Personal taste is a marvellous thing. Whether it’s your mum’s favourite 70’s retro sofa or that shade of neon green you hate. Nothing declares our taste in the same way as the artwork we choose to decorate our homes with. The truth is though, we don’t really think too hard and usually just go with our gut feeling. There’s no harm in this “I just like the look of it” mentality. But this blog hopes to show that the practice of reading artwork can actually be a deeply satisfying and self-fulfilling practice. If you’re a beginner in the art world, new to collecting artwork or just looking for something to fill up those empty walls this blog may help you when you decide what prints to invest in and connect with on a deeper level.
Colour can be the first thing that people notice when reading a painting. If you’re looking to match all of your artwork with a colour scheme this will be on the top of your agenda. However, it is important to remember that colour is not everything. Colour is the easiest way to read a painting’s tone, whether it is sad, happy, nostalgic or melancholic.
“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.” - Wassily Kandinsky
When looking at a painting with a defined subject and composition, such as Dawn Chorus by Sabrina Roscino, the colour of this piece very much tells us the tone of the painting. My advice would be to look at where the colour is in a painting like this. Roscino appears to have mixed the brightly coloured birds with hints of grey in order to express that they belong to the bleak ‘greyness’ of the world they inhabit.
Having read and understood this artwork I would place this on a “moody” toned wall so that the brightly coloured birds and leaves can really pop. After reading this painting we can see that colour is just one factor of a painting that draws us into it. In the video below with Ger, our concept and visual stylist, we look at how prints with specific tones can be hung in our home.
Structure and lines
Structure is something that anyone with an obsession for order and straight lines will love in a piece of artwork. Some paintings are purposefully off-centred to either confuse the reader or to convey a feeling of unease.
With Giorgio de Chirico’s painting The Anxious Journey we can see the way in which lines are used in order to make us feel that sense of confusion and disorientation. How do we look at reading a painting whose purpose is to confuse and make us uneasy? Well, we simply place ourselves in this painting. We are trapped in this strange room in which the only exit appears to contain a threatening steam train which looks almost like a beast waiting to attack. Our only hope of escape appears to be in the sliver of blue light coming from a small opening on the left of the painting.
The Anxious Journey (1913) - Giorgio de Chirico
Paintings such as this in your home creates discussions and draws attention to different ideas, it may also be a talking point during your next get-together.
When reading lines remember that we have a psychological response to different types of lines which make up how we interpret artwork. For instance, Fabrice de Villeneuve’s Oar Parade contains overlapping oars which appear to all be pointing in the same direction, however, pay close attention to the lines that are made by the different textures of wood. Curved lines suggest comfort and ease whereas the vertical lines suggest strength. Therefore we are left with the impression that together these oars represent power.
After reading this we can look at where this would go in our home. We know this painting represents strength and collective power. Therefore I would look at placing this painting in a space which may need some reinforced strength such as a blank wall or in a narrow hallway. For more information regarding ideas of how you may arrange the prints that you purchase please see our video below featuring Ger, our concept and visual stylist, where we look at tips of hanging artwork in your home.
Subject and Focus
And finally, the subject of an artwork might be a landscape, a person, an animal or even a scene from a story. When reading the subject in a figurative art piece it is important to look into what the subject might symbolise. Figurative art is artwork which is based on real objects and people which can be a nice addition to your home (if you don’t have a great view outside your window!). A figurative artist spends a lot of time looking as opposed to painting/drawing. Unlike De Chirico artists like Anthony Waller look at reality. He appears to paint what he sees.
Paintings such as Mighty Oak Grand which focuses on an oak tree during a cool winter morning appears to symbolise birth and power as the tree stands rooted in the frozen earth
Mighty Oak Grand - Anthony Waller
The next thing to look at with the subject is to focus on the style the artist uses. Waller has used very soft tones for the earth, leaves and sky but the bark of the tree is very harsh. The style is created using different brush strokes and tools by the artist. It can be a good idea to try and match certain print's styles when hanging in your home.
And that’s it! This was a brief look at how you can read artwork. Of course there’s a lot more to learn but hopefully, this has helped get you started. Keep in mind, art is as much about understanding what an artist is saying as it is about personal interpretation. Don’t be afraid to bring in your own ideas of what art means to you. Just remember to look out for colour, line, subject and style and pay a visit to your local art museum or gallery and see if a painting is worth a read.