Painting is the art of creating pictures by applying color to a surface. Paintings can record events; capture a likeness of a person, place, or object; tell stories; decorate walls; and illustrate texts. Paintings can express emotions and ideas, or simply be enjoyed for their beauty.
Paint is made by mixing a pigment (colored powder) with a medium (liquid substance) such as water. Egg is the medium for tempera painting, linseed oil for oil painting, and acrylic resin for acrylic painting. In fresco wall paintings, pigments are applied to wet plaster. Watercolors are made by mixing pigments with a water-soluble binder such as gum.
Some 20,000 years ago, early humans ground up earth, charcoal, and minerals, and used the colored powders to create images on cave walls. Sometimes the powders were mixed with saliva or animal fat to form a fluid, which was blown through reeds, or applied with fingers. The first paintings were of hunting scenes.
Some artists paint aspects of the visible world, such as people, landscapes, still-lifes of tableware, fruit, and flowers, or scenes from history, literature, and the imagination. Such paintings are realistic—they look like something real. Other paintings are abstract—they are not supposed to look like anything from the real world, but use colors, shapes, and lines to express feelings, moods, or ideas.
Table 35. KEY SCHOOLS OF PAINTING
|Gothic||13th–15th||The Annunciation, Simone Martini|
|Renaissance||14th–16th||The Arnolfini Marriage , van Eyck School of Athens, Raphael|
|Baroque||17th–18th||The Descent from the Cross, Rubens|
|Rococo||17th–18th||The Swing, Fragonard|
|Neoclassicism||18th–19th||The Oath of the Horatii , David|
|Romanticism||18th–19th||The Raft of the Medusa, Géricault|
|Impressionism & Post-Impressionism||Late 19th||Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, Renoir; Mont Ste Victoire, Cezanne|
|Cubism||20th||Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso|
Since paintings are two-dimensional (flat) and the real world is three-dimensional, artists use methods such as perspective to create the illusion that painted objects are real. One form of illusionism is sotto in sù, Italian for “from below upward.” Used on ceilings, it shows objects from below so that they appear to exist above the viewer’s head.
In painting, perspective is a system for representing three-dimensional space on a flat surface. In the real world, objects seem to be smaller the farther away they are from the viewer, and parallel lines appear to converge (meet). Perspective mimics this.
Perspective was developed in the Italian Renaissance by two painters, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) and Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446). They created a mathematical system and experimented with it. Before the invention of perspective, artists could not accurately represent how objects looked in space. Now they could paint a consistent, convincing illusion.
The vanishing point is the spot where lines that would be parallel in reality appear to converge in the distance on the painting’s horizon line (where the sky meets the land). As the converging lines move inward toward the vanishing point, they lead the viewer’s eye into the picture’s imaginary depth. By focusing on the tiny figure on the road, just beneath the vanishing point, the viewer feels it is almost possible to step into the painted landscape.