So last time we scratched the surface of the realm of color and how much meaning it can give to a work of art. But a great deal of art is produced with little to no color at all, such as sculpture, drawings, and prints among others. Let’s take a look at a few beautiful works and see how much emotion and power can be conveyed in pure grayscale…
- Dorothea Lange – Migrant Mother
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936
In a previous post, we looked at the powerful role of lines, both obvious and implied, in shaping the mood of a work of art. This time, let’s take a look at the effects of color.
As you probably know, solid, simple colors are associated with many basic emotions and can take on symbolic meaning. For instance, red is considered the color of passion, anger, or love, while blue is the color of calm, trustworthiness, and security. At the same time, colors can be associated with elements of nature, such as fire (red and orange), water (blue), and earth (brown). [More details on color symbolism can be found here.]
Color is thus one of the most crucial conveyors of meaning in art, often functioning at a subconscious level. Let’s look through a few examples to see how we react to artists’ choices of color in various styles and time periods…
- Jan Van Eyck – Arnolfini Portrait
Jan Van Eyck, Arnolfini Wedding, 1434
As we continue cracking the code… I want to focus a little bit on context with the following example on motherhood, childhood, and the societal perception of families. Parenting is never a straightforward affair, but every society has its own ideas about how children should be raised. Not so long ago parents professed that “Children should be seen but not heard,” and considered children to be miniature adults who had merely to be reined in and constrained by social rules, but whose emotions were generally secondary. This attitude is captured in François Boucher’s The Luncheon (1739), for instance, in which aristocratic Parisian ladies take tea with their children. Boucher paid exquisite attention to the shimmering dresses, brilliant gilded accessories and rich furnishings in his painting, and the children seem to form a part of this background of possession, with their doll-like faces and perfect dress. Indeed, the disdainful look that the lady in red gives in response to her child’s inquisitive face is worth more than a thousand words.
Boucher, The Luncheon, 1739
This post will focus on content, and how a single story can be transformed by different artistic visions, making us think twice about its ultimate meaning. Without further ado…
Ambition can fuel our greatest achievements, but it can also lead to our untimely demise. The tragedy of hubris is best captured by the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus, commonly known as the Fall of Icarus. Daedalus, a brilliant Athenian craftsman, designed a giant Labyrynth for King Minos of Crete to trap the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster. However, after various intrigues, Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the labyrinth. In order to escape, Daedalus put together giant wings of bird feathers held together by wax so that they could fly away from Crete over the sea. Before departing, he warned his son not to fly too low, for the sea could dampen the wings and make the heavy, or too high, for the sun could melt the wax on the wings. Continue reading
Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784, oil on canvas
Today we are going to focus specifically on form and its components. Among the many components of an artist’s formal toolbox, line is one of the most subtle yet versatile characteristics that can define a work of art. From the confusion of indiscernible lines to the purity of line by itself and every compromise in between, lines both obvious and unseen can really shape the mood of a piece and manipulate the way you look at a work (read more information here).
A powerful example of the importance of line can be seen in Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii Continue reading
Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, 1662-63
Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance contains intriguing symbolism that reflects contemporary social realities. Let’s follow the three-pronged approach and take a closer look…
Hi everyone! In the spirit of introductions, I am going to start off my blog with a series of exploratory posts, meant to work through how you can approach a work of art. On this blog, I am adopting an approach that looks at three major characteristics of a work of art: form, content, and context, which I have outlined on my page “Cracking the Code.” Each post will focus on a different element and show how useful it can be to understanding a particular work…or I may integrate all three to show you how they create a bigger story behind each piece. This is as much a learning experience for me as for you, so feel free to comment and critique!
Update: Here is the series as it stands… I hope to add to this theme over time.