glass in mosaics or windows, which also presented figures in idealized, patterned (flat) forms. Nevertheless, a classical realist tradition persisted in small Byzantine works, and realism steadily grew in the art of Catholic Europe.

Renaissance art had a greatly increased emphasis on the realistic depiction of the material world, and the place of humans in it, reflected in the corporeality of the human body, and development of a systematic method of graphical perspective to depict recession in a three-dimensional picture space.

The stylized signature of SultanMahmud II of the Ottoman Empire was written in Islamic calligraphy. It reads Mahmud Khan son of Abdulhamid is forever victorious.

The Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia, also called the Mosque of Uqba, is one of the finest, most significant and best preserved artistic and architectural examples of early great mosques. Dated in its present state from the 9th century, it is the ancestor and model of all the mosques in the western Islamic lands.[29]

In the east, Islamic art‘s rejection of iconography led to emphasis on geometric patternscalligraphy, and architecture. Further east, religion dominated artistic styles and forms too. India and Tibet saw emphasis on painted sculptures and dance, while religious painting borrowed many conventions from sculpture and tended to bright contrasting colors with emphasis on outlines. China saw the flourishing of many art forms: jade carving, bronzework, pottery (including the stunning terracotta army of Emperor Qin), poetry, calligraphy, music, painting, drama, fiction, etc. Chinese styles vary greatly from era to era and each one is traditionally named after the ruling dynasty. So, for example, Tang dynasty paintings are monochromatic and sparse, emphasizing idealized landscapes, but Ming dynasty paintings are busy and colorful, and focus on telling stories via setting and composition. Japan names its styles after imperial dynasties too, and also saw much interplay between the styles of calligraphy and painting. Woodblock printing became important in Japan after the 17th century.

Painting by Song dynasty artist Ma Lin, circa 1250. 24.8 × 25.2 cm

The western Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century saw artistic depictions of physical and rational certainties of the clockwork universe, as well as politically revolutionary visions of a post-monarchist world, such as Blake‘s portrayal of Newton as a divine geometer, or David‘s propagandistic paintings. This led to Romantic rejections of this in favor of pictures of the emotional side and individuality of humans, exemplified in the novels of Goethe. The late 19th century then saw a host of artistic movements, such as academic artSymbolismimpressionism and fauvism among others.

The history of twentieth-century art is a narrative of endless possibilities and the search for new standards, each being torn down in succession by the next. Thus the parameters of impressionismExpressionismFauvismCubismDadaismSurrealism, etc. cannot be maintained very much beyond the time of their invention. Increasing global interaction during this time saw an equivalent influence of other cultures into Western art. Thus, Japanese woodblock prints (themselves influenced by Western Renaissance draftsmanship) had an immense influence on impressionism and subsequent development. Later, African sculptures were taken up by Picasso and to some extent by Matisse. Similarly, in the 19th and 20th centuries the West has had huge impacts on Eastern art with originally western ideas like Communism and Post-Modernismexerting a powerful influence.

Modernism, the idealistic search for truth, gave way in the latter half of the 20th century to a realization of its unattainability. Theodor W. Adorno said in 1970, “It is now taken for granted that nothing which concerns art can be taken for granted any more: neither art itself, nor art in relationship to the whole, nor even the right of art to exist.”[30] Relativism was accepted as an unavoidable truth, which led to the period of contemporary art and postmodern criticism, where cultures of the world and of history are seen as changing forms, which can be appreciated and drawn from only with skepticism and irony. Furthermore, the separation of cultures is increasingly blurred and some argue it is now more appropriate to think in terms of a global culture, rather than of regional ones.

Forms, genres, media, and styles

Napoleon I on his Imperial Throneby Ingres (French, 1806), oil on canvas

The creative arts are often divided into more specific categories, typically along perceptually distinguishable categories such as media, genre, styles, and form.[31] Art form refers to the elements of art that are independent of its interpretation or significance. It covers the methods adopted by the artist and the physical composition of the artwork, primarily non-semantic aspects of the work (i.e., figurae),[32]such as colorcontourdimensionmediummelodyspacetexture, and value. Form may also include visual design principles, such as arrangement, balancecontrastemphasisharmonyproportionproximity, and rhythm.[33]

In general there are three schools of philosophy regarding art, focusing respectively on form, content, and context.[33] Extreme Formalismis the view that all aesthetic properties of art are formal (that is, part of the art form). Philosophers almost universally reject this view and hold that the properties and aesthetics of art extend beyond materials, techniques, and form.[34] Unfortunately, there is little consensus on terminology for these informal properties. Some authors refer to subject matter and content – i.e., denotations and connotations – while others prefer terms like meaning and significance.[33]

Extreme Intentionalism holds that authorial intent plays a decisive role in the meaning of a work of art, conveying the content or essential main idea, while all other interpretations can be discarded.[35] It defines the subject as the persons or idea represented,[36] and the content as the artist’s experience of that subject.[37] For example, the composition of Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne is partly borrowed from the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. As evidenced by the title, the subject is Napoleon, and the content is Ingres‘s representation of Napoleon as “Emperor-God beyond time and space”.[33] Similarly to extreme formalism, philosophers typically reject extreme intentionalism, because art may have multiple ambiguous meanings and authorial intent may be unknowable and thus irrelevant. Its restrictive interpretation is “socially unhealthy, philosophically unreal, and politically unwise”.[33]

Finally, the developing theory of post-structuralism studies art’s significance in a cultural context, such as the ideas, emotions, and reactions prompted by a work.[38] The cultural context often reduces to the artist’s techniques and intentions, in which case analysis proceeds along lines similar to formalism and intentionalism. However, in other cases historical and material conditions may predominate, such as religious and philosophical convictions, sociopolitical and economic structures, or even climate and geography. Art criticism continues to grow and develop alongside art.[33]

Skill and craft

Adam. Detail from Michelangelo‘s fresco in the Sistine Chapel (1511)

Detail of Leonardo da Vinci‘s Mona Lisa, showing the painting technique of sfumato

Art can connote a sense of trained ability or mastery of a medium. Art can also simply refer to the developed and efficient use of a language to convey meaning with immediacy and or depth. Art can be defined as an act of expressing feelings, thoughts, and observations.[39]

There is an understanding that is reached with the material as a result of handling it, which facilitates one’s thought processes. A common view is that the epithet “art”, particular in its elevated sense, requires a certain level of creative expertise by the artist, whether this be a demonstration of technical ability, an originality in stylistic approach, or a combination of these two. Traditionally skill of execution was viewed as a quality inseparable from art and thus necessary for its success; for Leonardo da Vinci, art, neither more nor less than his other endeavors, was a manifestation of skill. Rembrandt‘s work, now praised for its ephemeral virtues, was most admired by his contemporaries for its virtuosity. At the turn of the 20th century, the adroit performances of John Singer Sargentwere alternately admired and viewed with skepticism for their manual fluency, yet at nearly the same time the artist who would become the era’s most recognized and peripatetic iconoclast, Pablo Picasso, was completing a traditional academic training at which he excelled.

A common contemporary criticism of some modern art occurs along the lines of objecting to the apparent lack of skill or ability required in the production of the artistic object. In conceptual art, Marcel Duchamp‘s “Fountain” is among the first examples of pieces wherein the artist used found objects (“ready-made”) and exercised no traditionally recognised set of skills. Tracey Emin‘s My Bed, or Damien Hirst‘s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living follow this example and also manipulate the mass media. Emin slept (and engaged in other activities) in her bed before placing the result in a gallery as work of art. Hirst came up with the conceptual design for the artwork but has left most of the eventual creation of many works to employed artisans. Hirst’s celebrity is founded entirely on his ability to produce shocking concepts. The actual production in many conceptual and contemporary works of art is a matter of assembly of found objects. However, there are many modernist and contemporary artists who continue to excel in the skills of drawing and painting and in creating hands-on works of art.


Navajo rug made circa 1880

Mozarabic Beatus miniature. Spain, late 10th century

Art has had a great number of different functions throughout its history, making its purpose difficult to abstract or quantify to any single concept. This does not imply that the purpose of Art is “vague”, but that it has had many unique, different reasons for being created. Some of these functions of Art are provided in the following outline. The different purposes of art may be grouped according to those that are non-motivated, and those that are motivated (Lévi-Strauss).

Non-motivated functions

The non-motivated purposes of art are those that are integral to being human, transcend the individual, or do not fulfill a specific external purpose. In this sense, Art, as creativity, is something humans must do by their very nature (i.e., no other species creates art), and is therefore beyond utility.

  1. Basic human instinct for harmony, balance, rhythm. Art at this level is not an action or an object, but an internal appreciation of balance and harmony (beauty), and therefore an aspect of being human beyond utility.

    “Imitation, then, is one instinct of our nature. Next, there is the instinct for ‘harmony’ and rhythm, meters being manifestly sections of rhythm. Persons, therefore, starting with this natural gift developed by degrees their special aptitudes, till their rude improvisations gave birth to Poetry.” -Aristotle[40]

  2. Experience of the mysterious. Art provides a way to experience one’s self in relation to the universe. This experience may often come unmotivated, as one appreciates art, music or poetry.

    “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” – Albert Einstein[41]

  3. Expression of the imagination. Art provides a means to express the imagination in non-grammatic ways that are not tied to the formality of spoken or written language. Unlike words, which come in sequences and each of which have a definite meaning, art provides a range of forms, symbols and ideas with meanings that are malleable.

    “Jupiter’s eagle [as an example of art] is not, like logical (aesthetic) attributes of an object, the concept of the sublimity and majesty of creation, but rather something else—something that gives the imagination an incentive to spread its flight over a whole host of kindred representations that provoke more thought than admits of expression in a concept determined by words. They furnish an aesthetic idea, which serves the above rational idea as a substitute for logical presentation, but with the proper function, however, of animating the mind by opening out for it a prospect into a field of kindred representations stretching beyond its ken.” -Immanuel Kant[42]

  4. Ritualistic and symbolic functions. In many cultures, art is used in rituals, performances and dances as a decoration or symbol. While these often have no specific utilitarian (motivated) purpose, anthropologists know that they often serve a purpose at the level of meaning within a particular culture. This meaning is not furnished by any one individual, but is often the result of many generations of change, and of a cosmological relationship within the culture.

    “Most scholars who deal with rock paintings or objects recovered from prehistoric contexts that cannot be explained in utilitarian terms and are thus categorized as decorative, ritual or symbolic, are aware of the trap posed by the term ‘art’.” -Silva Tomaskova[43]

Motivated functions

Motivated purposes of art refer to intentional, conscious actions on the part of the artists or creator. These may be to bring about political change, to comment on an aspect of society, to convey a specific emotion or mood, to address personal psychology, to illustrate another discipline, to (with commercial arts) sell a product, or simply as a form of communication.

  1. Communication. Art, at its simplest, is a form of communication. As most forms of communication have an intent or goal directed toward another individual, this is a motivated purpose. Illustrative arts, such as scientific illustration, are a form of art as communication. Maps are another example. However, the content need not be scientific. Emotions, moods and feelings are also communicated through art.

    “[Art is a set of] artefacts or images with symbolic meanings as a means of communication.” – Steve Mithen[44]

  2. Art as entertainment. Art may seek to bring about a particular emotion or mood, for the purpose of relaxing or entertaining the viewer. This is often the function of the art industries of Motion Pictures and Video Games.[citation needed]
  3. The Avante-Garde. Art for political change. One of the defining functions of early twentieth-century art has been to use visual images to bring about political change. Art movements that had this goal—DadaismSurrealismRussian constructivism, and Abstract Expressionism, among others—are collectively referred to as the avante-gardearts.

    “By contrast, the realistic attitude, inspired by positivism, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Anatole France, clearly seems to me to be hostile to any intellectual or moral advancement. I loathe it, for it is made up of mediocrity, hate, and dull conceit. It is this attitude which today gives birth to these ridiculous books, these insulting plays. It constantly feeds on and derives strength from the newspapers and stultifies both science and art by assiduously flattering the lowest of tastes; clarity bordering on stupidity, a dog’s life.” – André Breton (Surrealism)[45]

  4. Art as a “free zone”, removed from the action of the social censure. Unlike the avant-garde movements, which wanted to erase cultural differences in order to produce new universal values, contemporary art has enhanced its tolerance towards cultural differences as well as its critical and liberating functions (social inquiry, activism, subversion, deconstruction …), becoming a more open place for research and experimentation.[46]
  5. Art for social inquiry, subversion and/or anarchy. While similar to art for political change, subversive or deconstructivist art may seek to question aspects of society without any specific political goal. In this case, the function of art may be simply to criticize some aspect of society.

    Spray-paint graffiti on a wall in Rome

    Graffiti art and other types of street art are graphics and images that are spray-painted or stencilled on publicly viewable walls, buildings, buses, trains, and bridges, usually without permission. Certain art forms, such as graffiti, may also be illegal when they break laws (in this case vandalism).

  6. Art for social causes. Art can be used to raise awareness for a large variety of causes. A number of art activities were aimed at raising awareness of autism,[47][48][49]cancer,[50][51][52] human trafficking,[53][54] and a variety of other topics, such as ocean conservation,[55] human rights in Darfur,[56] murdered and missing Aboriginal women,[57] elder abuse,[58] and pollution.[59] Trashion, using trash to make fashion, practiced by artists such as Marina DeBris is one example of using art to raise awareness about pollution.
  7. Art for psychological and healing purposes. Art is also used by art therapists, psychotherapists and clinical psychologists as art therapy. The Diagnostic Drawing Series, for example, is used to determine the personality and emotional functioning of a patient. The end product is not the principal goal in this case, but rather a process of healing, through creative acts, is sought. The resultant piece of artwork may also offer insight into the troubles experienced by the subject and may suggest suitable approaches to be used in more conventional forms of psychiatric therapy.
  8. Art for propaganda, or commercialism. Art is often utilized as a form of propaganda, and thus can be used to subtly influence popular conceptions or mood. In a similar way, art that tries to sell a product also influences mood and emotion. In both cases, the purpose of art here is to subtly manipulate the viewer into a particular emotional or psychological response toward a particular idea or object.[60]
  9. Art as a fitness indicator. It has been argued that the ability of the human brain by far exceeds what was needed for survival in the ancestral environment. One evolutionary psychology explanation for this is that the human brain and associated traits (such as artistic ability and creativity) are the human equivalent of the peacock‘s tail. The purpose of the male peacock’s extravagant tail has been argued to be to attract females (see also Fisherian runaway and handicap principle). According to this theory superior execution of art was evolutionary important because it attracted mates.[61]

The functions of art described above are not mutually exclusive, as many of them may overlap. For example, art for the purpose of entertainment may also seek to sell a product, i.e. the movie or video game.

Public access

Versailles: Louis Le Vau opened up the interior court to create the expansive entrance cour d’honneur, later copied all over Europe.

Since ancient times, much of the finest art has represented a deliberate display of wealth or power, often achieved by using massive scale and expensive materials. Much art has been commissioned by political rulers or religious establishments, with more modest versions only available to the most wealthy in society.

Nevertheless, there have been many periods where art of very high quality was available, in terms of ownership, across large parts of society, above all in cheap media such as pottery, which persists in the ground, and perishable media such as textiles and wood. In many different cultures, the ceramics of indigenous peoples of the Americas are found in such a wide range of graves that they were clearly not restricted to a social elite, though other forms of art may have been. Reproductive methods such as moulds made mass-production easier, and were used to bring high-quality Ancient Roman potteryand Greek Tanagra figurines to a very wide market. Cylinder seals were both artistic and practical, and very widely used by what can be loosely called the middle class in the Ancient Near East. Once coins were widely used these also became an art form that reached the widest range of society.

Another important innovation came in the 15th century in Europe, when printmaking began with small woodcuts, mostly religious, that were often very small and hand-colored, and affordable even by peasants who glued them to the walls of their homes. Printed books were initially very expensive, but fell steadily in price until by the 19th century even the poorest could afford some with printed illustrations. Popular prints of many different sorts have decorated homes and other places for centuries.

Public buildings and monuments, secular and religious, by their nature normally address the whole of society, and visitors as viewers, and display to the general public has long been an important factor in their design. Egyptian temples are typical in that the most largest and most lavish decoration was placed on the parts that could be seen by the general public, rather than the areas seen only by the priests. Many areas of royal palaces, castles and the houses of the social elite were often generally accessible, and large parts of the art collections of such people could often be seen, either by anybody, or by those able to pay a small price, or those wearing the correct clothes, regardless of who they were, as at the Palace of Versailles, where the appropriate extra accessories (silver shoe buckles and a sword) could be hired from shops outside.

Special arrangements were made to allow the public to see many royal or private collections placed in galleries, as with the Orleans Collection mostly housed in a wing of the Palais Royal in Paris, which could be visited for most of the 18th century. In Italy the art tourism of the Grand Tour became a major industry from the Renaissance onwards, and governments and cities made efforts to make their key works accessible. The British Royal Collection remains distinct, but large donations such as the Old Royal Library were made from it to the British Museum, established in 1753. The Uffizi in Florence opened entirely as a gallery in 1765, though this function had been gradually taking the building over from the original civil servants’ offices for a long time before. The building now occupied by the Prado in Madrid was built before the French Revolution for the public display of parts of the royal art collection, and similar royal galleries open to the public existed in Vienna, Munich and other capitals. The opening of the Musée du Louvre during the French Revolution (in 1793) as a public museum for much of the former French royal collection certainly marked an important stage in the development of public access to art, transferring ownership to a republican state, but was a continuation of trends already well established.

Most modern public museums and art education programs for children in schools can be traced back to this impulse to have art available to everyone. Museums in the United States tend to be gifts from the very rich to the masses. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for example, was created by John Taylor Johnston, a railroad executive whose personal art collection seeded the museum.) But despite all this, at least one of the important functions of art in the 21st century remains as a marker of wealth and social status.

Performance by Joseph Beuys, 1978: Everyone an artist – On the way to the libertarian form of the social organism

There have been attempts by artists to create art that can not be bought by the wealthy as a status object. One of the prime original motivators of much of the art of the late 1960s and 1970s was to create art that could not be bought and sold. It is “necessary to present something more than mere objects”[62] said the major post war German artist Joseph Beuys. This time period saw the rise of such things as performance artvideo art, and conceptual art. The idea was that if the artwork was a performance that would leave nothing behind, or was simply an idea, it could not be bought and sold. “Democratic precepts revolving around the idea that a work of art is a commodity impelled the aesthetic innovation which germinated in the mid-1960s and was reaped throughout the 1970s. Artists broadly identified under the heading of Conceptual art … substituting performance and publishing activities for engagement with both the material and materialistic concerns of painted or sculptural form … [have] endeavored to undermine the art object qua object.”[63]

In the decades since, these ideas have been somewhat lost as the art market has learned to sell limited edition DVDs of video works,[64]invitations to exclusive performance art pieces, and the objects left over from conceptual pieces. Many of these performances create works that are only understood by the elite who have been educated as to why an idea or video or piece of apparent garbage may be considered art. The marker of status becomes understanding the work instead of necessarily owning it, and the artwork remains an upper-class activity. “With the widespread use of DVD recording technology in the early 2000s, artists, and the gallery system that derives its profits from the sale of artworks, gained an important means of controlling the sale of video and computer artworks in limited editions to collectors.”[65]


Art has long been controversial, that is to say disliked by some viewers, for a wide variety of reasons, though most pre-modern controversies are dimly recorded, or completely lost to a modern view. Iconoclasm is the destruction of art that is disliked for a variety of reasons, including religious ones. Aniconism is a general dislike of either all figurative images, or often just religious ones, and has been a thread in many major religions. It has been a crucial factor in the history of Islamic art, where depictions of Muhammad remain especially controversial. Much art has been disliked purely because it depicted or otherwise stood for unpopular rulers, parties or other groups. Artistic conventions have often been conservative and taken very seriously by art critics, though often much less so by a wider public. The iconographiccontent of art could cause controversy, as with late medieval depictions of the new motif of the Swoon of the Virgin in scenes of the Crucifixion of JesusThe Last Judgment by Michelangelo was controversial for various reasons, including breaches of decorum through nudity and the Apollo-like pose of Christ.

The content of much formal art through history was dictated by the patron or commissioner rather than just the artist, but with the advent of Romanticism, and economic changes in the production of art, the artists’ vision became the usual determinant of the content of his art, increasing the incidence of controversies, though often reducing their significance. Strong incentives for perceived originality and publicity also encouraged artists to court controversy. Théodore Géricault‘s Raft of the Medusa (c. 1820), was in part a political commentary on a recent event. Édouard Manet‘s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1863), was considered scandalous not because of the nude woman, but because she is seated next to men fully dressed in the clothing of the time, rather than in robes of the antique world. John Singer Sargent‘s Madame Pierre Gautreau (Madam X) (1884), caused a controversy over the reddish pink used to color the woman’s ear lobe, considered far too suggestive and supposedly ruining the high-society model’s reputation.

The gradual abandonment of naturalism and the depiction of realistic representations of the visual appearance of subjects in the 19th and 20th centuries led to a rolling controversy lasting for over a century. In the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso‘s Guernica (1937) used arresting cubist techniques and stark monochromatic oils, to depict the harrowing consequences of a contemporary bombing of a small, ancient Basque town. Leon Golub‘s Interrogation III (1981), depicts a female nude, hooded detainee strapped to a chair, her legs open to reveal her sexual organs, surrounded by two tormentors dressed in everyday clothing. Andres Serrano‘s Piss Christ (1989) is a photograph of a crucifix, sacred to the Christian religion and representing Christ‘s sacrifice and final suffering, submerged in a glass of the artist’s own urine. The resulting uproar led to comments in the United States Senate about public funding of the arts.


Before Modernism, aesthetics in Western art was greatly concerned with achieving the appropriate balance between different aspects of realism or truth to nature and the ideal; ideas as to what the appropriate balance is have shifted to and fro over the centuries. This concern is largely absent in other traditions of art. The aesthetic theorist John Ruskin, who championed what he saw as the naturalism of J. M. W. Turner, saw art’s role as the communication by artifice of an essential truth that could only be found in nature.[66]

The definition and evaluation of art has become especially problematic since the 20th century. Richard Wollheim distinguishes three approaches to assessing the aesthetic value of art: the Realist, whereby aesthetic quality is an absolute value independent of any human view; the Objectivist, whereby it is also an absolute value, but is dependent on general human experience; and the Relativist position, whereby it is not an absolute value, but depends on, and varies with, the human experience of different humans.[67]

Arrival of Modernism

Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow (1930) by Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872–1944)

The arrival of Modernism in the late nineteenth century lead to a radical break in the conception of the function of art,[68] and then again in the late twentieth century with the advent of postmodernismClement Greenberg‘s 1960 article “Modernist Painting” defines modern art as “the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself”.[69] Greenberg originally applied this idea to the Abstract Expressionist movement and used it as a way to understand and justify flat (non-illusionistic) abstract painting:

Realistic, naturalistic art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art; modernism used art to call attention to art. The limitations that constitute the medium of painting—the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of the pigment—were treated by the Old Masters as negative factors that could be acknowledged only implicitly or indirectly. Under Modernism these same limitations came to be regarded as positive factors, and were acknowledged openly.[69]

After Greenberg, several important art theorists emerged, such as Michael FriedT. J. ClarkRosalind KraussLinda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock among others. Though only originally intended as a way of understanding a specific set of artists, Greenberg’s definition of modern art is important to many of the ideas of art within the various art movements of the 20th century and early 21st century.

Pop artists like Andy Warhol became both noteworthy and influential through work including and possibly critiquing popular culture, as well as the art world. Artists of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s expanded this technique of self-criticism beyond high art to all cultural image-making, including fashion images, comics, billboards and pornography.

Duchamp once proposed that art is any activity of any kind- everything. However, the way that only certain activities are classified today as art is a social construction.[70] There is evidence that there may be an element of truth to this. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History is an art history book which examines the construction of the modern system of the arts i.e. Fine Art. Shiner finds evidence that the older system of the arts before our modern system (fine art) held art to be any skilled human activity i.e. Ancient Greek society did not possess the term art but techne. Techne can be understood neither as art or craft, the reason being that the distinctions of art and craft are historical products that came later on in human history. Techne included painting, sculpting and music but also; cooking, medicine, horsemanshipgeometrycarpentryprophecy, and farming etc.

New Criticism and the “intentional fallacy”

Following Duchamp during the first half of the twentieth century, a significant shift to general aesthetic theory took place which attempted to apply aesthetic theory between various forms of art, including the literary arts and the visual arts, to each other. This resulted in the rise of the New Criticism school and debate concerning the intentional fallacy. At issue was the question of whether the aesthetic intentions of the artist in creating the work of art, whatever its specific form, should be associated with the criticism and evaluation of the final product of the work of art, or, if the work of art should be evaluated on its own merits independent of the intentions of the artist.

In 1946, William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley published a classic and controversial New Critical essay entitled “The Intentional Fallacy“, in which they argued strongly against the relevance of an author’s intention, or “intended meaning” in the analysis of a literary work. For Wimsatt and Beardsley, the words on the page were all that mattered; importation of meanings from outside the text was considered irrelevant, and potentially distracting.

In another essay, “The Affective Fallacy,” which served as a kind of sister essay to “The Intentional Fallacy” Wimsatt and Beardsley also discounted the reader’s personal/emotional reaction to a literary work as a valid means of analyzing a text. This fallacy would later be repudiated by theorists from the reader-response school of literary theory. Ironically, one of the leading theorists from this school, Stanley Fish, was himself trained by New Critics. Fish criticizes Wimsatt and Beardsley in his essay “Literature in the Reader” (1970).[71]

As summarized by Gaut and Livingston in their essay “The Creation of Art”: “Structuralist and post-structuralists theorists and critics were sharply critical of many aspects of New Criticism, beginning with the emphasis on aesthetic appreciation and the so-called autonomy of art, but they reiterated the attack on biographical criticisms’s assumption that the artist’s activities and experience were a privileged critical topic.”[72] These authors contend that: “Anti-intentionalists, such as formalists, hold that the intentions involved in the making of art are irrelevant or peripheral to correctly interpreting art. So details of the act of creating a work, though possibly of interest in themselves, have no bearing on the correct interpretation of the work.”[73]

Gaut and Livingston define the intentionalists as distinct from formalists stating that: “Intentionalists, unlike formalists, hold that reference to intentions is essential in fixing the correct interpretation of works.” They quote Richard Wollheim as stating that, “The task of criticism is the reconstruction of the creative process, where the creative process must in turn be thought of as something not stopping short of, but terminating on, the work of art itself.”[73]

“Linguistic turn” and its debate

The end of the 20th century fostered an extensive debate known as the linguistic turn controversy, or the “innocent eye debate”, and generally referred to as the structuralism-poststructuralism debate in the philosophy of art. This debate discussed the encounter of the work of art as being determined by the relative extent to which the conceptual encounter with the work of art dominates over the perceptual encounter with the work of art.[74]

Decisive for the linguistic turn debate in art history and the humanities were the works of yet another tradition, namely the structuralism of Ferdinand de Saussure and the ensuing movement of poststructuralism. In 1981, the artist Mark Tansey created a work of art titled “The Innocent Eye” as a criticism of the prevailing climate of disagreement in the philosophy of art during the closing decades of the 20th century. Influential theorists include Judith ButlerLuce IrigarayJulia KristevaMichel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. The power of language, more specifically of certain rhetorical tropes, in art history and historical discourse was explored by Hayden White. The fact that language is not a transparent medium of thought had been stressed by a very different form of philosophy of language which originated in the works of Johann Georg Hamann and Wilhelm von Humboldt.[75] Ernst Gombrich and Nelson Goodman in his book Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols came to hold that the conceptual encounter with the work of art predominated exclusively over the perceptual and visual encounter with the work of art during the 1960s and 1970s.[76] He was challenged on the basis of research done by the Nobel prize winning psychologist Roger Sperry who maintained that the human visual encounter was not limited to concepts represented in language alone (the linguistic turn) and that other forms of psychological representations of the work of art were equally defensible and demonstrable. Sperry’s view eventually prevailed by the end of the 20th century with aesthetic philosophers such as Nick Zangwill strongly defending a return to moderate aesthetic formalism among other alternatives.[77]

Classification disputes

The original Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, 1917, photographed by Alfred Stieglitz at the 291 after the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibit. Stieglitz used a backdrop of The Warriors by Marsden Hartley to photograph the urinal. The exhibition entry tag can be clearly seen.[78]

Disputes as to whether or not to classify something as a work of art are referred to as classificatory disputes about art. Classificatory disputes in the 20th century have included cubist and impressionist paintings, Duchamp‘s Fountain, the movies, superlative imitations of banknotesconceptual art, and video games.[79] Philosopher David Novitz has argued that disagreement about the definition of art are rarely the heart of the problem. Rather, “the passionate concerns and interests that humans vest in their social life” are “so much a part of all classificatory disputes about art” (Novitz, 1996). According to Novitz, classificatory disputes are more often disputes about societal values and where society is trying to go than they are about theory proper. For example, when the Daily Mail criticized Hirst‘s and Emin‘s work by arguing “For 1,000 years art has been one of our great civilising forces. Today, pickled sheep and soiled beds threaten to make barbarians of us all” they are not advancing a definition or theory about art, but questioning the value of Hirst’s and Emin’s work.[80] In 1998, Arthur Danto, suggested a thought experiment showing that “the status of an artifact as work of art results from the ideas a culture applies to it, rather than its inherent physical or perceptible qualities. Cultural interpretation (an art theory of some kind) is therefore constitutive of an object’s arthood.”[81][82]

Anti-art is a label for art that intentionally challenges the established parameters and values of art;[83] it is term associated with Dadaismand attributed to Marcel Duchamp just before World War I,[83] when he was making art from found objects.[83] One of these, Fountain(1917), an ordinary urinal, has achieved considerable prominence and influence on art.[83] Anti-art is a feature of work by Situationist International,[84] the lo-fi Mail art movement, and the Young British Artists,[83] though it is a form still rejected by the Stuckists,[83] who describe themselves as anti-anti-art.[85][86]

Value judgment

Aboriginal hollow log tombs. National Gallery, Canberra, Australia

Somewhat in relation to the above, the word art is also used to apply judgments of value, as in such expressions as “that meal was a work of art” (the cook is an artist), or “the art of deception”, (the highly attained level of skill of the deceiver is praised). It is this use of the word as a measure of high quality and high value that gives the term its flavor of subjectivity. Making judgments of value requires a basis for criticism. At the simplest level, a way to determine whether the impact of the object on the senses meets the criteria to be considered art is whether it is perceived to be attractive or repulsive. Though perception is always colored by experience, and is necessarily subjective, it is commonly understood that what is not somehow aesthetically satisfying cannot be art. However, “good” art is not always or even regularly aesthetically appealing to a majority of viewers. In other words, an artist’s prime motivation need not be the pursuit of the aesthetic. Also, art often depicts terrible images made for social, moral, or thought-provoking reasons. For example, Francisco Goya‘s painting depicting the Spanish shootings of 3rd of May 1808 is a graphic depiction of a firing squad executing several pleading civilians. Yet at the same time, the horrific imagery demonstrates Goya’s keen artistic ability in composition and execution and produces fitting social and political outrage. Thus, the debate continues as to what mode of aesthetic satisfaction, if any, is required to define ‘art’.

The assumption of new values or the rebellion against accepted notions of what is aesthetically superior need not occur concurrently with a complete abandonment of the pursuit of what is aesthetically appealing. Indeed, the reverse is often true, that the revision of what is popularly conceived of as being aesthetically appealing allows for a re-invigoration of aesthetic sensibility, and a new appreciation for the standards of art itself. Countless schools have proposed their own ways to define quality, yet they all seem to agree in at least one point: once their aesthetic choices are accepted, the value of the work of art is determined by its capacity to transcend the limits of its chosen medium to strike some universal chord by the rarity of the skill of the artist or in its accurate reflection in what is termed the zeitgeist. Art is often intended to appeal to and connect with human emotion. It can arouse aesthetic or moral feelings, and can be understood as a way of communicating these feelings. Artists express something so that their audience is aroused to some extent, but they do not have to do so consciously. Art may be considered an exploration of the human condition; that is, what it is to be human.[87]

See also


  1. Jump up to:a b “Art: definition”. Oxford Dictionaries.
  2. Jump up^ “art”. Merriam-Websters Dictionary.
  3. Jump up^ Is advertising art?
  4. Jump up^ “Art, n. 1”. OED Online. December 2011. Oxford University Press. (Accessed 26 February 2012.)
  5. Jump up^ Gombrich, Ernst. (2005). “Press statement on The Story of Art”The Gombrich Archive. Archived from the original on 6 October 2008. Retrieved 18 November 2008.
  6. Jump up^ Stephen Davies (1991). Definitions of Art. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-9794-0.
  7. Jump up^ Robert Stecker (1997). Artworks: Definition, Meaning, Value. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 978-0-271-01596-5.
  8. Jump up^ Noël Carroll, ed. (2000). Theories of Art Today. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-16354-9.
  9. Jump up^ Dr. Robert J. Belton. “What Is Art?”. Archived from the original on 27 April 2012.
  10. Jump up to:a b “art”Encyclopædia Britannica.
  11. Jump up^ Kennick, William ed,[clarification needed] and W. E. Kennick, Art and philosophy: readings in aesthetics New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979, pp. xi–xiii. ISBN 0-312-05391-6.
  12. Jump up^ Elkins, James “Art History and Images That Are Not Art”, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 47, No. 4 (December 1995), with previous bibliography. “Non-Western images are not well described in terms of art, and neither are medieval paintings that were made in the absence of humanist ideas of artistic value”. 553
  13. Jump up^ Aristotle, Poetics I 1447a
  14. Jump up^ Aristotle, Poetics III
  15. Jump up^ Aristotle, Poetics IV
  16. Jump up^ The New Shorter Oxford English DictionaryOxford University Press, Oxford 1993, p. 120
  17. Jump up^ David Novitz, The Boundaries of Art, 1992
  18. Jump up^ Richard Wollheim, Art and its objects, p. 1, 2nd ed., 1980, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-29706-0
  19. Jump up to:a b Jerrold Levinson, The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 5. ISBN 0-19-927945-4
  20. Jump up^ Jerrold Levinson, The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 16. ISBN 0-19-927945-4
  21. Jump up^ R.G. Collingwood’s view, expressed in The Principles of Art, is considered in Wollheim, op. cit. 1980 pp. 36–43
  22. Jump up^ Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”, in Poetry, Language, Thought, (Harper Perennial, 2001). See also Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Cézanne’s Doubt” in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, Galen Johnson and Michael Smith (eds), (Northwestern University Press, 1994) and John RussonBearing Witness to Epiphany, (State University of New York Press, 2009).
  23. Jump up^ Kennick, William ed, and W. E. Kennick, Art and philosophy: readings in aestheticsNew York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979, p. 89. ISBN 0-312-05391-6
  24. Jump up^ Shiner 2003. The Invention of Art: A Cultural HistoryChicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-226-75342-3
  25. Jump up^ “World’s oldest art found in Indonesian cave” 8 October 2014. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  26. Jump up^ Radford, Tim. “World’s Oldest Jewellery Found in Cave”Guardian Unlimited, 16 April 2004. Retrieved on 18 January 2008.
  27. Jump up^ “African Cave Yields Evidence of a Prehistoric Paint Factory”The New York Times. 13 October 2011.
  28. Jump up^ “Shell ‘Art’ Made 300,000 Years Before Humans Evolved”New ScientistReed Business Information Ltd. 3 December 2014.
  29. Jump up^ John Stothoff Badeau and John Richard Hayes, The Genius of Arab civilization: source of Renaissance. Taylor & Francis. 1983. p. 104
  30. Jump up^ Adorno, Theodor W., Aesthetic Theory, (1970 in German)
  31. Jump up^ Walton, Kendall L. (1 January 1970). “Categories of Art”. The Philosophical Review79 (3): 334–67. doi:10.2307/2183933JSTOR 2183933.
  32. Jump up^ Monelle, Raymond (3 January 1992). Linguistics and Semiotics in Music. Routledge. p. 202. ISBN 978-3718652099. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  33. Jump up to:a b c d e f Belton, Dr. Robert J. (1996). “The Elements of Art”Art History: A Preliminary Handbook.
  34. Jump up^ Xu, Min; Deng, Guifang (2 December 2014). “Against Zangwill’s Extreme Formalism About Inorganic Nature” (PDF). Philosophia43 (1): 249–57. doi:10.1007/s11406-014-9575-1. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  35. Jump up^ Livingston, Paisley (1998). “Intentionalism in Aesthetics”New Literary History29(4): 831–46. doi:10.1353/nlh.1998.0042.
  36. Jump up^ Munk, Eduard; Beck, Charles; Felton, Cornelius Conway (1844). The Metres of the Greeks and Romans. p. 1. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  37. Jump up^ Tolstoy, Leo (1899). What is Art?. Crowell. p. 24. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  38. Jump up^ Emiroğlu, Melahat Küçükarslan; Koş, Fitnat Cimşit (16–20 September 2014). Design Semiotics and Post-Structuralism. 12th World Congress of Semiotics. New Bulgarian University. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  39. Jump up^ Breskin, Vladimir, “Triad: Method for studying the core of the semiotic parity of language and art”Signs – International Journal of Semiotics 3, pp. 1–28, 2010. ISSN 1902-8822
  40. Jump up^ Aristotle. “[Book 10:] The Poetics”. Note: Although speaking mostly of poetry here, the Ancient Greeks often speak of the arts collectively.
  41. Jump up^ Einstein, Albert. “The World as I See It”.
  42. Jump up^ Immanuel Kant, Critique of Aesthetic Judgement (1790).
  43. Jump up^ Silvia Tomaskova, Places of Art: Art and Archaeology in Context: (1997)
  44. Jump up^ Steve Mithen. The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science. 1999
  45. Jump up^ André Breton, Surrealist Manifesto (1924)
  46. Jump up^ According to Maurizio Bolognini this is not only associated with the postmodernrejection of all canons but with a process of secularization of art, which is finally considered as “a mere (albeit essential) convention, sustained and reproduced by the art system (artists, galleries, critics, collectors), providing a free zone, that is, a more open place for experimentation, removed from the constraints of the practical sphere.”: see Maurizio Bolognini (2008). Postdigitale. Rome: Carocci. ISBN 978-88-430-4739-0.chap. 3.
  47. Jump up^ Trotter, Jeramia (15 February 2011). “RiverKings raising autism awareness with art”WMC tv. Archived from the original on 22 February 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  48. Jump up^ “Art exhibit aims to raise awareness of autism”Daily News-Miner. 4 April 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  49. Jump up^ “Anchorage art exhibit to raise awareness about autism” (PDF). Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  50. Jump up^ Ruhl, Ashleigh (18 February 2013). “Photographer Seeks Subjects To Help Raise Cancer Awareness”Gazettes. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  51. Jump up^ “Bra art raising awareness for breast cancer”The Palm Beach Post. n.d. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  52. Jump up^ Flynn, Marella (10 January 2007). “October art walk aims to raise money, awareness for breast cancer”Flagler College Gargoyle. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  53. Jump up^ “Students get creative in the fight against human trafficking”WDTN Channel 2 News. 26 November 2012. Archived from the original on June 30, 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  54. Jump up^ “Looking to raise awareness at ArtPrize”WWMT, Newschannel 3. 10 January 2012. Archived from the original on 6 October 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  55. Jump up^ “SciCafe – Art/Sci Collision: Raising Ocean Conservation Awareness”. American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  56. Jump up^ “SMU students raise awareness with ‘Art for Darfur'”SMU News Release. 4 March 2008. Archived from the original on 3 April 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2003.
  57. Jump up^ Donnelly, Greg (3 May 2012). “Red dress art project to raise awareness of murdered and missing Aboriginal women”Global Edmonton. Retrieved 21 February2013.[dead link]
  58. Jump up^ “Raising elder abuse awareness through intergenerational art”. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  59. Jump up^ Mathema, Paavan (16 January 2013). “Trash to treasure: Turning Mt. Everest waste into art”CNN. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  60. Jump up^ Roland BarthesMythologies
  61. Jump up^ Dutton, Denis. 2003. “Aesthetics and Evolutionary Psychology” in The Oxford Handbook for Aesthetics. Oxford University Press.
  62. Jump up^ Sharp, Willoughby (December 1969). “An Interview with Joseph Beuys”. ArtForum8(4): 45.
  63. Jump up^ Rorimer, Anne: New Art in the 60s and 70s Redefining Reality, p. 35. Thames and Hudson, 2001.
  64. Jump up^ Fineman, Mia (21 March 2007). “YouTube for Artists The best places to find video art online”Slate. Retrieved 3 August 2007.
  65. Jump up^ Robertson, Jean and Craig McDaniel: Themes of Contemporary Art, Visual Art after 1980, p. 16. Oxford University Press, 2005.
  66. Jump up^ “go to nature in all singleness of heart, rejecting nothing and selecting nothing, and scorning nothing, believing all things are right and good, and rejoicing always in the truth”. Ruskin, JohnModern Painters, Volume I, 1843. London: Smith, Elder and Co.
  67. Jump up^ Wollheim 1980, Essay VI. pp. 231–39.
  68. Jump up^ Griselda Pollock, Differencing the Canon. Routledge, London & New York, 1999. ISBN 0-415-06700-6
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  72. Jump up^ Gaut and Livingston, The Creation of Art, p. 3.
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  74. Jump up^ Philosophy for Architecture, Branco Mitrovic, 2012.
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  76. Jump up^ Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1976. Based on his 1960–61 John Locke lectures.
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  78. Jump up^ Tomkins, Duchamp: A Biography, p. 186.
  79. Jump up^ Deborah Solomon (14 December 2003). “2003: the 3rd Annual Year in Ideas: Video Game Art”The New York Times Magazine.
  80. Jump up^ Painter, Colin. Contemporary Art and the Home. Berg Publishers, 2002. p. 12. ISBN 1-85973-661-0
  81. Jump up^ Dutton, Denis “Tribal Art” in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, edited by Michael Kelly (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
  82. Jump up^ Danto, Arthur. “Artifact and Art” in Art/Artifact, edited by Susan Vogel. New York, 1988.
  83. Jump up to:a b c d e f “Glossary: Anti-art”Tate. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
  84. Jump up^ Schneider, Caroline. “Asger Jorn”Artforum, 1 September 2001. Retrieved from, 24 January 2010. Archived 13 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  85. Jump up^ Ferguson, Euan. “In bed with Tracey, Sarah … and Ron”The Observer, 20 April 2003. Retrieved on 2 May 2009.
  86. Jump up^ “Stuck on the Turner Prize”artnet, 27 October 2000. Retrieved on 2 May 2009.
  87. Jump up^ Graham, Gordon (2005). Philosophy of the arts: an introduction to aesthetics. Taylor & Francis.


  • Shiner, Larry. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-226-75342-3
  • Arthur DantoThe Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art. 2003
  • Dana Arnold and Margaret Iverson (eds.) Art and Thought. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2003
  • Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey (eds.) Art History Aesthetics Visual Studies. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN 0300097891
  • John Whitehead. Grasping for the Wind, 2001
  • Noel Carroll, Theories of Art Today, 2000
  • Evelyn Hatcher, ed. Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art, 1999
  • Catherine de Zegher (ed.). Inside the Visible. MIT Press, 1996
  • Nina Felshin, ed. But is it Art?, 1995
  • Stephen Davies, Definitions of Art, 1991
  • Oscar Wilde, Intentions, 1891.
  • Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel, Themes of Contemporary Art, Visual Art after 1980, 2005

Further reading

External links

Salma Hayek portraits

Salma Hayek Pinault (née Hayek Jiménez; born September 2, 1966), is a Mexican and American film actress, producer, and former model. She began her career in Mexico starring in the telenovela Teresa and starred in the film El Callejón de los Milagros (Miracle Alley) for which she was nominated for an Ariel Award. In 1991 Hayek moved to Hollywood and came to prominence with roles in films such as Desperado (1995), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Dogma (1999), and Wild Wild West (1999).

Salma Hayek
Salma Hayek 2, 2012.jpg

Hayek in 2012
Born Salma Hayek Jiménez
September 2, 1966 (age 51)
CoatzacoalcosVeracruz, Mexico
Nationality Mexican, American
Alma mater Universidad Iberoamericana
Occupation Actress, producer, model
Years active 1988–present
Height 1.57 m (5 ft 2 in)[1]
Spouse(s) François-Henri Pinault (m. 2009)
Children 1


Salma Hayek attends the ‘Il Racconto Dei Racconti’ (‘Tale of Tales’) photocall during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2015 in Cannes, France.

Salma Hayek attends the ‘Il Racconto Dei Racconti’ (‘Tale of Tales’) photocall during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2015 in Cannes, France.

. . .

Salma Hayek in Art

Lady of the Butterflies: Portrait of Salma Hayek (C) 2001, Acrylic on Canvas, Dimensions 24" x 30" h, Robert Rodriguez Collection

George Yepes: Lady of the Butterflies: Portrait of Salma Hayek (C) 2001, Acrylic on Canvas, Dimensions 24″ x 30″ h, Robert Rodriguez Collection

George Yepes: Lady of the Butterflies: Portrait of Salma Hayek (C) 2001, Acrylic on Canvas, Dimensions 24" x 30" h, Robert Rodriguez Collection

George Yepes: Lady of the Butterflies: Portrait of Salma Hayek (C) 2001, Acrylic on Canvas, Dimensions 24″ x 30″ h, Robert Rodriguez Collection

. . .

MORE Canada Cover, October 2012

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek – MORE Canada Magazine (October 2012) Photography by Alexei Hay, Article “Salma makes waves” by Johanna Schneller.

With her new film Here Comes the Boom set to hit theaters on October 12th, Salma Hayek covers the October 2012 issue of Canada’s More magazine. The actress, 46, opens up about her 5-year-old daughter Valentina, motherhood, and being “at the limit of chubbiness at all times.”

. . .

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek At Jason Kim Photoshoot For Evening Standard September 2015 (Read more:

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek

SHM01. MIAMI (FL, USA), 09/07 / 2013.- An image courtesy of Sony Pictures today, Tuesday July 9, 2013, shows Mexican actress Salma Hayek in a scene from the movie "Grown Ups" in Miami (FL, USA). Hayek confessed that she had rejected "many" jobs in order to be with her family and enjoy a more homely life, and she was grateful for the support her husband and daughter provide for their careers. "To many things I said no and I do not regret it," said the actress, nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in "Frida" (2003) and who returns to the screens this Friday with the sequel "Grown Ups" " Hayek, who is also a film producer, said she has been forced to work in large productions during the summer, when her five-year-old daughter, Valentina Paloma, does not go to school. "If you realize, I only work in the summers," affirmed the actress born in Veracruz, although she recognized that outside of this time, she had only accepted work when it was "small papers". EFE / Tracy Bennett / IMAGE CEDIDA / ONLY EDITORIAL USE / NO SALES

SHM01. MIAMI (FL, USA), 09/07 / 2013.- An image courtesy of Sony Pictures today, Tuesday July 9, 2013, shows Mexican actress Salma Hayek in a scene from the movie “Grown Ups” in Miami (FL, USA). Hayek confessed that she had rejected “many” jobs in order to be with her family and enjoy a more homely life, and she was grateful for the support her husband and daughter provide for their careers. “To many things I said no and I do not regret it,” said the actress, nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in “Frida” (2003) and who returns to the screens this Friday with the sequel “Grown Ups” ” Hayek, who is also a film producer, said she has been forced to work in large productions during the summer, when her five-year-old daughter, Valentina Paloma, does not go to school. “If you realize, I only work in the summers,” affirmed the actress born in Veracruz, although she recognized that outside of this time, she had only accepted work when it was “small papers”. EFE / Tracy Bennett / IMAGE CEDIDA / ONLY EDITORIAL USE / NO SALES

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek


Actress Salma Hayek arrives at the McQ Alexander McQueen Runway Show at the Old Sorting Office during London Fashion Week on February 20, 2012 in London, UK.  (Feb. 21, 2012 – Source: FameFlynet Pictures) more pics from this album »

. . .

Salma Hayek covers Vogue

Beautiful female actress, Salma Hayek is the cover girl for Vogue Magazine's German edition for the month of September 2012, Photographer by Alexi Lubomirski.

Beautiful female actress, Salma Hayek is the cover girl for Vogue Magazine’s German edition for the month of September 2012, Photography by Alexi Lubomirski. More at:

The film Savages will be in cinemas come September/October across Europe. Which makes it perfect timing for Salma Hayek to land the September 2012 cover of Vogue Germany.

The film Savages will be in cinemas come September/October across Europe. Which makes it perfect timing for Salma Hayek to land the September 2012 cover of Vogue Germany.

The cover was photographed by Alexi Lubomirski.


self-portrait is a representation of an artist that is drawn, painted, photographed, or sculpted by that artist. Although self-portraits have been made since the earliest times, it is not until the Early Renaissance in the mid-15th century that artists can be frequently identified depicting themselves as either the main subject, or as important characters in their work. With better and cheaper mirrors, and the advent of the panel portrait, many painters, sculptors and printmakers tried some form of self-portraiturePortrait of a Man in a Turban by Jan van Eyck of 1433 may well be the earliest known panel self-portrait.[1] He painted a separate portrait of his wife, and he belonged to the social group that had begun to commission portraits, already more common among wealthy Netherlanders than south of the Alps. The genre is venerable, but not until the Renaissance, with increased wealth and interest in the individual as a subject, did it become truly popular.[2]

Raphael, c. 1517–1518, Uffizi Gallery

Types of Self Portrait

 Pieter ClaeszVanitas with Violin and Glass Ball, the artist is visible in the reflection, 1625.

A self-portrait may be a portrait of the artist, or a portrait included in a larger work, including a group portrait. Many painters are said to have included depictions of specific individuals, including themselves, in painting figures in religious or other types of composition. Such paintings were not intended publicly to depict the actual persons as themselves, but the facts would have been known at the time to artist and patron, creating a talking point as well as a public test of the artist’s skill.[3]

In the earliest surviving examples of medieval and renaissance self-portraiture, historical or mythical scenes (from the Bible or classical literature) were depicted using a number of actual persons as models, often including the artist, giving the work a multiple function as portraiture, self-portraiture and history/myth painting. In these works, the artist usually appears as a face in the crowd or group, often towards the edges or corner of the work and behind the main participants. Rubens‘s The Four Philosophers (1611–12)[4] is a good example. This culminated in the 17th century with the work of Jan de Bray. Many artistic media have been used; apart from paintings, drawings and prints have been especially important.

In the famous Arnolfini Portrait (1434), Jan van Eyck is probably one of two figures glimpsed in a mirror – a surprisingly modern conceit. The Van Eyck painting may have inspired Diego Velázquez to depict himself in full view as the painter creating Las Meninas (1656), as the Van Eyck hung in the palace in Madrid where he worked. This was another modern flourish, given that he appears as the painter (previously unseen in official royal portraiture) and standing close to the King’s family group who were the supposed main subjects of the painting.[5]

In what may be one of the earliest childhood self-portraits now surviving, Albrecht Dürer depicts himself as in naturalistic style as a 13-year-old boy in 1484. In later years he appears variously as a merchant in the background of Biblical scenes and as Christ.[6]

Leonardo da Vinci may have drawn a picture of himself at the age of 60, in around 1512. The picture is often straightforwardly reproduced as Da Vinci’s appearance, although this is not certain.

In the 17th century, Rembrandt painted a range of self-portraits. In The Prodigal Son in the Tavern (c1637), one of the earliest self-portraits with family, the painting probably includes Saskia, Rembrandt’s wife, one of the earliest depictions of a family member by a famous artist. Family and professional group paintings, including the artist’s depiction, became increasingly common from the 17th century on. From the later 20th century on, video plays an increasing part in self-portraiture, and adds the dimension of audio as well, allowing the person to speak to us in their own voice.

Gallery: Inserted self-portraits

Women painters

Women artists are notable producers of self-portraits; almost all significant women painters have left an example, from Caterina van Hemessen to the prolific Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and Frida Kahlo, as well as Alice NeelPaula Modersohn-Becker and Jenny Savillewho painted themselves in the nude. Vigée-Lebrun painted a total of 37 self-portraits, many of which were copies of earlier ones, painted for sale. Until the 20th century women were usually unable to train in drawing the nude, which made it difficult for them to paint large figure compositions, leading many artists to specialize in portrait work. Women artists have historically embodied a number of roles within their self-portraiture. Most common is the artist at work, showing themselves in the act of painting, or at least holding a brush and palette. Often, the viewer wonders if the clothes worn were those they normally painted in, as the elaborate nature of many ensembles was an artistic choice to show her skill at fine detail.

 Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, Nickolas Muray Collection, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin[9]


Images of artists at work are encountered in Ancient Egyptian painting, and sculpture[12] and also on Ancient Greek vases. One of the first self-portraits was made by the Pharaoh Akhenaten‘s chief sculptor Bak in 1365 BC. Plutarch mentions that the Ancient Greek sculptor Phidias had included a likeness of himself in a number of characters in the “Battle of the Amazons” on the Parthenon, and there are classical references to painted self-portraits, none of which have survived.

Self portraits in Asia

Portraits and self-portraits have a longer continuous history in Asian art than in Europe. Many in the scholar gentleman tradition are quite small, depicting the artist in a large landscape, illustrating a poem in calligraphy on his experience of the scene. Another tradition, associated with Zen Buddhism, produced lively semi-caricatured self-portraits, whilst others remain closer to the conventions of the formal portrait.

Self Portraits in European art

 Joseph Wright of Derby Self-portrait (1765-1768)

Illuminated manuscripts contain a number of apparent self-portraits, notably those of Saint Dunstan and Matthew Paris. Most of these either show the artist at work, or presenting the finished book to either a donor or a sacred figure, or venerating such a figure.[13] Orcagna is believed to have painted himself as a figure in a fresco of 1359,[citation needed] which became, at least according to art historians — Vasari records a number of such traditions — a common practice of artists.[citation needed] However, for earlier artists, with no other portrait to compare to, these descriptions are necessarily rather speculative. Among the earliest self-portraits are also two frescos by Johannes Aquila, one in Velemér (1378), western Hungary, and one in Martjanci (1392), northeastern Slovenia.[14] In Italy Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337) included himself in the cycle of “eminent men” in the Castle of Naples, Masaccio(1401–1428) depicted himself as one of the apostles in the painting of the Brancacci Chapel, and Benozzo Gozzoli includes himself, with other portraits, in the Palazzo Medici Procession of the Magi (1459), with his name written on his hat. This is imitated a few years later by Sandro Botticelli, as a spectator of the Adoration of the Magi (1475), who turns from the scene to look at us. Fourteenth-century sculpted portrait busts of and by the Parler family in Prague Cathedral include self-portraits, and are among the earliest such busts of non-royal figures. Ghiberti included a small head of himself in his most famous work. Notably, the earliest self-portrait painted in England, other than in a manuscript, is the miniature painted in oils on panel by the German artist Gerlach Flicke, 1554.

Albrecht Dürer, 1471–1528, the first prolific self-portraitist

Albrecht Dürer was an artist highly conscious of his public image and reputation, whose main income came from his old master prints, all containing his famous monogram, which were sold throughout Europe. He probably depicted himself more often than any artist before him, producing at least twelve images, including three oil portraits, and figures in four altarpieces. The earliest is a silverpoint drawing created when he was thirteen years old. At twenty-two Dürer painted the Self-portrait with Carnation (1493, Louvre), probably to send to his new fiancée. The Madrid self-portrait (1498, Prado) depicts Dürer as a dandy in fashionable Italian dress, reflecting the international success he had achieved by then. In his last self-portrait, sold or given to the city of Nuremberg, and displayed publicly, which very few portraits then were, the artist depicted himself with an unmistakable resemblance to Jesus Christ (Munich, Alte Pinakothek). He later re-used the face in a religious engraving of, revealingly, the Veil of Veronica, Christ’s own “self-portrait” (B.25). A self-portrait in gouache he sent to Raphael has not survived. A woodcut of a bathhouse and a drawing show virtually nude self-portraits.[15]

Renaissance and Baroque

The great Italian painters of the Renaissance made comparatively few formal painted self-portraits, but often included themselves in larger works. Most individual self-portraits they have left were straightforward depictions; Dürer’s showmanship was rarely followed, although a controversially attributed Self-portrait as David by Giorgione would have something of the same spirit, if it is a self-portrait. There is a portrait by Pietro Perugino of about 1500 (Collegio del Cambio of Perugia), and one by the young Parmigianino showing the view in a convex mirror. There is also a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci (1512),[16] and self-portraits in larger works by Michelangelo, who gave his face to the skin of St. Bartholomew in the Last Judgement of the Sistine Chapel (1536–1541), and Raphael who is seen in the characters of School of Athens 1510, or with a friend who holds his shoulder (1518). Also notable are two portraits of Titian as an old man in the 1560s. Paolo Veronese appears as a violinist clothed in white in his Marriage at Cana, accompanied by Titian on the bass viol (1562). Northern artists continued to make more individual portraits, often looking very much like their other bourgeois sitters. Johan Gregor van der Schardt produced a painted terracotta bust of himself (c.1573).[17]

Titian‘s Allegory of Prudence (c. 1565–70) is thought to depict Titian, his son Orazio, and a young cousin, Marco Vecellio.[18] Titian also painted a late self-portrait in 1567; apparently his first. Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi‘s La Pittura (Self-portrait as the allegory of painting) presents herself embodying the classical allegorical representation of Painting, seen in the dramatic mask worn around Gentileschi’s neck which Painting often carries. The artist’s focus on her work, away from the viewer, highlights the drama of the Baroque period, and the changing role of the artist from craftsperson to singular innovator.[19] Caravaggio painted himself in Bacchus at the beginning of his career, then appears in the staffage of some of his larger paintings. Finally, the head of Goliath held by David(1605–10, Galleria Borghese) is Caravaggio’s own.

Rembrandt and the 17th century in Northern Europe

In the 17th century, Flemish and Dutch artists painted themselves far more often; by this date most successful artists had a position in society where a member of any trade would consider having their portrait painted. Many also include their families, again following the normal practice for the middle-classes. Mary BealeAnthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens gave us numerous images of themselves, the latter also often painting his family. This practice was especially common for women artists, whose inclusion of their families was often a deliberate attempt to mitigate criticism of their profession causing distraction from their “natural role” as mothers.[19]

Rembrandt was the most frequent self-portraitist, at least until the self-obsessed modern period, also often painting his wife, son and mistress. At one time about ninety paintings were counted as Rembrandt self-portraits, but it is now known that he had his students copy his own self-portraits as part of their training. Modern scholarship has reduced the autograph count to something over forty paintings, as well as a few drawings and thirty-one etchings, which include many of the most remarkable images of the group. Many show him posing in quasi-historical fancy dress, or pulling faces at himself. His oil paintings trace the progress from an uncertain young man to the dapper and very successful portrait-painter of the 1630s to the troubled but massively powerful portraits of his old age.[20]

After Rembrandt

Self-Portrait of Van Gogh with head bandaged, after he (debatedly) cut off part of his ear.

In Spain, there were self-portraits of Bartolomé Estéban Murillo and Diego VelázquezFrancisco de Zurbarán represented himself in Luke the Evangelist at the feet of Christ on the cross (around 1635). In the 19th century, Goya painted himself numerous times. French self-portraits, at least after Nicolas Poussin tend to show the social status of the artist, although Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and some other instead showed their real working costume very realistically. This was a decision all 18th-century self-portraitists needed to make, although many painted themselves in both formal and informal costume in different paintings. Thereafter, one can say that most significant painters left us at least one self-portrait, even after the decline of the painted portrait with the arrival of photography. Gustave Courbet (see below) was perhaps the most creative self-portraitist of the 19th century, and The Artist’s studio and Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet are perhaps the largest self-portraits ever painted. Both contain many figures, but are firmly centred on the heroic figure of the artist.

Prolific modern self-portraitists

 Vincent van GoghSelf Portrait, dedicated to Gauguin, 1888

One of the most famous and most prolific of self-portraitists was Vincent van Gogh, who drew and painted himself more than 43 times between 1886 and 1889.[21][22] In all of these self-portraits one is struck that the gaze of the painter is seldom directed at us; even when it is a fixed gaze, he seems to look elsewhere. These paintings vary in intensity and color and some portray the artist with bandages; representing the episode in which he severed one of his ears.[23]

The many self-portraits of Egon Schiele set new standards of openness, or perhaps exhibitionism, representing him naked in many positions, sometimes masturbating or with an erection, as in Eros (1911). Stanley Spencer was to follow somewhat in this vein. Max Beckmann was a prolific painter of self-portraits [24] as was Edvard Munch who made great numbers of self-portrait paintings (70), prints (20) and drawings or watercolours (over 100) throughout his life, many showing him being badly treated by life, and especially by women.[25] Obsessively using the self-portrait as a personal and introspective artistic expression was Horst Janssen, who produced hundreds of self-portraits depicting him a wide range of contexts most notably in relation to sickness, moodyness and death.[26] The 2004 exhibition “Schiele, Janssen. Selbstinszenierung, Eros, Tod” (Schiele, Janssen: Self-dramatisation, Eros, Death) at the Leopold Museum in Vienna paralleled the works of Egon Schiele and Horst Janssen, both heavily drawing on sujets of erotica and death in combination with relentless self-portraiture.[27] Frida Kahlo, who following a terrible accident spent many years bedridden, with only herself for a model, was another painter whose self-portraits depict great pain, in her case physical as well as mental. Her 55-odd self-portraits include many of herself from the waist up, and also some nightmarish representations which symbolize her physical sufferings.[28][29]

Throughout his long career, Pablo Picasso often used self-portraits to depict himself in the many different guises, disguises and incarnations of his autobiographical artistic persona. From the young unknown “Yo Picasso” period to the “Minotaur in the Labyrinth” period, to the “old Cavalier” and the “lecherous old artist and model” periods. Often Picasso’s self-portraits depicted and revealed complicated psychological insights, both personal and profound about the inner state and well being of the artist. Another artist who painted interestingly personal and revealing self-portraits throughout his career was Pierre Bonnard. Bonnard also painted dozens of portraits of his wife Marthe throughout her life as well. Vincent van GoghPaul GauguinEgon Schiele and Horst Janssen in particular made intense (at times disturbingly so) and self-revealing self-portraits throughout their careers.

Self-portraits in general

Gallery: painters at work

 Gustave CourbetThe Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic (and Moral) Life, 1855, Louvre

 RembrandtThe Artist in his Studio, 1628, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Many of the medieval portraits show the artist at work, and Jan van Eyck (above) his chaperon hat has the parts normally hanging loose tied up on his head, giving the misleading impression he is wearing a turban, presumably for convenience whilst he paints.[30] In the early modern period, increasingly, men as well as women who painted themselves at work had to choose whether to present themselves in their best clothes, and best room, or to depict studio practice realistically. See also the Gallery of Women painters above.


Art critic Galina Vasilyeva-Shlyapina separates two basic forms of the self-portrait: “professional” portraits, in which the artist is depicted at work, and “personal” portraits, which reveal moral and psychological features. She also proposes a more detailed taxonomy: (1) the “insertable” self-portrait, where the artist inserts his or her own portrait into, for example, a group of characters related to some subject; (2) the “prestigious, or symbolic” self-portrait, where an artist depicts him- or herself in the guise of a historical person or religious hero; (3) the “group portrait” where artist is depicted with members of family or other real persons; (4) the “separate or natural” self-portrait, where the artist is depicted alone. However it might be thought these classes are rather rigid; many portraits manage to combine several of them.[31]

With new media came a chance to create different kinds of self-portraits besides simply static painting or photographs. Many people, especially teens, use social networking sites to form their own personal identity on the internet.[32] Still others use blogs or create personal web pages to create a space for self-expression and self-portraiture.

Mirrors and poses

 Las Meninas, painted in 1656, shows Diego Velázquez working at the easel to the left.

The self-portrait supposes in theory the use of a mirror; glass mirrors became available in Europe in the 15th century. The first mirrors used were convex, introducing deformations that the artist sometimes preserved. A painting by Parmigianino in 1524 Self-portrait in a mirror, demonstrates the phenomenon. Mirrors permit surprising compositions like the Triple self-portrait by Johannes Gumpp (1646), or more recently that of Salvador Dalí shown from the back painting his wife, Gala (1972–73). This use of the mirror often results in right-handed painters representing themselves as left-handed (and vice versa). Usually the face painted is therefore a mirror image of that the rest of the world saw, unless two mirrors were used. Most of Rembrandt’s self-portraits before 1660 show only one hand – the painting hand is left unpainted.[33] He appears to have bought a larger mirror in about 1652, after which his self-portraits become larger. In 1658 a large mirror in a wood frame broke whilst being transported to his house; nonetheless, in this year he completed his Frick self-portrait, his largest.

The size of single-sheet mirrors was restricted until technical advances made in France in 1688 by Bernard Perrot. They also remained very fragile, and large ones were much more expensive pro-rata than small ones – the breakages were recut into small pieces. About 80 cm, or two and a half feet, seems to have been the maximum size until then – roughly the size of the palace mirror in Las Meninas (the convex mirror in the Arnolfini Portrait is considered by historians impractically large, one of Van Eyck’s many cunning distortions of scale).[35] Largely for this reason, most early self-portraits show painters at no more than half-length.

Self-portraits of the artist at work were, as mentioned above, the commonest form of medieval self-portrait, and these have continued to be popular, with a specially large number from the 18th century on. One particular type in the medieval and Renaissance periods was the artist shown as Saint Luke (patron saint of artists) painting the Virgin Mary. Many of these were presented to the local Guild of Saint Luke, to be placed in their chapel. A famous large view of the artist in his studio is The Artist’s Studio by Gustave Courbet(1855), an immense “Allegory” of objects and characters amid which the painter sits.

Gallery: mortality in the self-portrait

Other meanings, storytelling

Self-portrait as David with the head of Goliath, Johan Zoffany

The self-portraits of many Contemporary artists and Modernists often are characterized by a strong sense of narrative, often but not strictly limited to vignettes from the artists life-story. Sometimes the narrative resembles fantasy, roleplaying and fiction. Besides Diego Velázquez, (in his painting Las Meninas), Rembrandt Van RijnJan de Bray, Gustave Courbet, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin other artists whose self-portraits reveal complex narratives include Pierre BonnardMarc ChagallLucian FreudArshile GorkyAlice NeelPablo PicassoLucas SamarasJenny SavilleCindy ShermanAndy Warhol and Gilbert and George.


The self-portrait can be a very effective form of advertising for an artist, especially of course for a portrait painter. Dürer was not really interested in portraits commercially, but made good use of his extraordinary self-portraits to advertise himself as an artist, something he was very sophisticated in doing. Sofonisba Anguissola painted intricate miniatures which served as advertisements for her skill as well as novelty items, considered such because the rarity of successful women painters provided them with an oddity quality.[39]Rembrandt made his living principally from portrait-painting during his most successful period, and like Van Dyck and Joshua Reynolds, many of his portraits were certainly intended to advertise his skills. With the advent of regular Academy shows, many artists tried to produce memorable self-portraits to make an impression on the artistic stage. A recent exhibition at the National Gallery, London, Rebels and Martyrs, did not shrink from the comic bathos that sometimes resulted.[40] An example from the 21st century is Arnaud Prinstet, an otherwise little-known contemporary artist who has generated good amounts of publicity by undertaking to paint his self-portrait every day.[41] On the other hand, some artists depicted themselves very much as they did other clients.

Diagnosing the self-portrait

Self-portrait of Egon Schiele 1911, depicting masturbation.

Some artists who suffered neurological or physical diseases have left self-portraits of themselves that have allowed later physicians to attempt to analyze disruptions of mental processes; and many of these analyses have entered into the textbooks of neurology.[2]

The self-portraits of artists who suffered mental illnesses give a unique possibility to physicians for investigating self-perception in people with psychological, psychiatric or neurologic disturbances.

Russian sexologist Igor Kon in his article about masturbation notes that a habit of masturbating may be depicted in works of art, particularly paintings. So Austrian artist Egon Schiele depicted himself so occupied in one of his self-portraits. Kon observes that this painting does not portray pleasure from the masturbation, but a feeling of solitude. Creations of Schiele are analyzed by other researchers in terms of sexuality, and particularly pedophilia.


One of the most distinguished, and oldest, collections of self-portraits is in the Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It was originally the collection by the Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici in the second part of the 17th century and has been maintained and expanded until the present time. It is mostly not on view for general visitors, although some paintings are shown in the main galleries. Many famous artists have not been able to resist an invitation to donate a self-portrait to the collection. It comprises more than 200 portraits, in particular those of Pietro da CortonaCharles Le BrunJean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Marc Chagall. Other important collections are housed at the National Portrait Gallery (United Kingdom) in London (with various satellite outstations elsewhere), and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C..



Two methods of obtaining photographic self-portraits are widespread. One is photographing a reflection in the mirror, and the other photographing one’s self with the camera in an outstretched hand. Eleazar Langman photographed his reflection on the surface of a nickel-plated teapot.

Another method involves setting the camera or capture device upon a tripod, or surface. One might then set the camera’s timer, or use a remote controlled shutter release.

Finally, setting up the camera, entering the scene and having an assistant release the shutter (i.e., if the presence of a cable release is unwanted in the photo) can arguably be regarded as a photographic self-portrait, as well. The speed of creating photographic self-portraits allowed for a range of images with more of a “play” atmosphere than traditional methods. One such example is Frances Benjamin Johnston‘s Self-Portrait, c. 1896, an image which demonstrates the photo-portrait’s ability to play with gender roles.[19]

Drawings, prints and engravings

See also

Notes and references

  1. Jump up^ Campbell, Lorne (1998). The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings. National Gallery Catalogues (new series). pp. 212–17. ISBN 1-85709-171-X.
  2. Jump up to:a b accessed online July 28, 2007 an online history of self-portraits, various excerpts from Edward Lucie-Smith and Sean Kelly, The Self Portrait: A Modern View (London: Sarema Press, 1987)
  3. Jump up^ Campbell, Lorne, Renaissance Portraits, European Portrait-Painting in the 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries, pp. 3-4, 1990, Yale, ISBN 0-300-04675-8
  4. Jump up^ “Web Gallery of Art: Rubens, Pieter Pauwel – The Four Philosophers, 1611–12”. 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
  5. Jump up^ Campbell, Lorne; National Gallery Catalogues (new series): The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings, pp 180, 1998, ISBN 1-85709-171-XOL 392219MOCLC 40732051LCCN 98-66510, (also titled The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Schools). The Arnolfini Portrait hung in the same palace in Madrid in which Las Meninas was painted
  6. Jump up^ “Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy: The graphic work of a Renaissance artist”. Studio International Magazine. March 2003. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
  7. Jump up^ Full composition (part of larger scheme)
  8. Jump up^ Full composition (part of larger scheme)
  9. Jump up^ Image—full description and credit: Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, oil on canvas on Masonite, 24½ × 19 inches, Nikolas Muray Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 2007. Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Av. Cinco de Mayo No. 2, Col. CentroDel. Cuauhtémoc 06059, México, D.F.
  10. Jump up^ This is a later and larger repetition in the National Gallery of the original
  11. Jump up^ Marie-Denise Villers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  12. Jump up^ Pharaoh’s sculptor, Bak accessed online August 20, 2011
  13. Jump up^ Jonathon Alexander; Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work; p.8-34, Yale UP, 1992, ISBN 0-300-05689-3 collects several examples
  14. Jump up^ Hourihane, Colum (2012). “Johannes Aquila de Rakerspurga”. The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press. p. 527. ISBN 978-0-19-539536-5.
  15. Jump up^ For all this section, Giulia Bartrum, Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy, p. 77–84 & passim, British Museum Press, 2002, ISBN 0-7141-2633-0
  16. Jump up^ This drawing in red chalk is widely (though not universally) accepted as an original self-portrait. The main reason for hesitation in accepting it as a portrait of Leonardo is that the subject is apparently of a greater age than Leonardo ever achieved. But it is possible that he drew this picture of himself deliberately aged, specifically for Raphael’s portrait of him in the School of Athens. A case has also been made, originally by novelist Dmitry Merezhkovsky, that Leonardo based his famous picture Mona Lisa on his own self-portrait.
  17. Jump up^ Scholten, Frits (2007/8). “Johan Gregor van der Schardt and the Moment of Self-Portraiture in Sculpture”. Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art33 (4): 195–220. JSTOR 25608493. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  18. Jump up^ Erwin Panofsky (and originally Fritz Saxl), Titian’s “Allegory of Prudence”, A Postscript, in Meaning in the Visual Arts, Doubleday/Penguin, 1955
  19. Jump up to:a b c Frances Borzello, Seeing Ourselves: Women’s Self-Portraiture, 1998.
  20. Jump up^ For this section and the gallery, Ernst van de Wetering in Rembrandt by himself, p.10 and passim, 1999, National Gallery, London/Mauritshuis, The Hague, ISBN 1-85709-270-8
  21. Jump up^ Musee D’Orsay
  22. Jump up^ Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art, art of self-portraitRetrieved June 13, 2010
  23. Jump up^ Andrea Bassil, Lives of the Artists, Vincent van Gogh pp.36-37 Retrieved June 13, 2010
  24. Jump up^ Max Beckmann, The Self Portraits Retrieved October 16, 2011
  25. Jump up^ Munch Museum
  26. Jump up^ [1]
  27. Jump up^ [2]
  28. Jump up^ Amazing women Frida Kahlo, I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy as long as I can paint. Retrieved September 28, 2010
  29. Jump up^ National Museum of Women Artists Retrieved September 28, 2010
  30. Jump up^ Campbell, Lorne; National Gallery Catalogues (new series): The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings, pp 214, 1998, ISBN 1-85709-171-XOL 392219MOCLC 40732051LCCN 98-66510, (also titled The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Schools)
  31. Jump up^ Respectively, the “вставной”,“представительский, или символический”“групповой портрет”“отдельный или естественный”
  32. Jump up^ danah boyd. “Why Youth (Heart) Social Networking Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.” MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning, Identity Volume. ed. David Buckingham.
  33. Jump up^ Rembrandt by himself, op cit, p.211
  34. Jump up^ A better-known version is in the Uffizi. This one was sold at auction in Germany in 2007
  35. Jump up^ Rembrandt by himself, op cit, pp 11-13; for the Arnolfini reference see: National Gallery Catalogues (new series): The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings, Lorne Campbell, 1998, ISBN 1-85709-171-XOL 392219MOCLC 40732051LCCN 98-66510, (also titled The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Schools)
  36. Jump up^ Aislinn Loconte in, Lucy Whitaker, Martin Clayton, The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection; Renaissance and Baroque, p.270, Royal Collection Publications, 2007, ISBN 978-1-902163-29-1. The biographer was Baldinucci. This is the version in the Royal Collection, there are others in the Pitti Palace etc.
  37. Jump up^ asks Michael Levey in Painting at Court, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1971, pp 124-5
  38. Jump up^ Virginia MFA
  39. Jump up^ Griselda Pollack
  40. Jump up^ Rebels and Martyrs, National Gallery
  41. Jump up^ Ses hits
  42. Jump up^ Jeancolas (1998), 164.

Further reading

Not in English

  • Joëlle Moulin, L’autoportrait au XXe siècle, éd. Adam Biro, Paris, 1999
  • Pascal Bonafoux, Les peintres et l’autoportrait, 1984
  • Bernard Auriol, L’image préalable, l’expression impressive et l’autoportrait, Psychologie Médicale, 19, 9, 1543–1547, 1987 {available on line : self-portrait}
  • Bonafoux, Pascal / Rosenberg, David: Moi! Autoportraits du XXe siècleMusée du Luxembourg (Paris) / Skira Editore (Milano), Exhibition catalogue. 2004, Text French, Paris 2004, ISBN 88-8491-854-5 The book presents 155 artist (fine art) of the 20th century by showing their self-portraits added by informative texts.
  • Borzello, Frances: Wie Frauen sich sehen  –  Selbstbildnisse aus fünf Jahrhunderten. Karl Blessing Verlag, München 1998, ISBN 3-89667-052-2
  • Calabrese, Omar: Die Geschichte des Selbstporträts. Deutscher Kunstverlag, München 2006, ISBN 3-7774-2955-4
  • Pfisterer, Ulrich / Rosen, Valeska von ~ (Hrsg.): Der Künstler als Kunstwerk. Selbstporträts vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart. Reclam, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-15-010571-4 (Rezension)
  • Jeancolas, Claude. (1998). Passion Rimbaud: L’Album d’une vie(in French) Paris: Textuel. ISBN 978-2-909317-66-3
  • Kathrin Schmidt: Annegret Soltau: ich selbst, Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt (Germany), 2006 ISBN 3-935062-06-0

Self-portrait in neurology

  • Tielsch AH, Allen PJ (2005) Listen to them draw: screening children in primary care through the use of human figure drawings. Pediatr Nurs 31(4): 320–327. This survey of literature is focused on the method of drawing people as the method of diagnostics. Children’s figures can recognize mental disorders. The authors describe the use of self-portraits for diagnostics of emotional disorders in children from 6 to 12 years. Although this procedure does not make it possible to place final diagnosis, it is useful for the recognition of problems.
  • Morin C, Pradat-Diehl P, Robain G, Bensalah Y, Perrigot M (2003) Stroke hemiplegia and specular image: lessons from self-portraits. Int J Aging Hum Dev 56(1): 1-41. Patients with hemiplegia have diverse problems of self-perception, which are caused by neurological defeats of the idea of body, or by psychological problems with the perception their own self.

Psychology of self-perception

  • Wegner DM (2003) The mind’s self-portrait. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1001: 212–225. Psychology and neuroscience approach understanding of reason and consciousness. Meanwhile, each human reason contains the self-portrait, which contains the self-appraisal of cognitive processes. This self-portrait assumes that the actions of man are governed by thoughts and, thus, the body is governed by consciousness. Self-portrait leads to the persuasion, that we consciously desire to make something. Studies show that self-portraiture is a caricature on the function of the brain, but at the same time it is the basis of the sensation of authorship and responsibility of one’s own actions.

External links

One can also use the term “autoportrait” in the search engine of the Joconde database, which describes the works of 84 French museums, including the Louvre:


portrait is a paintingphotographsculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person. For this reason, in photography a portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the painter or photographer, in order to most successfully engage the subject with the viewer.

Roman-Egyptian funeral portrait of a young boy


 Moche ceramic portrait. Larco Museum Collection. Lima-Peru

Some of the earliest surviving painted portraits of people who were not rulers are the Greco-Roman funeral portraits that survived in the dry climate of Egypt’s Fayum district. These are almost the only paintings from the classical world that have survived, apart from frescos, though many sculptures and portraits on coins have fared better. Although the appearance of the figures differs considerably, they are considerably idealized, and all show relatively young people, making it uncertain whether they were painted from life.

Ancient Greek

The art of the portrait flourished in Ancient Greek and especially Roman sculpture, where sitters demanded individualized and realistic portraits, even unflattering ones. During the 4th century, the portrait began to retreat in favor of an idealized symbol of what that person looked like. (Compare the portraits of Roman Emperors Constantine I and Theodosius I at their entries.) In the Europe of the Early Middle Ages representations of individuals are mostly generalized. True portraits of the outward appearance of individuals re-emerged in the late Middle Ages, in tomb monumentsdonor portraits, miniatures in illuminated manuscripts and then panel paintings.

Moche culture of Peru

One of the few ancient civilizations which produced portraits was Moche culture of Peru . These works accurately represent anatomical features in great detail. The individuals portrayed would have been recognizable without the need for other symbols or a written reference to their names. The individuals portrayed were members of the ruling elite, priests, warriors and even distinguished artisans.[1] They were represented during several stages of their lives. The faces of gods were also depicted. To date, no portraits of women have been found. There is particular emphasis on the representation of the details of headdresses, hairstyles, body adornment and face painting.

It might be, that the best-known portraits in the Western world is Leonardo da Vinci‘s painting titled Mona Lisa, which is a painting of Lisa del Giocondo. What has been claimed as the world’s oldest known portrait was found in 2006 in the Vilhonneur grotto near Angoulême and is thought to be 27,000 years old.[2][3]

Orientation of head in 2-dimensional artwork

 Portrait illustrating three-quarter view.

Profile view, full face view, and three-quarter view, are three common designations for portraits, each referring to a particular orientation of the head of the individual depicted. Such terms would tend to have greater applicability to two-dimensional artwork such as photography and painting than to three-dimensional artwork such as sculpture. In the case of three-dimensional artwork, the viewer can usually alter their orientation to the artwork by moving around it.


When the artist creates a portrait of him- or herself, it is called a self-portrait. Identifiable examples become numerous in the late Middle Ages. But if the definition is extended, the first was by the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten‘s sculptor Bak, who carved a representation of himself and his wife Taheri c. 1365 BC. However, it seems likely that self-portraits go back to the cave paintings, the earliest representational art, and literature records several classical examples that are now lost.

Official portrait

The official portrait is a photographic production of record and dissemination of important personalities, notably kings, presidents and governors. It is usually decorated with official colors and symbols such as flag, presidential stripes and coat of arms of countries, states or municipalities. There is also connotation as an image of events, products and meetings[4].

Portrait photography

Portrait photography is a popular commercial industry all over the world. Many people enjoy having professionally made family portraits to hang in their homes, or special portraits to commemorate certain events, such as graduations or weddings. Since the dawn of photography, people have made portraits. The popularity of the daguerreotype in the middle of the 19th century was due in large part to the demand for inexpensive portraiture. Studios sprang up in cities around the world, some cranking out more than 500 plates a day. The style of these early works reflected the technical challenges associated with 30-second exposure times and the painterly aesthetic of the time. Subjects were generally seated against plain backgrounds and lit with the soft light of an overhead window and whatever else could be reflected with mirrors.

As photographic techniques developed, an intrepid group of photographers took their talents out of the studio and onto battlefields, across oceans and into remote wilderness. William Shew‘s Daguerreotype SaloonRoger Fenton‘s Photographic Van and Mathew Brady‘s What-is-it? wagon set the standards for making portraits and other photographs in the field.


In politics, portraits of the leader are often used as a symbol of the state. In most countries it is common protocol for a portrait of the head of state to appear in important government buildings. Excessive use of a leader’s portrait, such as that done of Joseph StalinAdolf Hitler, or Mao Zedong, can be indicative of a personality cult.


In literature the term portrait refers to a written description or analysis of a person or thing. A written portrait often gives deep insight, and offers an analysis that goes far beyond the superficial. For example, American author Patricia Cornwell wrote a best-selling book entitled Portrait of a Killer about the personality, background, and possible motivations of Jack the Ripper, as well as the media coverage of his murders, and the subsequent police investigation of his crimes.

See also


  1. Jump up^ Donnan, Christopher B. Moche Portraits from Ancient Peru University of Texas Press, 2004. ISBN 0-292-71622-2.
  2. Jump up^ Jones, Jonathan (6 June 2006). “Old masters”The Guardian. London.
  3. Jump up^ Sage, Adam (5 June 2006). “Cave face ‘the oldest portrait on record'”. London: The Times. Archived from the original on July 24, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-04.
  4. Jump up^ Portuguese Almanac of Photography, 1957 edition, Mário Nogueira. Lisbon, Portugal, 1957

External links

Portrait painting

Portrait painting is a genre in painting, where the intent is to depict a human subject. The term ‘portrait painting’ can also describe the actual painted portrait. Portraitists may create their work by commission, for public and private persons, or they may be inspired by admiration or affection for the subject. Portraits are often important state and family records, as well as remembrances.

Historically, portrait paintings have primarily memorialized the rich and powerful. Over time, however, it became more common for middle-class patrons to commission portraits of their families and colleagues. Today, portrait paintings are still commissioned by governments, corporations, groups, clubs, and individuals. In addition to painting, portraits can also be made in other media such as etchinglithographyphotography, video and digital media.

The official Chinese court portrait painting of Empress Cao (wife of Emperor Renzong) of Song Dynasty, 11th century

Technique and practice of Portrait painting

Anthony van DyckCharles I in Three Positions, 1635-1636, shows profile, full face and three-quarter views, to send to Bernini in Rome, who was to sculpt a bust from this model.

A well-executed portrait is expected to show the inner essence of the subject (from the artist’s point of view) or a flattering representation, not just a literal likeness. As Aristotle stated, “The aim of Art is to present not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance; for this, not the external manner and detail, constitutes true reality.”[1] Artists may strive for photographic realism or an impressionistic similarity in depicting their subject, but this differs from a caricature which attempts to reveal character through exaggeration of physical features. The artist generally attempts a representative portrayal, as Edward Burne-Jones stated, “The only expression allowable in great portraiture is the expression of character and moral quality, not anything temporary, fleeting, or accidental.”[2]

In most cases, this results in a serious, closed lip stare, with anything beyond a slight smile being rather rare historically. Or as Charles Dickens put it, “there are only two styles of portrait painting: the serious and the smirk.”[3]Even given these limitations, a full range of subtle emotions is possible from quiet menace to gentle contentment. However, with the mouth relatively neutral, much of the facial expression needs to be created through the eyes and eyebrows. As author and artist Gordon C. Aymar states, “the eyes are the place one looks for the most complete, reliable, and pertinent information” about the subject. And the eyebrows can register, “almost single-handedly, wonder, pity, fright, pain, cynicism, concentration, wistfulness, displeasure, and expectation, in infinite variations and combinations.”[4]

Portrait painting can depict the subject ‘full length’, ‘half length’, ‘head and shoulders’ (also called a “bust”), or ‘head’, as well as in profile, “three-quarter view”, or “full face”, with varying directions of light and shadow. Occasionally, artists have created portraits with multiple views, as with Anthony van Dyck‘s “Triple Portrait of Charles I”.[5] There are even a few portraits where the front of the subject is not visible at all. Andrew Wyeth‘s Christina’s World (1948) is a famous example, where the pose of the disabled girl with her back turned to the viewer integrates with the setting in which she is placed to convey the artist’s interpretation.[6]

Another example of the “three-quarter view” in portraiture, in this case photography, can be found here, at the Portrait article.

Mme. Charpentier and her children, 1878, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Gilbert StuartPortrait of George Washington, c.1796

Among the other possible variables, the subject can be clothed or nude; indoors or out; standing, seated, reclining; even horse-mounted. Portrait paintings can be of individuals, couples, parents and children, families, or collegial groups. They can be created in various media including oilswatercolorpen and inkpencilcharcoalpastel, and mixed media. Artists may employ a wide-ranging palette of colors, as with Pierre-Auguste Renoir‘s Mme. Charpentier and her children, 1878 or restrict themselves to mostly white or black, as with Gilbert Stuart‘s Portrait of George Washington (1796).

Sometimes, the overall size of the portrait is an important consideration. Chuck Close‘s enormous portraits created for museum display differ greatly from most portraits designed to fit in the home or to travel easily with the client. Frequently, an artist takes into account where the final portrait will hang and the colors and style of the surrounding décor.[7]

Timing of portrait painting

Creating a portrait can take considerable time, usually requiring several sittings. Cézanne, on one extreme, insisted on over 100 sittings from his subject.[8] Goya on the other hand, preferred one long day’s sitting.[9] The average is about four.[10] Portraitists sometimes present their sitters with a portfolio of drawings or photos from which a sitter would select a preferred pose, as did Sir Joshua Reynolds. Some, such as Hans Holbein the Younger make a drawing of the face, then complete the rest of the painting without the sitter.[11] In the 18th century, it would typically take about one year to deliver a completed portrait to a client.[12]


Managing the sitter’s expectations and mood is a serious concern for the portrait artist. As to the faithfulness of the portrait to the sitter’s appearance, portraitists are generally consistent in their approach. Clients who sought out Sir Joshua Reynolds knew that they would receive a flattering result, while sitters of Thomas Eakins knew to expect a realistic, unsparing portrait. Some subjects voice strong preferences, others let the artist decide entirely. Oliver Cromwell famously demanded that his portrait show “all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.”[13]

After putting the sitter at ease and encouraging a natural pose, the artist studies his subject, looking for the one facial expression, out of many possibilities, that satisfies his concept of the sitter’s essence. The posture of the subject is also carefully considered to reveal the emotional and physical state of the sitter, as is the costume. To keep the sitter engaged and motivated, the skillful artist will often maintain a pleasant demeanor and conversation. Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun advised fellow artists to flatter women and compliment their appearance to gain their cooperation at the sitting.[13]


Central to the successful execution of the portrait is a mastery of human anatomy. Human faces are asymmetrical and skillful portrait artists reproduce this with subtle left-right differences. Artists need to be knowledgeable about the underlying bone and tissue structure to make a convincing portrait.

Margaret in Skating Costume by Thomas Eakins.

For complex compositions, the artist may first do a complete pencil, ink, charcoal, or oil sketch which is particularly useful if the sitter’s available time is limited. Otherwise, the general form then a rough likeness is sketched out on the canvas in pencil, charcoal, or thin oil. In many cases, the face is completed first, and the rest afterwards. In the studios of many of the great portrait artists, the master would do only the head and hands, while the clothing and background would be completed by the principal apprentices. There were even outside specialists who handled specific items such as drapery and clothing, such as Joseph van Aken[14] Some artists in past times used lay-figures or dolls to help establish and execute the pose and the clothing.[15] The use of symbolic elements placed around the sitter (including signs, household objects, animals, and plants) was often used to encode the painting with the moral or religious character of the subject, or with symbols representing the sitter’s occupation, interests, or social status. The background can be totally black and without content or a full scene which places the sitter in their social or recreational milieu.

Self-portraits are usually produced with the help of a mirror, and the finished result is a mirror-image portrait, a reversal of what occurs in a normal portrait when sitter and artist are opposite each other. In a self-portrait, a righted handed artist would appear to be holding a brush in the left hand, unless the artist deliberately corrects the image or uses a second reversing mirror while painting.

Occasionally, the client or the client’s family is unhappy with the resulting portrait and the artist is obliged to re-touch it or do it over or withdraw from the commission without being paid, suffering the humiliation of failure. Jacques-Louis David celebrated portrait of Madame Récamier, wildly popular in exhibitions, was rejected by the sitter, as was John Singer Sargent‘s notorious Portrait of Madame XJohn Trumbull‘s full-length portrait, General George Washington at Trenton, was rejected by the committee that commissioned it.[16] The famously prickly Gilbert Stuart once replied to a client’s dissatisfaction with his wife’s portrait by retorting, “You brought me a potato, and you expect a peach!”[17]

A successful portrait, however, can gain the lifelong gratitude of a client. Count Balthazar was so pleased with the portrait Raphael had created of his wife that he told the artist, “Your image…alone can lighten my cares. That image is my delight; I direct my smiles to it, it is my joy.”[18]

History of Portrait painting

Ancient world

Portraiture’s roots are likely found in prehistoric times, although few of these works survive today. In the art of the ancient civilizations of the Fertile Crescent, especially in Egypt, depictions of rulers and gods abound. However, most of these were done in a highly stylized fashion, and most in profile, usually on stone, metal, clay, plaster, or crystal. Egyptian portraiture placed relatively little emphasis on likeness, at least until the period of Akhenaten in the 14th century BC. Portrait painting of notables in China probably goes back to over 1000 BC, though none survive from that age. Existing Chinese portraits go back to about 1000 AD[19]

From literary evidence we know that ancient Greek painting included portraiture, often highly accurate if the praises of writers are to be believed, but no painted examples remain. Sculpted heads of rulers and famous personalities like Socrates survive in some quantity, and like the individualized busts of Hellenistic rulers on coins, show that Greek portraiture could achieve a good likeness, and subjects were depicted with relatively little flattery – Socrates’ portraits show why he had a reputation for being ugly. The successors of Alexander the Great began the practice of adding his head (as a deified figure) to their coins, and were soon using their own.

Roman portraiture adopted traditions of portraiture from both the Etruscans and Greeks, and developed a very strong tradition, linked to their religious use of ancestor portraits, as well as Roman politics. Again, the few painted survivals, in the Fayum portraitsTomb of Aline and the Severan Tondo, all from Egypt under Roman rule, are clearly provincial productions that reflect Greek rather than Roman styles, but we have a wealth of sculpted heads, including many individualized portraits from middle-class tombs, and thousands of types of coin portraits.

Funeral paintings

Roman-Egyptian funeral portrait of a woman

Much the largest group of painted portraits are the funeral paintings that survived in the dry climate of Egypt’s Fayum district (see illustration, below), dating from the 2nd to 4th century AD. These are almost the only paintings of the Roman period that have survived, aside from frescos, though it is known from the writings of Pliny the Elder that portrait painting was well established in Greek times, and practiced by both men and women artists.[20] In his times, Pliny complained of the declining state of Roman portrait art, “The painting of portraits which used to transmit through the ages the accurate likenesses of people, has entirely gone out…Indolence has destroyed the arts.” [21][22] These full-face portraits from Roman Egypt are fortunate exceptions. They present a somewhat realistic sense of proportion and individual detail (though the eyes are generally oversized and the artistic skill varies considerably from artist to artist). The Fayum portraits were painted on wood or ivory in wax and resin colors (encaustic) or with tempera, and inserted into the mummy wrapping, to remain with the body through eternity.

Roman sculptures

While free-standing portrait painting diminished in Rome, the art of the portrait flourished in Roman sculptures, where sitters demanded realism, even if unflattering. During the 4th century, the sculpted portrait dominated, with a retreat in favor of an idealized symbol of what that person looked like. (Compare the portraits of Roman Emperors Constantine I and Theodosius I) In the Late Antique period the interest in an individual likeness declined considerably, and most portraits in late Roman coins and consular diptychs are hardly individualized at all, although at the same time Early Christian art was evolving fairly standardized images for the depiction of Jesus and the other major figures in Christian art, such as John the Baptist, and Saint Peter.

Middle Ages

The small private Wilton Diptych for Richard II of England, c. 1400, with stamped gold backgrounds and much ultramarine.

Most early medieval portraits were donor portraits, initially mostly of popes in Roman mosaics, and illuminated manuscripts, an example being a self-portrait by the writer, mystic, scientist, illuminator, and musician Hildegard of Bingen (1152).[23] As with contemporary coins, there was little attempt at a likeness. Stone tomb monuments spread in the Romanesque period. Between 1350-1400, secular figures began to reappear in frescos and panel paintings, such as in Master Theodoric‘s Charles IV receiving fealty,[24] and portraits once again became clear likenesses. Around the end of the century, the first oil portraits of contemporary individuals, painted on small wood panels, emerged in Burgundy and France, first as profiles, then in other views. The Wilton Diptych of ca. 1400 is one of two surviving panel portraits of Richard II of England, the earliest English King for whom we have contemporary examples. Leading Early Netherlandish masters of the portrait included Jan van EyckRobert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden. Portraits of donors began to be shown as present, or participate in the main sacred scenes shown, and in more private court images subjects even appeared as significant figures such as the Virgin Mary.


The Renaissance marked a turning point in the history of portraiture. Partly out of interest in the natural world and partly out of interest in the classical cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, portraits—both painted and sculpted—were given an important role in Renaissance society and valued as objects, and as depictions of earthly success and status. Painting in general reached a new level of balance, harmony, and insight, and the greatest artists (Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael) were considered “geniuses”, rising far above the tradesman status to valued servants of the court and the church.[25]

Many innovations in the various forms of portraiture evolved during this fertile period. The tradition of the portrait miniature began, which remained popular until the age of photography, developing out of the skills of painters of the miniatures in illuminated manuscripts. Profile portraits, inspired by ancient medallions, were particularly popular in Italy between 1450 and 1500. Medals, with their two–sided images, also inspired a short-lived vogue for two-sided paintings early in the Renaissance.[26] Classical sculpture, such as the Apollo Belvedere, also influenced the choice of poses utilized by Renaissance portraitists, poses that have continued in usage through the centuries.[27]

Northern European artists led the way in realistic portraits of secular subjects. The greater realism and detail of the Northern artists during the 15th century was due in part to the finer brush strokes and effects possible with oil colors, while the Italian and Spanish painters were still using tempera. Among the earliest painters to develop oil technique was Jan van Eyck. Oil colors can produce more texture and grades of thickness, and can be layered more effectively, with the addition of increasingly thick layers one over another (known by painters as ‘fat over lean’). Also, oil colors dry more slowly, allowing the artist to make changes readily, such as altering facial details. Antonello da Messina was one of the first Italians to take advantage of oil. Trained in Belgium, he settled in Venice around 1475, and was a major influence on Giovanni Bellini and the Northern Italian school.[28] During the 16th century, oil as a medium spread in popularity throughout Europe, allowing for more sumptuous renderings of clothing and jewelry. Also affecting the quality of the images, was the switch from wood to canvas, starting in Italy in the early part of the 16th century and spreading to Northern Europe over the next century. Canvas resists cracking better than wood, holds pigments better, and needs less preparation―but it was initially much scarcer than wood.

Early on, the Northern Europeans abandoned the profile, and started producing portraits of realistic volume and perspective. In the Netherlands, Jan van Eyck was a leading portraitist. The Arnolfini Marriage (1434, National Gallery, London) is a landmark of Western art, an early example of a full-length couple portrait, superbly painted in rich colors and exquisite detail. But equally important, it showcases the newly developed technique of oil painting pioneered by van Eyck, which revolutionized art, and spread throughout Europe.[29]

Leading German portrait artists including Lucas CranachAlbrecht Dürer, and Hans Holbein the Younger who all mastered oil painting technique. Cranach was one of the first artists to paint life-sized full-length commissions, a tradition popular from then on.[30] At that time, England had no portrait painters of the first rank, and artists like Holbein were in demand by English patrons.[31] His painting of Sir Thomas More (1527), his first important patron in England, has nearly the realism of a photograph.[32] Holbein made his great success painting the royal family, including Henry VIII. Dürer was an outstanding draftsman and one of the first major artists to make a sequence of self-portraits, including a full-face painting. He also placed his self-portrait figure (as an onlooker) in several of his religious paintings.[33] Dürer began making self-portraits at the age of thirteen.[34] Later, Rembrandt would amplify that tradition.

In Italy, Masaccio led the way in modernizing the fresco by adopting more realistic perspective. Filippo Lippi paved the way in developing sharper contours and sinuous lines[35] and his pupil Raphael extended realism in Italy to a much higher level in the following decades with his monumental wall paintings.[36] During this time, the betrothal portrait became popular, a particular specialty of Lorenzo Lotto.[37] During the early Renaissance, portrait paintings were generally small and sometimes covered with protective lids, hinged or sliding.[38]

In the time of Renaissance, the Florentine and Milanese nobility, in particular, wanted more realistic representations of themselves. The challenge of creating convincing full and three-quarter views stimulated experimentation and innovation. Sandro BotticelliPiero della FrancescaDomenico GhirlandaioLorenzo di Credi, and Leonardo da Vinci and other artists expanded their technique accordingly, adding portraiture to traditional religious and classical subjects. Leonardo and Pisanello were among the first Italian artists to add allegorical symbols to their secular portraits.[36]

Leonardo da VinciMona Lisa or La Gioconda, 1503–1505/1507

One of best-known portraits in the Western world is Leonardo da Vinci‘s painting titled Mona Lisa, named for Lisa del Giocondo,[39][40][41] a member of the Gherardini family of Florence and Tuscany and the wife of wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. The famous “Mona Lisa smile” is an excellent example of applying subtle asymmetry to a face. In his notebooks, Leonardo advises on the qualities of light in portrait painting:

A very high degree of grace in the light and shadow is added to the faces of those who sit in the doorways of rooms that are dark, where the eyes of the observer see the shadowed part of the face obscured by the shadows of the room, and see the lighted part of the face with the greater brilliance which the air gives it. Through this increase in the shadows and the lights, the face is given greater relief.[42]

Leonardo was a student of Verrocchio. After becoming a member of the Guild of Painters, he began to accept independent commissions. Owing to his wide-ranging interests and in accordance with his scientific mind, his output of drawings and preliminary studies is immense though his finished artistic output is relatively small. His other memorable portraits included those of noblewomen Ginevra de’ Benci and Cecilia Gallerani.[43]

Raphael’s surviving commission portraits are far more numerous than those of Leonardo, and they display a greater variety of poses, lighting, and technique. Rather than producing revolutionary innovations, Raphael’s great accomplishment was strengthening and refining the evolving currents of Renaissance art.[44] He was particularly expert in the group portrait. His masterpiece the School of Athens is one of the foremost group frescoes, containing likenesses of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Bramante, and Raphael himself, in the guise of ancient philosophers.[45] It was not the first group portrait of artists. Decades earlier, Paolo Uccello had painted a group portrait including GiottoDonatelloAntonio Manetti, and Brunelleschi.[33] As he rose in prominence, Raphael became a favorite portraitist of the popes. While many Renaissance artists eagerly accepted portrait commissions, a few artists refused them, most notably Raphael’s rival Michelangelo, who instead undertook the huge commissions of the Sistine Chapel.[36]

In Venice around 1500, Gentile Bellini and Giovanni Bellini dominated portrait painting. They received the highest commissions from the leading officials of the state. Bellini’s portrait of Doge Loredan is considered to be one of the finest portraits of the Renaissance and ably demonstrates the artist’s mastery of the newly arrived techniques of oil painting.[46] Bellini is also one of the first artists in Europe to sign their work, though he rarely dated them.[47] Later in the 16th century, Titian assumed much the same role, particularly by expanding the variety of poses and sittings of his royal subjects. Titian was perhaps the first great child portraitist.[48]

After Titian succumbed to the plague, Tintoretto and Veronese became leading Venetian artists, helping the transition to Italian Mannerism. The Mannerists contributed many exceptional portraits that emphasized material richness and elegantly complex poses, as in the works of Agnolo Bronzino and Jacopo da Pontormo. Bronzino made his fame portraying the Medici family. His daring portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici, shows the austere ruler in armor with a wary eye gazed to his extreme right, in sharp contrast to most royal paintings which show their sitters as benign sovereigns.[49] El Greco, who trained in Venice for twelve years, went in a more extreme direction after his arrival in Spain, emphasizing his “inner vision” of the sitter to the point of diminishing the reality of physical appearance.[50] One of the best portraitists of 16th-century Italy was Sofonisba Anguissola from Cremona, who infused her individual and group portraits with new levels of complexity.

Court portraiture in France began when Flemish artist Jean Clouet painted his opulent likeness of Francis I of France around 1525.[51] King Francis was a great patron of artists and an avaricious art collector who invited Leonardo da Vinci to live in France during his later years. The Mona Lisa stayed in France after Leonardo died there.[51]

Baroque and Rococo

Rembrandt group portrait, The Syndics of the Clothmaker’s Guild, 1662.

During the Baroque and Rococo periods (17th and 18th centuries, respectively), portraits became even more important records of status and position. In a society dominated increasingly by secular leaders in powerful courts, images of opulently attired figures were a means to affirm the authority of important individuals. Flemish painters Sir Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens excelled at this type of portraiture, while Jan Vermeer produced portraits mostly of the middle class, at work and play indoors. Rubens’ portrait of himself and his first wife (1609) in their wedding attire is a virtuoso example of the couple portrait.[52]Rubens fame extended beyond his art—he was a courtier, diplomat, art collector, and successful businessman. His studio was one of the most extensive of that time, employing specialists in still-life, landscape, animal and genre scenes, in addition to portraiture. Van Dyck trained there for two years.[53]

Charles I of England first employed Rubens, then imported van Dyck as his court painter, knighting him and bestowing on him courtly status. Van Dyck not only adapted Rubens’ production methods and business skills, but also his elegant manners and appearance. As was recorded, “He always went magnificently dress’d, had a numerous and gallant equipage, and kept so noble a table in his apartment, that few princes were not more visited, or better serv’d.”[54] In France, Hyacinthe Rigaud dominated in much the same way, as a remarkable chronicler of royalty, painting the portraits of five French kings.[55]

One of the innovations of Renaissance art was the improved rendering of facial expressions to accompany different emotions. In particular, Dutch painter Rembrandt explored the many expressions of the human face, especially as one of the premier self-portraitists (of which he painted over 60 in his lifetime).[56] This interest in the human face also fostered the creation of the first caricatures, credited to the Carracci Academy, run by painters of the Carracci family in the late 16th century in Bologna, Italy (see Annibale Carracci).

Group portraits were produced in great numbers during the Baroque period, particularly in the Netherlands. Unlike in the rest of Europe, Dutch artists received no commissions from the Calvinist Church which had forbidden such images or from the aristocracy which was virtually non-existent. Instead, commissions came from civic and businesses associations. Dutch painter Frans Hals used fluid brush strokes of vivid color to enliven his group portraits, including those of the civil guards to which he belonged. Rembrandt benefitted greatly from such commissions and from the general appreciation of art by bourgeois clients, who supported portraiture as well as still-life and landscapes painting. In addition, the first significant art and dealer markets flourished in Holland at that time.[57]

With plenty of demand, Rembrandt was able to experiment with unconventional composition and technique, such as chiaroscuro. He demonstrated these innovations, pioneered by Italian masters such as Caravaggio, most notably in his famous Night Watch (1642).[58] The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632) is another fine example of Rembrandt’s mastery of the group painting, in which he bathes the corpse in bright light to draw attention to the center of the painting while the clothing and background merge into black, making the faces of the surgeon and the students standout. It is also the first painting that Rembrandt signed with his full name.[59]

In Spain, Diego Velázquez painted Las Meninas (1656), one of the most famous and enigmatic group portraits of all time. It memorializes the artist and the children of the Spanish royal family, and apparently the sitters are the royal couple who are seen only as reflections in a mirror.[60] Starting out as primarily a genre painter, Velázquez quickly rose to prominence as the court painter of Philip IV, excelling in the art of portraiture, particularly in extending the complexity of group portraits.[61]

Rococo artists, who were particularly interested in rich and intricate ornamentation, were masters of the refined portrait. Their attention to the details of dress and texture increased the efficacy of portraits as testaments to worldly wealth, as evidenced by François Boucher‘s famous portraits of Madame de Pompadour attired in billowing silk gowns.

The first major native portrait painters of the British school were English painters Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who also specialized in clothing their subjects in an eye-catching manner. Gainsborough’s Blue Boy is one of the most famous and recognized portraits of all time, painted with very long brushes and thin oil color to achieve the shimmering effect of the blue costume.[62] Gainsborough was also noted for his elaborate background settings for his subjects.

The two British artists had opposite opinions on using assistants. Reynolds employing them regularly (sometimes doing only 20 percent of the painting himself) while Gainsborough rarely did.[63] Sometimes a client would extract a pledge from the artist, as did Sir Richard Newdegate from portraitist Peter Lely (van Dyck’s successor in England), who promised that the portrait would be “from the Beginning to ye end drawne with my owne hands.”[64] Unlike the exactitude employed by the Flemish masters, Reynolds summed up his approach to portraiture by stating that, “the grace, and, we may add, the likeness, consists more in taking the general air, than in observing the exact similitude of every feature.”[65] Also prominent in England was William Hogarth, who dared to buck conventional methods by introducing touches of humor in his portraits. His “Self-portrait with Pug” is clearly more a humorous take on his pet than a self-indulgent painting.[66]

In the 18th century, female painters gained new importance, particularly in the field of portraiture. Notable female artists include French painter Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Italian pastel artist Rosalba Carriera, and Swiss artist Angelica Kauffman. Also during that century, before the invention of photography, miniature portraits―painted with incredible precision and often encased in gold or enameled lockets―were highly valued.

In the United States, John Singleton Copley, schooled in the refined British manner, became the leading painter of full-size and miniature portraits, with his hyper-realistic pictures of Samuel Adams and Paul Revere especially well-regarded. Copley is also notable for his efforts to merge portraiture with the academically more revered art of history painting, which he attempted with his group portraits of famous military men.[67] Equally famous was Gilbert Stuart who painted over 1,000 portraits and was especially known for his presidential portraiture. Stuart painted over 100 replicas of George Washington alone.[68] Stuart worked quickly and employed softer, less detailed brush strokes than Copley to capture the essence of his subjects. Sometimes he would make several versions for a client, allowing the sitter to pick their favorite.[69] Noted for his rosy cheek tones, Stuart wrote, “flesh is like no other substance under heaven. It has all the gaiety of the silk-mercer’s shop without its gaudiness of gloss, and all the softness of old mahogany, without its sadness.” [70] Other prominent American portraitists of the colonial era were John SmibertThomas SullyRalph EarlJohn TrumbullBenjamin WestRobert FekeJames PealeCharles Willson Peale, and Rembrandt Peale.

19th century

Piotr MichałowskiArtist’s daughter on horseback, ca 1853, National Museum in Warsaw

In the late 18th century and early 19th century, neoclassical artists continued the tradition of depicting subjects in the latest fashions, which for women by then, meant diaphanous gowns derived from ancient Greek and Roman clothing styles. The artists used directed light to define texture and the simple roundness of faces and limbs. French painters Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres demonstrated virtuosity in this draftsman-like technique as well as a keen eye for character. Ingres, a student of David, is notable for his portraits in which a mirror is painted behind the subject to simulate a rear view of the subject.[71] His portrait of Napoleon on his imperial throne is a tour de force of regal portraiture. (see Gallery below)

Romantic artists who worked during the first half of the 19th century painted portraits of inspiring leaders, beautiful women, and agitated subjects, using lively brush strokes and dramatic, sometimes moody, lighting. French artists Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault painted particularly fine portraits of this type, especially dashing horsemen.[72] A notable example of artist of romantic period in Poland, who practised a horserider portrait was Piotr Michałowski(1800-1855). Also noteworthy is Géricault’s series of portraits of mental patients (1822–1824). Spanish painter Francisco de Goya painted some of the most searching and provocative images of the period, including La maja desnuda(c. 1797-1800), as well as famous court portraits of Charles IV.

The realist artists of the 19th century, such as Gustave Courbet, created objective portraits depicting lower and middle-class people. Demonstrating his romanticism, Courbet painted several self-portraits showing himself in varying moods and expressions.[73] Other French realists include Honoré Daumier who produced many caricatures of his contemporaries. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrecchronicled some of the famous performers of the theater, including Jane Avril, capturing them in motion.[74] French painter Édouard Manet, was an important transitional artist whose work hovers between realism and impressionism. He was a portraitist of outstanding insight and technique, with his painting of Stéphane Mallarmé being a good example of his transitional style. His contemporary Edgar Degas was primarily a realist and his painting Portrait of the Bellelli Family is an insightful rendering of an unhappy family and one of his finest portraits.[75]

In America, Thomas Eakins reigned as the premier portrait painter, taking realism to a new level of frankness, especially with his two portraits of surgeons at work, as well as those of athletes and musicians in action. In many portraits, such as “Portrait of Mrs. Edith Mahon”, Eakins boldly conveys the unflattering emotions of sorrow and melancholy.[76]

The Realists mostly gave way to the Impressionists by the 1870s. Partly due to their meager incomes, many of the Impressionists relied on family and friends to model for them, and they painted intimate groups and single figures in either outdoors or in light-filled interiors. Noted for their shimmering surfaces and rich dabs of paint, Impressionist portraits are often disarmingly intimate and appealing. French painters Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir created some of the most popular images of individual sitters and groups. American artist Mary Cassatt, who trained and worked in France, is popular even today for her engaging paintings of mothers and children, as is Renoir.[77] Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, both Post-Impressionists, painted revealing portraits of people they knew, swirling in color but not necessarily flattering. They are equally, if not more so, celebrated for their powerful self-portraits.

John Singer Sargent also spanned the change of century, but he rejected overt Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. He was the most successful portrait painter of his era, using a mostly realistic technique often effused with the brilliant use of color. He was equally apt at individual and group portraits, particularly of upper-class families. Sargent was born in Florence, Italy to American parents. He studied in Italy and Germany, and in Paris. Sargent is considered to be the last major exponent of the British portrait tradition beginning with van Dyck.[77] Another prominent American portraitist who trained abroad was William Merritt Chase. American society painter Cecilia Beaux, called the “female Sargent”, was born of a French father, studied abroad and gained success back home, sticking with traditional methods. Another portraitist compared to Sargent for his lush technique was Italian-born Parisian artist Giovanni Boldini, a friend of Degas and Whistler.

American-born Internationalist James Abbott McNeill Whistler was well-connected with European artists and also painted some exceptional portraits, most famously his “Arrangement in Grey and Black, The Artist’s Mother” (1871), also known as “Whistler’s Mother”.[78] Even with his portraits, as with his tonal landscapes, Whistler wanted his viewers to focus on the harmonic arrangement of form and color in his paintings. Whistler used a subdued palette to create his intended effects, stressing color balance and soft tones. As he stated, “as music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, and the subject-matter has nothing to do with the harmony of sound or of color.”[79]Form and color were also central to Cézanne‘s portraits, while even more extreme color and brush stroke technique dominate the portraits by André Derain, and Henri Matisse.[80]

The development of photography in the 19th century had a significant effect on portraiture, supplanting the earlier camera obscura which had also been previously used as an aid in painting. Many modernists flocked to the photography studios to have their portraits made, including Baudelaire who, though he proclaimed photography an “enemy of art”, found himself attracted to photography’s frankness and power.[81] By providing a cheap alternative, photography supplanted much of the lowest level of portrait painting. Some realist artists, such as Thomas Eakins and Edgar Degas, were enthusiastic about camera photography and found it to be a useful aid to composition. From the Impressionists forward, portrait painters found a myriad number of ways to reinterpret the portrait to compete effectively with photography.[82] Sargent and Whistler were among those stimulated to expand their technique to create effects that the camera could not capture.

20th century

Portrait of Gertrude Stein,1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. When someone commented that Stein did not look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will”.[83]

Other early 20th-century artists also expanded the repertoire of portraiture in new directions. Fauvist artist Henri Matisse produced powerful portraits using non-naturalistic, even garish, colors for skin tones. Cézanne‘s relied on highly simplified forms in his portraits, avoiding detail while emphasizing color juxtapositions.[84] Austrian Gustav Klimt‘s unique style applied Byzantine motifs and gold paint to his memorable portraits. His pupil Oskar Kokoschka was an important portraitist of the Viennese upper class. Prolific Spanish artist Pablo Picasso painted many portraits, including several cubist renderings of his mistresses, in which the likeness of the subject is grossly distorted to achieve an emotional statement well beyond the bounds of normal caricature.[85]

An outstanding female portrait painter of the turn of the 20th century, associated with the French impressionism, was Olga Boznańska (1865-1940). Expressionistpainters provided some of the most haunting and compelling psychological studies ever produced. German artists such as Otto Dix and Max Beckmann produced notable examples of expressionist portraiture. Beckmann was a prolific self-portraitist, producing at least twenty-seven.[86] Amedeo Modigliani painted many portraits in his elongated style which depreciated the “inner person” in favor of strict studies of form and color. To help achieve this, he de-emphasized the normally expressive eyes and eyebrows to the point of blackened slits and simple arches.[87]

Great Britain

British art was represented by the Vorticists, who painted some notable portraits in the early part of the 20th century. The Dada painter Francis Picabia executed numerous portraits in his unique fashion. Additionally, Tamara de Lempicka‘s portraits successfully captured the Art Deco era with her streamlined curves, rich colors and sharp angles. In America, Robert Henri and George Bellows were fine portraitists of the 1920s and 1930s of the American realist school. Max Ernst produced an example of a modern collegial portrait with his 1922 painting “All Friends Together”.[88]

Andy WarholMarilyn Diptych, 1962, 2,054 cm × 1,448 cm., (809 in × 570 in), Tate Gallery, London. Andy Warhol (1928-1987), made several portraits of Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities during the 1960s and throughout his career.


A significant contribution to the development of portrait painting of 1930-2000 was made by Russian artists, mainly working in the traditions of realist and figurative painting. Among them should be called Isaak BrodskyNikolai FechinAbram Arkhipov and others.[89]


Portrait production in Europe (excluding Russia) and the Americas generally declined in the 1940s and 1950s, a result of the increasing interest in abstraction and nonfigurative art. One exception, however, was Andrew Wyeth who developed into the leading American realist portrait painter. With Wyeth, realism, though overt, is secondary to the tonal qualities and mood of his paintings. This is aptly demonstrated with his landmark series of paintings known as the “Helga” pictures, the largest group of portraits of a single person by any major artist (247 studies of his neighbor Helga Testorf, clothed and nude, in varying surroundings, painted during the period 1971–1985).[90]

By the 1960s and 1970s, there was a revival of portraiture. English artists such as Lucian Freud (grandson of Sigmund Freud) and Francis Bacon have produced powerful paintings. Bacon’s portraits are notable for their nightmarish quality. In May 2008, Freud’s 1995 portrait Benefits Supervisor Sleeping was sold by auction by Christie’s in New York City for $33.6 million, setting a world record for sale value of a painting by a living artist.[91] Many contemporary American artists, such as Andy WarholAlex Katz and Chuck Close, have made the human face a focal point of their work. Warhol’s painting of Marilyn Monroe is an iconic example. Close’s specialty was huge, hyper-realistic wall-sized “head” portraits based on photographic images. Jamie Wyeth continues in the realist tradition of his father Andrew, producing famous portraits whose subjects range from Presidents to pigs.

Gallery of Portrait paintings

See also

References and notes

  1. Jump up^ Gordon C. Aymar, The Art of Portrait Painting, Chilton Book Co., Philadelphia, 1967, p. 119
  2. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 94
  3. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 129
  4. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 93
  5. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 283
  6. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 235
  7. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 280
  8. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 51
  9. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 72
  10. Jump up^ Robin Simon, The Portrait in Britain and America, G. K. Hall & Co., Boston, 1987, p. 131, ISBN 0-8161-8795-9
  11. Jump up^ Simon, p. 129
  12. Jump up^ Simon, p. 131
  13. Jump up to:a b Aymar, p. 262
  14. Jump up^ Simon, p. 98
  15. Jump up^ Simon, p. 107
  16. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 268, 271, 278
  17. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 264
  18. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 265
  19. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 5
  20. Jump up^ Cheney, Faxon, and Russo, Self-Portraits by Women Painters, Ashgate Publishing, Hants (England), 2000, p. 7, ISBN 1-85928-424-8
  21. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, The Portrait in the Renaissance, Bollingen Foundation, New York, 1966, pp. 71-72
  22. Jump up^ Natural History XXXV:2 trans H. Rackham 1952. Loeb Classical Library
  23. Jump up^ Cheney, Faxon, and Russo, p. 20
  24. Jump up^ David Piper, The Illustrated Library of Art, Portland House, New York, 1986, p. 297, ISBN 0-517-62336-6
  25. Jump up^ Piper, p. 337
  26. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, p. 209
  27. Jump up^ Simon, p. 80
  28. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, p. 54, 63
  29. Jump up^ Piper, p. 301
  30. Jump up^ Piper, p. 363
  31. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 29
  32. Jump up^ Piper, p. 365
  33. Jump up to:a b Bonafoux, p. 35
  34. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, pp. 124-126
  35. Jump up^ Piper, p. 318
  36. Jump up to:a b c John Hope-Hennessy, p. 20
  37. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, p. 227
  38. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, p. 212
  39. Jump up^ “Mona Lisa – Heidelberger Fund klärt Identität (English: Mona Lisa – Heidelberger find clarifies identity)” (in German). University of Heidelberg. Archived from the original on 2008-12-06. Retrieved 2008-08-29.
  40. Jump up^ “German experts crack the ID of ‘Mona Lisa'”MSN. 2008-01-14. Archived from the original on 2008-01-16. Retrieved 2008-08-29.
  41. Jump up^ “Researchers Identify Model for Mona Lisa”The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-29.[dead link]
  42. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, pp. 103-4
  43. Jump up^ Piper, p. 338
  44. Jump up^ Piper, p. 345
  45. Jump up^ Pascal Bonafoux, Portraits of the Artist: The Self-Portrait in Painting, Skira/Rizzoli, New York, 1985, p. 31, ISBN 0-8478-0586-7
  46. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, p. 52
  47. Jump up^ Piper, p. 330
  48. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, p. 279
  49. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, p. 182
  50. Jump up^ John Hope-Hennessy, p. 154
  51. Jump up to:a b John Hope-Hennessy, p. 187
  52. Jump up^ Bonafoux, p. 40
  53. Jump up^ Piper, pp. 408-410
  54. Jump up^ Simon, p. 109
  55. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 162
  56. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 161
  57. Jump up^ Piper, p. 421
  58. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 218
  59. Jump up^ Piper, p. 424
  60. Jump up^ Bonafoux, p. 62
  61. Jump up^ Piper, p. 418
  62. Jump up^ Piper, p. 460
  63. Jump up^ Simon, p. 13, 97
  64. Jump up^ Simon, p. 97
  65. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 62
  66. Jump up^ Simon, p. 92
  67. Jump up^ Simon, p. 19
  68. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 204
  69. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 263
  70. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 149
  71. Jump up^ Bonafoux, p. 99
  72. Jump up^ Piper, p. 542
  73. Jump up^ Bonafoux, p. 111
  74. Jump up^ Piper, p. 585
  75. Jump up^ Piper, p. 568
  76. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 88
  77. Jump up to:a b Piper, p. 589
  78. Jump up^ Piper, p. 561
  79. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 299
  80. Jump up^ Piper, p. 576
  81. Jump up^ Piper, p. 552
  82. Jump up^ Simon, p. 49
  83. Jump up^ “Portrait of Gertrude Stein”. Metropolitan Museum. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
  84. Jump up^ Piper, p. 582
  85. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 54
  86. Jump up^ Aymar, p. 188
  87. Jump up^ Piper, p. 646
  88. Jump up^ Bonafoux, p. 45
  89. Jump up^ Sergei V. Ivanov. Unknown Socialist Realism. The Leningrad School. – Saint Petersburg: NP-Print Edition, 2007. – 448 p. ISBN 5-901724-21-6ISBN 978-5-901724-21-7.
  90. Jump up^ ’’An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art, Boston, 1987, Little Brown & Company, p. 123, ISBN 0-8212-1652-X
  91. Jump up^ “Freud work sets new world record”. BBC News Online. 14 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-29.
  92. Jump up^ Families in beeld – Frauke K. Laarmann, Families in beeld: De ontwikkeling van het Noord-Nederlandse familieportret in de eerste helft van de zeventiende eeuw. Hilversum, 2002, Verloren, ISBN 978-90-6550-186-8 Retrieved December 25, 2010
  • The New Age “Art Notes” column of 28 February 1918 is a closely reasoned analysis of the rationale and aesthetic of portraiture by B.H. Dias (pseudonym of Ezra Pound), an insightful frame of reference for viewing any portrait, ancient or modern.

Further reading on Portrait painting

External links

21 quote of what great art is

  1. “I think that great art either causes a viewer to think or to feel. If it doesn’t stir something up.. They may say ‘That’s nice’ and move on, and wouldn’t walk 10 steps to look at it again. In my opinion great art can be any style or technique or level of skill. But to qualify as great it has to create a substantial amount of activity in the viewer’s mind or heart. Good art can be a matter of good concept or excellent skills in execution, but I think great art touches the mind, heart or soul of the viewer.” — Michael
  2. “A painting should evoke a thought, a memory or idea to the viewer. I will give you an example . My 90-year-old grandmother has one of my earlier paintings on her wall in a nursing home It is a painting of my grandfather (her husband who passed away years ago) walking down to the ocean to his boat in Newfoundland from a small cabin on a hill above the sea. I personally never appreciated the piece. She told me she looks at it every day and gets something out of it. She loves it. I realized now that this is the whole purpose of art, to communicate a memory a thought or an idea.” — BrRice
  3. “I was taught that a thought-provoking piece with the formal conditions of beauty, composition, rhythm, color manipulation all contributed to a good work of all, but mostly it is the ‘leap in the imagination’ that stirs my soul.” — Cynthia Houppert
  4. “Maybe photorealism tells the viewer too much, there’s not enough left to the imagination. All the facts are there. Maybe there’s too much information, the human brain likes to keep things simple. Some of the best artists in the world keep their paintings simple. They convey one idea at a time. Too many ideas in one painting can complicate.” — Brian
  5. “I just feel we can’t ignore the photorealism style as meaningful. It just seems to come down to what we like. If so, we can’t dismiss another style as meaningful because we don’t have an affinity for that style. … I once read, I don’t remember where, that art is reordering nature according to our own views… a re-creation if you will. I don’t think that creating a technique or style is the quest, but rather to use a technique or style — one ‘natural’ to the artist — to establish the communication.” — Rghirardi
  6. “What makes painting a good work of art? Plain and simple (to me anyway) something you just cannot take your eyes off of. Something that you see that strikes your soul to the very depths, that opens your eyes and your mind to the beauty of it.” — Tootsiecat
  7. “It seems to me that it comes down to a piece of work that strikes a chord with enough people so that it seems almost naturally to assume the title of a ‘great work of art‘.
  8. This normally happens with art that’s been around long enough to have been seen by enough people to make a general consensus, which makes it at least a hundred years old, except in special cases, such as Guernica etc etc.(I’m not saying there are no exceptions). I think what makes a piece of work great is it’s ability to reach a common theme, a common thread, a common emotion for want of a better word, with enough people. It isn’t so much that it ‘needs’ to reach a lot of people, but just in the actual reaching out, it hits so many people, it’s universal in it’s uniqueness.” — Taffetta
  9. “Each person is so different, what may be amazing or moving to one person may be rubbish to another.” — Manderlynn
  10. “Good art, no matter what style, has certain elements that give rise to the piece being successful, or not.
  11. It does not have anything to do with looking ‘pretty’. Good art is not about beauty in the normal sense of the word. Someone mentioned Guernica, by Picasso. It’s a great example of great art. It’s not pretty, it’s disturbing. It is meant to provoke thought… and to make a statement about a particular war. … Good art is about balance, composition, use of light, how the artist moves the viewer’s eye throughout the piece, it’s about the message, or what the artist is trying to communicate, to convey. It is about how the artist used his medium, his skills. It is not about style. Style has nothing to do with whether or not something is good. … Good art will always be good. Crap will never be good. Someone may like that piece of crap, but it does not raise it to the level of good art.” — Nancy
  12. “Do you think artists tend to think photorealistic paintings are lifeless because with abstract many of us cannot tell for sure? As for symbolism, who makes the symbols work? The artist or the viewer? If it’s the artist, it’s possible the viewer will take the symbols differently. If it’s the viewer, then the artist’s effort is in vain. Is a work only meaningful/conceptual/symbolic when the artist consciously designed it? Haven’t we all had our paintings interpreted by others in a way we never meant for?” — Israel
  13. “I have been through art school and was taught how to apply the perfect technical skills, but to me it’s like following a recipe. It’s not from the gut. Art, to me, is about expression, and everyone has their own technique and style.” — Sheri
  14. “Many of what we know of as masterpieces owe their beauty or interest to something other than the artwork itself. For instance would you call a Van Gogh interesting or is it the man’s torrid life that stirs the imagination?” — Anwar
  15. “You call a painting by its creator’s name — a Van Gogh, a Picasso, a Pollock, a Moses — because you subscribe to the adage that the artist and the work are one. That’s what makes it moving… when you feel the artist through the work, like he just finished painting it yesterday and the artist is behind you looking over your shoulder as you ponder on.” — Ado
  16. Art is most definitely subjective. Connecting with the piece most often than not is a deeply personal matter. … But, personal reactions do not make anything good, or anything bad. Throughout history there have been plenty of pieces of good  art that have shocked, appalled, and created quite a negative reaction, yet they are great works of art. And there are pieces of art, that are quite popular but are not great works of art. I think most of us know instinctively, intuitively what is good. Again, it doesn’t have to appeal to our personal tastes for us to know it is good.” — Nancy
  17. “I’ve always thought that, in addition to all the structure, the technique, the effort and knowledge that goes into a painting, there’s something intangible that makes it special, if only to us. Paintings are like poetry in that they evoke certain feelings, certain emotions that function within our psyches on a more primitive level.
  18. They have something to them, something you can’t define, something just outside of the light of our campfire (to paraphrase Gary Snyder). To be sure, paintings need structure and all the other elements, but they also need that primal ‘Oomph!’ to reach out to us, be they by Da Vinci, Pollock, Picasso, or Bob Ross.” — Mreierst
  19. “It’s the quality, the immediate reaction you have upon seeing, hearing, touching the work. An emotional, visceral response. This takes place before your intellect recognizes the content of the work and starts to work out meanings and messages. You just know.” — Farfetche1
  20. “I believe a painting has to include some of the elements and principles of the language of art in order to be good art. I think artists need the structure they give to be able to successfully communicate an idea. And, also to communicate the ‘beauty’ and harmony of the work. I’ve used the example of music. There are a few notes that become embellished and they are arranged within some sort of structure. If there is no structure, the result is noise. The same applies to painting, in my humble opinion. Without some structure, it’s just paint slapped on the canvas. Look at a Pollock. There’s structure in them although they may look chaotic to some.” — Rghirardi
  21. “I think a lot of the wonder of realism has been lost because we don’t have the same use of symbolism as earlier centuries. We see objects simply for themselves, not as adding another level of meaning. If you think of that Pre-Raphaelite painting by Millais of Ophelia, the flowers around her aren’t simply decorative, there are all sorts of additional meanings conveyed through them. I think a piece of good art is that makes you want to keep looking and that stirs your emotions. I can think of several portraits in London’s Portrait Gallery that I used to go ‘visit’ regularly during lunchtime when I worked in London; I knew them well but simply never got tired of looking at them.” — Painting Guide


Illusion: Nativity scene or two t-rexes?

Brooke from:

Every year I gingerly unpack the green and gold Lenox boxes containing our hand-me-down nativity set. Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the shepherds and wise men typically grace the table in quick succession.


As you gaze upon your nativity this year consider the true account of Christmas as told in the gospels and ask yourself, “What have we as a culture added to the story of Christmas? What have we taken away?” … Also, a closer look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, may prove profitable for you this year. Consider reading, Mary Christmas, a post I wrote over at Raise the Risk a few years ago or the fabulous account in this month’s Homelife Magazine, written by Liz Curtis Higgs,Between Now and Then: When you wait with God, you never wait alone. In this excerpt from her new book, The Women of Christmas, Liz pens, “God didn’t choose Mary because she was unique. Mary was unique because God chose her. ” …


Illusion comes on stage.

giagia kindly brought this great illusion to my attention – what do you see, a peaceful nativity scene or two angry dinosaurs Richard Wiseman: @giagia kindly brought this great illusion to my attention – what do you see, a peaceful nativity scene or two angry dinosaurs ? T-Rex Tyrannosaurus

T. rex (Tyrannosaurus)

Tyrannosaurus (/tɨˌrænəˈsɔrəs/ or /taɪˌrænəˈsɔrəs/; meaning “tyrant lizard”, from Greek tyrannos (τύραννος) meaning “tyrant”, and sauros (σαῦρος) meaning “lizard”) is a genus of coelurosaurian theropod dinosaur. The speciesTyrannosaurus rex (rex meaning “king” in Latin), commonly abbreviated to T. rex, is a fixture in popular culture. It lived throughout what is now western North America, which then was an island continent named Laramidia, with a much wider range than other tyrannosaurids. Fossils are found in a variety of rock formations dating to the Maastrichtian age of the upper Cretaceous Period, 67 to 66 million years ago. It was among the last non-avian dinosaurs to exist before theCretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.


Fast Facts

40 ft (12 m) long; 15 to 20 ft (4.6 to 6 m) tall
Protection status:
Did you know?
Tyrannosaurusmeans “tyrant lizard.”
Size relative to a bus:
Illustration:Tyrannosaurus rex compared with bus

Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs that ever lived. Everything about this ferocious predator, from its thick, heavy skull to its 4-foot-long (1.2-meter-long) jaw, was designed for maximum bone-crushing action.

Fossil evidence shows thatTyrannosaurus was about 40 feet (12 meters) long and about 15 to 20 feet (4.6 to 6 meters) tall. Its strong thighs and long, powerful tail helped it move quickly, and its massive 5-foot-long (1.5-meter-long) skull could bore into prey.

T. rex‘s serrated, conical teeth were most likely used to pierce and grip flesh, which it then ripped away with its brawny neck muscles. Its two-fingered forearms could probably seize prey, but they were too short to reach its mouth.

Scientists believe this powerful predator could eat up to 500 pounds (230 kilograms) of meat in one bite. Fossils of T. rex prey, including Triceratops andEdmontosaurus, suggest T. rex crushed and broke bones as it ate, and broken bones have been found in its dung.

Tyrannosaurus rex lived in forested river valleys in North America during the late Cretaceous period. It became extinct about 65 million years ago in the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction.

National Geographic


North Carolinians, if you haven’t been to the NC Zoo in awhile and have a dinosaur lover in the house, you need to get there before the end of October.

Dinosaurs and baby gorillas:


Derek Gores: collage artist

Derek Gores was born in New York in 1971. He’s best known for ripped paper collage portraits, made using recycled magazine pages and other found parts. He’s had a hot year to date, with several shows and pieces selling for five figures. In addition to his fine art, Derek has worked as a commercial illustrator and designer for 15 years, with clients including Lenny Kravitz, U2, Van Halen, Kings of Leon, Madonna, Lucasfilm, ESPN, the National Football League, Harley Davidson, Adidas as well as many others. In January, Derek was honored to be featured at the Manifest Hope DC exhibit in Washington, prior to President Obama’s Inauguration. The exhibit was juried by Spike Lee and fellow artist Shepard Fairey, among others. Currently, he has a large solo exhibition and a group show that is open through September 25, 2009.

Derek lives in Melbourne, Florida with his wife Jamie and their three daughters.



TORN: solo exhibition of large scale collages – 321 Agency in Melbourne, FL. Through September 25.

MEMENTO MORI: group show at the Parlor Gallery, Asbury Park, NJ – opens Saturday August 22.

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

I’ve just always drawn. Really really make a conscious career move? Probably the summer after college when it was time to turn it into a job, my first was making art for the Grateful Dead. Great experience, since we made hundreds of tees for the band, and yet they didn’t want photos of the band in any of the designs. Started me digging deep into visual metaphors and weird imagery. Tried to expand the idea of the band, not just illustrate what already existed.

Who or what inspires you?

Subject-wise, I love the figure. The living body. The pulsing, moving, living being and all the space around it. And I contrast that with study of man made things. Engines, schematics, things that aren’t supposed to be art. Process-wise, I make these collages for the feeling of having my brain and senses surprised and confused while searching for the image. Here’s the deepest thing I’ve ever said about it: I try to make an experience, instead of just a picture of an experience. The history each viewer brings to the art affect the perceptions, of course. The inside of your head is the real canvas. See? Deep, right?

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

Gotta start with Dad, drawing the Brewster Grist Mill on Cape Cod. Star Wars had me inventing worlds on my own. Peers had me doing tag team doodles which I still love. Exposure to local bad-asses, guys who wanted to make their own luck instead of waiting to be invited into galleries. I did go to art school at RISD. Faves there included the mystical life force searching of Victor Lara, the noble craftsmanship of Tom Sgouros, the swashbuckling of painter Dean Richardson. Toss in a little David Macaulay communication, some Mahler Ryder bluntness and one great speaking engagement with Brad Holland, who would only show up if it was student-organized. I was fortunate too to attend RISD at the same time as Shawn Kenney, Scott Conary and Robert Moody. I call him Bob. Then I jumped in with a huuuuuge company, art directing, developing the vision thing and the leadership thing. I consider all that part of my training for now. Current teaching comes from a spider web of compatriots here in Florida. Artists Cliffton Chandler, Ryan Speer, David Burton, Cynic, SLOW, Casey Decotis and many art-support folks who together make stuff happen.

How do you keep “fresh” within your industry?

Just by living and doing new things. Parenting. Combining the senses, drawing, trying music. Collaborating. Actually the collage stuff is the latest in a long line of deliberate moves toward staying out of my own control, channeling randomness. When I was 18 I was on the path to precision. Boris would have liked me.

What are some of your current projects?

Just finished a commission for the health care reform campaign- a 24″ x 24″ collage all in blues, made of words and phrases from the President’s speeches and ideas. On the lighter side, some tour tees for Kings of Leon and Depeche Mode. Just had my first solo show opening- TORN, produced by 321 Agency in Melbourne, FL. It includes my largest works yet, some of the collages are six feet tall. Next up is a group show at the Parlor Gallery in Asbury Park, NJ. Opens August 22. Hoping Springsteen pops in.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

My kid self is excited I did the artwork for Alex Van Halen’s drums (and several of the tees) on the last Van Halen tour! In terms of big time honor, gotta go with being selected as 2 of the 15 pieces chosen for the Manifest Hope DC exhibit prior to the inauguration in Washington. Shep Fairey, Yosi Sargent, — I think Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped in. I even have the President’s autograph on one of my prints. Wow. More personally, the latest collage works are going so well. Huge engines, samurais, beauties emerging from shadow… I just had the longest period of sustained adrenaline I’ve ever felt. And ready to apply to new stuff asap! But the real real real juice comes from the viewer, the collector’s reaction. I sometimes see it in their eyes, cheeks, throats even…

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

I’m hinting at 3d stuff. Did my first laser-cut plastic piece this year. 7 layers. I think the collages need to be 3d at some point. Project wise it is funny that I’ve worked for tons of private collectors, big campaign commissions, lots of product merch, music packaging, but very little in the area that most interested me while in collage- magazines. Maybe this year I’ll go looking. The collage stuff translates so well in print.

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

Explore, explore, draw, draw, read, read. I like Marshall Arisman’s advice that your focus ought to be the 5 things you know the most about. I know the body, machines, intimate spaces, nightlife feels, pop stuff. So I feel no need to do the business man with briefcase ascending the bar graph staircase. Don’t be generic, figure you out and be aggressive with it. Figure YOU out in the art, the promo, the networking, the living. Art isn’t just rectangles on a wall. The whole life is the art project, as a friend of mine likes to say. On the subject of school, I’ve seen artists with big time educations who never got out from under the weight of their training, never found the personal purpose. Had the how, but no why. And I’ve seen self taught people really break new ground. So, key is to own your own education, however you get it.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

If it takes the viewer’s mind to the right place to receive the accompanying text, story, show, message. Doesn’t have to be literal. Actually I’m wary of symbols, because they rely on intellectual memory to tell you what you are supposed to be feeling. I’d much rather see a piece that achieves a feeling, an actual felt response- even if the particulars might be hard to discern. Brad Holland was first to show me it is possible in the illustration/design world.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

Fresh stimulus. Weird art tools all around. I tend to do the art in waves- a wave of thinking, researching, discovering, uncovering, then finally a new rush of work. I despise doing work that has the idea at the beginning and then the rest of the time is laborious execution. I like surprises along the way. I’ve gotten very good at harnessing all that for a client too.

Finish this sentence. “If I weren’t a designer/illustrator I would have been a…”

No idea. Can you get paid to walk the Appalachian Trail? I haven’t done it yet, but I’m into it if pay is good and there are benefits.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

The less TV the better. But you can catch me watching those HD live concerts on Sundays.

Originally written on by  on September 18th 2009