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How to read a painting

If you plan to use a painting as the focus for a class project, learning to ‘read’ a painting is a good place to start. There are certain techniques that can help your class look at, and engage with a painting.

Reading a painting is similar to reading a book:

  • The reader decodes symbols to establish meaning
  • The reader uses inference and deduction (e.g. body language) to deepen understanding
  • A reader’s previous knowledge and experience affects their personal response

You could take the connection further:

  • The reader refers back to what they’ve read to explain their opinions
  • As understanding grows, the subject comes to life in the reader’s imagination, in a way that reaches beyond the page or frame

However, there are two important differences between reading a book and reading a painting. With a book we have to imagine the scene, whereas with a painting it is created for us (as it is with a film). Secondly – and this is where a painting differs from both a film and a book – the artist has only one frame through which to communicate.

So when we read a book, we convert, via our imaginations, what is black and white on the page into multicolour images. When we read a painting, the potential barrier of text is removed and we can leap straight into multicolour.

In this way, the visual image is immediately accessible and engaging. Secondly, due to the artist’s distillation of the subject matter into a single image, a painting requires a longer look than is usual in our digital culture.

By looking closely and then exploring what is seen together as a group, we can make a raft of shared and personal connections.

Spending time looking and exploring with pupils is rewarded by a depth of engagement and a sophisticated level of understanding about a painting’s context, which provides a platform for confident and committed oral and written work.

Art is a great status symbol in society, and sometimes, it can be quite intimidating to the inexperienced viewer. For many of us, the first impulse is to blow it away, to see it as a no value plaything for the annoying and rich. This is regrettable. Art is an excellent source of satisfaction and enjoyment in our lives. Even casual acquaintance with art can improve and deepen the understanding of the world, and is not so difficult. Some people today indeed devote their whole lives to studying the minutest particulars of a musicians’ job, but there’s no requirement to become a professional to have a meaningful relationship with art. All it requires is moderate attention to detail, a bit of patience, and a willingness to reflect on your feelings. That is how the process of reading art works.

Here, I will show you a quick method to approach and enjoy a painting. The ideas here could be implemented not only to reading wall art but other mediums too (sculpture, drawing, also design, and style ), and quite easily. There’s no shortcut to this; great art rewards the tenth viewing as much as the first, and you may devote a life considering the choices an artist made in a painting. Instead, let’s provide you a process to follow, which can help you to get the most from artwork the first time you see it.

Pablo Picasso on reading art works said that if you want to tell a great painting from a bad one, consider looking at thousand paintings. There are, naturally, standards that matter within the professional art world; however, don’t fret too much about what they think qualifies as “good.”

So, how to read a modern painting?

Have a Look

Art should attract you through your perceptions. That does not mean that a painting has to be beautiful to be good, but it should grab your attention in some manner. Give the piece a minute to do its thing — some works are intriguing in subtle ways. A job might grab your attention through its subject matter; the use of color, an interesting juxtaposition of objects, has a realistic look, a visual joke, or any other aspects.

Reading Art works through Topic or Subject

Once you’ve gotten a general look at the painting, then ask yourself, “what’s this all about?.” That is the subject of the painting. The topic might be a scene, an individual or group of people, a scene in the story, a construction or town scene, an animal, a lifetime, a fantasy scene. Some paintings won’t have a topic — a lot of the work of the 20th century is subjective, playing with shape and color and even the quality of the paint rather than representing reality. However, real masters of the abstract would deliver significance.

How to read a paintingBritish Diplomacy (2015)

The painting above, by the British artist Gheorghe Virtosu, represents British Diplomacy, as the title suggests. Scenes from the Bible or by mythology are famous in elderly work; In the modern world, we search for indications or visual symbolic associations. If you understand the story, you’re one step ahead of the game, but it’s possible to enjoy the work without knowing the story it exemplifies.

What Is That About?

Look for media and symbolism. A symbol means something. Don’t trap yourself in trying to work out “what the artist intended”; concentrate instead on what the work says to you.

How Would They Do That?

The next consideration is style, which is fundamentally the mark of the artist’s creativity in the picture. Some artists follow well-established fashions — several Renaissance portraits look almost exactly alike to the casual viewer, for instance — while others go out of their way to be different and hard. Some artists produce intimately detailed, finely controlled works, and others smack paint around almost haphazardly, creating a wild, ecstatic effect. You can get this from the artist’s biographical information.

It may not look as bright as the subject and symbolism, but the style may also communicate meaning to some viewer. For example, Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings convey the motion and freedom of the artist in the act of production. Picasso, on the other hand, is noteworthy for unbelievably deconstructed work, imparting a sort of modernity to the simple act of the subject matter.

How to read a painting

Anyone Can Do That!

A large part of the value or appeal of art is emotional — some artists go the way to inspire strong responses which range from awe and excitement to anger and disgust.

Knowing that an artist might be deliberately evoking an emotional reaction, it is worth taking a moment and question our immediate response. If a job makes you angry, ask yourself why. What is it about the work that disturbs you? What purpose would the artist have in upsetting you? What is it about the painting that makes you happy? And so forth — take some opportunity to examine your feelings in front of the art.

How to read a painting

This is not a complete introduction to reading wall art, let alone a comprehensive course, but it may help get you started in appreciating art as a casual observer least. Remember, the more you know, the better the experience. But you do not have to know much to get at least something from a painting. These four concepts — topic, symbolism, style, and self-examination will help you. Pay a visit to the local art museum or gallery, and see if you can find something worth your time. This article shall serve you as a starting point on how to read a modern painting.

Developing ways of looking

There are many ways of supporting children to look at paintings. Here are a few suggestions that work in the Gallery and the classroom, alone or in combination. All of them enable children to look at length, gathering the visual information needed for them to make a fuller personal response.

Jump in

Invite the children to imagine jumping into the frame. Suggest they explore in front of the painting, behind it, around it. Then lead their looking further by asking questions such as: What would they see, hear, smell, feel? Where would they rest? Who might they want to talk to? What might they want to ask?

Take a walk

Ask the children to let their eyes take a walk around the picture. Look at the

  • Top
  • Bottom
  • Foreground/closest thing to them
  • Background/what is far away
  • The people/objects

Describe and imagine

Divide the children into pairs. Ask A to close their eyes or have their back to the painting while B has their eyes open, facing the painting. B describes the painting for A to imagine.

Take a mental photo

Tell the children that they are going to have the time you count to 10 to look at the painting as closely as possible. Ask them to remember as much as they can. Invite them to take a mental photo.

Take the painting off the screen or walk behind the group and ask the students to turn around. Brainstorm everything that they can remember before turning back (or revealing the image again) and identify what has been missed.

Look and draw

Ask the children to sketch what they see. This could be done in many different ways. You could tell the children to:

  • Keep their pencil on the paper without taking it off
  • Use their wrong hand
  • Draw only the empty spaces they see
  • Use only lines and shapes
  • Draw and then pass their drawing to the next person to continue every 20 seconds
  • Repeat three times, each with a reduced amount of time

We look our best in subdued colors, sophisticated cuts, and a general air of sleek understatement. When I was young, I lived like an old woman, and when I got old, I had to live like a young person.

Men have got more of a discerning eye. They appreciate cut and details, things that aren’t so obvious. They like things that have cachet and gentlemanliness. Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future. My shows are about the complete woman who swallows it all. It’s a question of survival. We look our best in subdued colors, sophisticated cuts, and a general air sleek understatement. There is always an emotional element to anything that you make.

“I like the things around me to be beautiful & slightly dreamy, with a feeling of worldliness.”

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How to read a painting

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A compelling and superbly composed work of art with a powerful narrative

How to read a painting

How to read a painting

The painting shows two men leering over a wall, spying and conniving over a naked woman.

Their postures are threatening and lascivious. The way that the two figures combine into a single form, covers the full width of the painting, adopting the broad shape of a triangle — a pyramid or a mountain, or something else heavy and stout — giving the distinct impression of oppressing the woman seated beneath them.

How to read a painting

One of the men whispers into the other’s ear. He has his hand on the other’s shoulder. They are clearly in collusion as they loom over the bathing woman on the other side of the wall. The victim of their scheming is Susanna. She raises her hands in a defensive posture, illustrating without ambiguity that their attentions are unwanted and intrusive.

This scene is recognisable in the history of art as being about Susanna and the Elders, as told in the Book of Daniel.

The tale is set in Babylon during the Jewish exile and tells of Susanna taking a bath in her private garden. Two elders from the community secretly observe her and between them plot to seduce her.

How to read a painting

When Susanna sends her maids away and she is alone, the two lecherous men appear. They threaten the unsuspecting Susanna, telling her that unless she sleeps with them they will swear in public that they’d seen her in an act of adultery with a young man. Since Susanna was married, the accusation would bring great shame to her and her family, and worse, would carry the penalty of death if found guilty.

Susanna didn’t relent. Instead, she refused the elders and cried for help. The elders carried out their threat and Susanna was arrested. She was about to be put to death when Daniel — a noble Jewish youth of Jerusalem — interrupted and proceeded to cross-examine the two elders. He cleverly separated them and asked each to describe the tree under which they apparently saw Susanna commit her adultery. The two elders each described different trees; and so, with this conflicting evidence, Susanna’s innocence was proved.

Susanna was a fictional heroine whose symbolic appeal lay in the idea of innocent virtue eventually triumphing over evil. Her name in Hebrew means a lily, the symbol of purity. She became a popular subject in art because of these allegorical connotations, especially in Christian art, which made Susanna a symbol of the church — with obvious anti-Jewish undertones.

Painted in around 1610, Artemisia Gentileschi was just 17 years old when she made the work. As the daughter of the Tuscan artist Orazio Gentileschi, historians have long wondered if the painting had a helping-hand from her father, as a way of explaining its extraordinary competency.

Undoubtedly, the time she spent in her father’s workshop provided an important apprenticeship for the young artist. However, looking across Artemisia’s entire painting career, she produced consistently high-quality works that prove her talents were well established even from such a young age. Moreover, the realism of her paintings compared to the more stylised technique of her father suggest that this work belonged to her entirely.

Artemisia’s version of Susanna and the Elders is especially effective in expressing the lascivious intent of the two elders and of the psychological response of Susanna. Many other artists who painted the same subject gave a more ambiguous reading of Susanna’s reaction — one that perhaps enabled the (male) viewer to look upon the naked woman in the painting without the dubious sensation of participating in the elders’ malign advances.

How to read a painting

Guido Reni’s version, for instance, shows Susanna in more an equivocal pose, one of disquiet certainly, but also far less alarmed and fearful than the Gentileschi version.

It may be fair to say that Artemisia Gentileschi’s interpretation of the story gained from her being a woman, enabling her to depict a more vivid scene of sexual advance than her male counterparts were capable of imagining.

Much of Gentileschi’s reputation, particularly in more recent years, has been shaped by the rape she endured as a teenager in 1611, at the hands of another artist, Agostino Tassi. The case went to trial and detailed court records exist: it was a complicated situation, owing to the fact that Gentileschi and Tassi continued to have relations after the event, and also to the contemporary expectation of Gentileschi having been a virgin prior to the rape, without which the charges could not have been pressed. At the end of the trial, a disgraced Tassi was exiled from Rome, although no sentence was ever carried out.

Readings of Gentileschi’s art have been strongly influenced by these events, with many historians choosing to interpret her art as a proto-feminist response to her experiences. Indeed, many of Gentileschi’s paintings focus on strong female heroines from myth, allegory and the Bible. Two of her most well-known works are Judith Slaying Holofernes and Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, both of which show female protagonists in barbarous acts against men.

It is difficult to discount the effect of Gentileschi’s experience of rape on the art she subsequently produced. Yet it may be more appropriate to place Gentileschi’s artwork in its wider historical context: as responding to a marketplace whose taste was for dramatic narratives of heroines from the Bible or classical sources.

How to read a painting

In the case of Susanna and the Elders, there is no need for such uncertainty anyway, since it was painted a year before Tassi’s crime.

What is also beyond question is the skill with which Gentileschi made the painting. The two elders, in their crouched, shadowy form, are expertly contrasted with the light-filled Susanna. Her twisted posture is especially effective in dramatising the very moment the old men appear to her.

Not only does the twisted posture show off the artist’s ability to represent the human figure in a complex yet realistic pose — replete with perfectly painted shadows — it also adds an extraordinary level emotional realism to the incident.

Susanna’s raised hands and splayed fingers, which are positioned in a self-defensive configuration, work in perfect concert with the position of her head, which is almost doubled-back in alarm.

A contemporary viewer of this work would almost certainly have been aware of the full story of Susanna. They would have known that her strength of character in the face of false accusations eventually resulted — with Daniel’s help — in her innocence being proved. The tension and apprehension depicted in Gentileschi’s painting would therefore have made the symbolism of innocent virtue triumphing over evil all the more gripping.

How to read a painting

A free guide to the Essential Styles in Western Art History, plus updates and exclusive news about me and my writing? Download here.

Christopher P Jones is a writer and artist. He blogs about culture, art and life at his website.

Do you think tracking down the artist of a painting is frustrating or impossible? Well, for your information, it is not!

In reality, the challenge of finding the mysterious artist can be easy and fun.

There are so many resources available today which makes the challenge smooth and simplistic. And once you uncover the mystery about the artist, it can be immensely gratifying.

So let us take a look at the different methods you can use to uncover this mystery.

The Act of Narrowing Down

How to read a painting

Narrow down the possible artists. Like cops narrowing down the list of suspects. This act of narrowing down can help you immensely.

Artists of different periods and different cultures have different styles. For example, if you see an old painting depicting a street or landscape, you can relate it to French impressionist artists. Not always, but most times. Artists like Camille Pissarro and Antoine Blanchard are famous for these kinds of paintings. Next up, identify the style of painting followed. Whether it’s abstract and modern or rather traditional. You can also narrow down your search depending on the medium of paint used. Whether the artist used oil paint, watercolor, or any other medium.

How Internet Can Help?

How to read a painting

Things can be easy if there is a signature of the artist on the painting. If the painting is by some famous artist like Picasso or van Gogh, obviously, you would have identified it by now. But sometimes, the artist may not be that well known. The signature on the painting might be partial or blurred. Now what to do?

These days, internet has become the first place to look your answers. In this case also, if you plead before the internet, you won’t be disappointed. Websites like artistssignatures.com can help you in identifying the artist. The website even allows you to search by monograms. Here, you just need to enter the letters that you see in the artist signature and you will get a list of signatures containing those letters. From the list, you can compare signatures until you find a match to zero-in on the artist.

If you run out of luck on this website, search some of the other auction websites like Sotheby’s or websites like Art cyclopedia. These websites contain artist profiles and most of their paintings. Maybe this is where your luck hides, who knows! You could even try sending a photograph of the painting to people behind these websites. This could really simplify your challenge.

The Google God!

How to read a painting

Another great way to identify the painting and artist is by using Google Image Search. Here is what you need to do. Take a photograph of the painting, save it to your computer, upload the image to the Google Image Search engine and wait for the results. If you are lucky, you will get every detail you need about the painting from this simple search.

Don’t Forget Books!

How to read a painting

If you are not an ‘internet guy’, you still have many options left. Books are definitely one of them. You will find many books in the market that are databases of artist signatures. “Artists’ Monograms and Indiscernible Signatures: An International Directory”, a series of books by John Castagno, is an example. He has collected and published signatures of more than 55,000 artists around the world through this series. The book has different sections for signatures, monograms, symbols and even Cyrillic signatures. If the painting in your hand has any of these monograms or symbols, this book is sure to be a great resource.

The Fine Art Museums

If there are no symbols or signatures on the painting or none of the above stuff works for you, visiting a fine arts museum might be your last resort. Most such museums have a separate division for research and they can help you identifying the artist. In case the artist turns out to be someone famous and accomplished, it can only mean one thing; it’s your lucky day!

So accept the challenge and start searching for the artist. Once you find the artist, share your experience with us. How challenging or easy it was and how gratifying the experience was. We would love to see your comments!

Paint cups are used primarily in the automotive painting industry to achieve the correct mixtures of paint prior to application. Paint is never applied straight. It is first mixed with an activator solution and occasionally a third component like a paint thinner. Since paint manufacturers provide exact ratios for each of these products, the math can get tricky. That is why most people use mixing cups, which have all of the ratios written on the side, just like a measuring cup.

Step 1

Look on the side of the paint can to determine how much activator, or hardener, to add to the paint. The measurements will be displayed in a ratio such as 8:1:1. This means to use eight parts of paint, one part hardener and one part thinner. Some paint mixes leave off the third number since they don’t require thinner.

Step 2

Hold up the paint mixing cup and locate the corresponding mix ratio along the top of the cup, in this case 8:1:1. You can look through the outside of the cup or the inside, as the ratios are printed on both the interior and exterior of the cup. Each ratio contains three adjacent columns on the cup, one for each of the three numbers. If the mix ratio only has two numbers, then ignore the third column.

Step 3

Place the mixing cup on a flat surface. Pour in paint until it reaches the line in the first column of the ratio; then stop. Using the 8:1:1 example, you will pour until reaching the number 8 in the first column.

Step 4

Pour in enough activator to reach the number 1 in the second column.

Step 5

Locate the number 1 in the third column, if applicable, and pour in the thinner until reaching that line.

Mix paint thoroughly with a paint stirrer and apply.

  • The numbers in each of the three columns are staggered so that you simply pour one liquid on top of the other to reach the correct proportion.

Things You’ll Need

  • Paint mixing cup
  • Paint
  • Activator
  • Paint thinner
  • Paint stirrer

Kimberly Johnson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in various online publications including eHow, Suite101 and Examiner. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and began writing professionally in 2001.

Each General Motors (GM) vehicle has a paint code for its color. The paint code is in a reference computer database that tells a painter what quantity of each color to mix for the final product. Touch-up paints from dealerships have paint codes to match to the original color when a car owner is repairing a small area. Collision experts rely on the paint code to do body work and repaint large portions of vehicles so they will match in color.

Step 1

Locate the service parts identification sticker on the GM vehicle. The majority of vehicles have this sticker mounted in the glove box.

Step 2

Read the bottom line in the series of numbers on the sticker.

Step 3

Write down BC and the number following it. This is the base coat or undercoat color of the vehicle. Some cars and trucks have a different undercoat or base coat with a different color of topcoat to achieve depth in the final color.

Step 4

Write down CC on a piece of paper to note that the vehicle has a top layer of clear coat paint to add a mirror-like image.

Step 5

Write down U and the number following it. This is either the upper color of a vehicle or the main color code for the vehicle. Some cars and trucks have a different paint code on the roof, hood and truck that varies from the side of the body.

Write down the U and L, each with their own paint code. This is the upper and lower colors on a two-tone truck or the body color and the bumper color on a car.

Take the guesswork out of choosing paint colors with these four easy steps, using color swatches as your guide.

You’ve probably heard (or experienced) that a color swatch or paint chip color never looks the same once it’s on your wall. There is some truth to that. After all, you’re taking a color from a small, handheld cardstock square and applying it across a very large surface. And unless your room is illuminated by the same commercial-grade fluorescent fixtures that brighten home center paint aisles, you’re also changing the light that will affect the color.

Paint swatches can be overwhelming when you’re facing a giant selection of them at the store. But there is a foolproof process that ensures the color you achieve on your walls is what you are hoping for. Here are our expert, no-fail tricks to pick the perfect paint color.

Select Multiple Paint Colors

The important first step in choosing a paint color is getting it out of the store’s paint aisle. Choose a handful of hues, or borrow the entire fan deck of colors, and bring the chips home. Keep an open mind; you never know which one will end up as your final pick. Look at them in the room you want to paint at all times of day, from bright morning light to golden afternoon light to lamp-lit darkness. Hold them against existing upholstery fabrics, artwork, lampshades, and curtains. You might consider highlighting a color from a throw pillow or drapes to tie the room together. Narrow your choices to two or three colors. Chips that show coordinating colors are especially helpful. They suggest what shade of blue would look good with your walnut dining table and ecru curtains.

On a paint strip, all of the colors are variations of the same formula. They share the same undertones but have different intensities. The very bottom color will give you the best idea of the undertone and color family. Be cautious of comparing two swatches next to one another. They may look similar on paper but reveal their true hue when standing alone. If you do want to compare similar colors, opt to test a larger section of both on the wall.

Paint Swatches on Your Wall

Back in the paint aisle, ask for sample amounts of your favorite colors. Most companies offer small-size containers, which might cost a few dollars. If you’re considering several paint colors, this can add up, but it’s a worthy investment. Nothing will help you choose a color better than seeing the hue applied to the wall. Take the samples home and brush them on the walls of your room. Paint broad sections of the wall at eye level. The larger the section the better to evaluate the color, so don’t be shy. You’ll be able to paint over these test plots, even if they are dark shades and you need a primer. Once the test sections are dry, hang artwork over them, push furniture in front of them, and stand back in the room to see how they look. Live with these splashes on the wall for a little while to see how they look on different days. A buttery yellow might prove to be brighter than you want on sunny days, or a sage green might turn drab and disappointing on overcast days. How the colors look at night in the glow of your lamps is also something to test.

Editor’s Tip: Once you decide which color to go with, you’ll want to lightly sand the dried sample paint section. This will help minimize the extra layer of paint on that portion of the wall when you paint over it.

Ask a Paint Expert

Once you’ve settled on the winning hue, consult the experts at the paint store about what sheen to choose. Based on what wall surface you have—whether drywall or plaster or paneling—and whether the walls will need to be protected from moisture (in a bathroom or kitchen) or fingerprints (along a hallway or stairwell), they’ll suggest the best sheen to achieve the color you want. For example, flat-sheen paint gives you color closest to the original paint chip, whereas semigloss paint will have a moderate reflective quality that will dampen the vibrancy of the color slightly.