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Why do we need art in our homes?

It may seem like a simple question, with an even simpler answer. But, the real answer goes beyond the surface of just adding decoration or bringing color into the living room.

Here’s why we all need a few special pieces of original artwork in our living spaces:

Art makes a home more human.

“The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Listen to the art.” -Junot Diaz

Amongst all of the machine-made items in our homes, it’s nice to have something that can effortlessly bring life back into a room.

With a work of art, you can sense the time, effort, and skill that went into its creation. You may have even gotten the chance to meet the artist in person or hear the story behind the work. Even if you haven’t met the artist in person, seeing the fingerprints, brush strokes or marks on the work serves as a reminder of the person behind the work of art.

The Golden Lake, Living Room View, Landscape Paintings, Paintings

Art lets you express yourself and encourages dialogue.

“Art is a language meant to speak the things that can’t be said.” – John Demarco

Without needing words, art can be the perfect way to express who you are to both yourself and others.

Why? Art tells a story.

And, when you love a piece enough to hang it on your wall, that story speaks volumes about you.

Whether it’s your personality or what you value in life, art can be the perfect translator. This lets you forge deeper connections with those who come into your home.

Look at Yourself, Living Room View, Modern Paintings, Landscape Paintings, Paintings

Art helps us validate and recognize our emotion.

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understandas if it were necessary to understandwhen it is simply necessary to love.” – Claude Monet

Whether it’s a memory or a feeling, a piece of art can evoke powerful emotions when we look at it. Art can cheer us up after a bad day, make us remember, or inspire us to do more in life. It can provide comfort that we are not the only ones feeling a certain way.

Art provides a reflection back to us that enables us to chew on our own reactions, emotion, and thoughts. Whatever that emotion – positive or negative – it lets us know that we are not isolated in those thoughts.

Together We Stay, Living Room View, Modern Paintings, Landscape Paintings, Cultural Paintings, Paintings

Art stretches our boundaries and encourages growth.

“Art should be like a holiday: something to give a man the opportunity to see things differently and to change his point of view.” -Paul Klee

When art is more than decoration it challenges you intellectually, confronts preexisting ideas you may hold, and even makes you uncomfortable.

By leaning into these feelings, we push ourselves to think more openly, to challenge ourselves and to see the world from a different viewpoint. Having an artwork that has shifted our worldview in our own home is a daily reminder to question our habits and thoughts.

Art reminds us of what is possible.

“By doing what you love you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.” -Satsuki Shibayu

Seeing other people do what they love is inspiring. That’s why we follow Instagram accounts of artists, athletes, and yogis. Their passion is contagious.

It’s not hard to get stuck in a routine. So often we hear our friends, or even ourselves, saying something like, “I would paint more if I had time.” Or, that we will pursue these passions in retirement.

It is invigorating to see someone both creating and dedicating their time to what gives them the most joy in life. By pursuing these passions and working against the grain, they inspire us to do the same.

Art encourages us to be brave.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’keefe

Being an artist is not an easy path. It often requires deep sacrifice both financially and socially for periods at a time.

It also opens us up to criticism. As anyone who has ever displayed a work of art, poetry, writing or even given a speech knows—putting yourself out there is making yourself vulnerable.

Having a work of art in your home encourages you to take risks and to embrace vulnerability—because the result is often something beautiful.

Glorious Moments, Living Room View, Modern Paintings, Abstract Paintings, Paintings

Art breathes life into a home.

“I don’t like to say I have given my life to art. I prefer to say art has given life to me.”- Frank Stella

Your home is “your place,” and that’s why decorating it to your liking is so important. You need to feel comfortable in your space! And, surrounding yourself with art you love will help you enjoy where you spend a majority of your time.

Plus, from a functional design standpoint, art acts as a focal point, makes a room appear finished, and immediately shows off your interests and ideals to visitors. By choosing to live with art, you are choosing to bring more life into your home.

https://www.artworkarchive.com

Art is a great status symbol in modern society and because of that it can be quite intimidating to the casual viewer. For many the first impulse is to blow it off, to see it as a worthless plaything for the rich and boring. This is too bad, not only because art can be a great source of pleasure in our lives, but because even a passing acquaintance with art can enrich and deepen our understanding of the world around us.

Fortunately, developing a casual understanding of art is not all that difficult. It is true that some people devote their entire lives to studying the minutest details of an artists’ work, but there’s no need to become an expert to have a meaningful relationship with art. All it takes is a moderate attention to detail, a little bit of patience, and a willingness to reflect on your own feelings.

Here, I’ll show you a quick way to approach and appreciate a painting, although the ideas here can be applied to works in other mediums (sculpture, drawing, even architecture and fashion) quite easily. There’s no shortcut to understanding I can give; great art rewards the hundredth viewing as much as he first, and you can spend a lifetime pondering the decisions an artist made in one painting. Instead, I’ll try to give you a process to follow that will help you get the most out of a painting the first time you see it.

While I’m on the subject, a word about “great art”. Andy Warhol said that if you want to tell a good painting from a bad one, first look at a thousand paintings. There are no hard and fast rules about what makes a piece great, mediocre, or bad; remember, Van Gogh’s work was once considered amateurish and forgettable. There are, of course, standards that matter within the professional art world, but you don’t owe the professionals anything, so don’t worry too much about what they think qualifies as “great”.

Take a Look

Art should appeal to you first through your senses. That doesn’t mean a painting has to be beautiful to be good, but it must grab your eye in some way. Give a work a moment to do its thing — some works are intriguing in subtle ways. A work might grab your attention through its subject matter, it’s use of color, an interesting juxtaposition of objects, it’s realistic appearance, a visual joke, or any number of other factors.

Once you’ve gotten an overall look at the painting, ask yourself “what’s this a picture of?” That is, what is the subject of the painting? The subject might be a landscape, a person or group of people, a scene from a story, a building or city scene, an animal, a still life (a collection of everyday items like a bowl of fruit, a pile of books, or a set of tools), a fantasy scene, and so on. Some paintings won’t have a subject — much of the work of the 20th century is abstract, playing with form and color and even the quality of the paint rather than representing reality.

The painting above, by the Dutch artist Breughel, represents the Tower of Babel. Scenes from the Bible or from classical mythology are popular in older work; since the end of the 19th century, scenes of everyday life have become more common. If you know the story, you’re one step ahead of the game, but it’s possible to enjoy the work without knowing the story it illustrates.

What’s That All About?

Look for symbols. A symbol, very simply, is something that means something else.The Tower of Babel is a well-known symbol in Western society, representing both the dangers of pride and the disruption of human unity. Often a painting will include very clear symbols — skulls, for instance, were often included in portraits of the wealthy to remind them that their wealth was only worldly and, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately meaningless. But just as often the symbolism is unique, the artist’s own individual statement. Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to figure out “what the artist meant”; focus instead on what the work says to you.

How’d They Do That?

The next consideration is style, which is essentially the mark of the artist’s individual creativity on the canvas. Some artists follow well-established styles — many Renaissance portraits look almost exactly alike to the casual viewer, for instance — while others go out of their way to be different and challenging. Some artists create closely detailed, finely controlled works, others slap paint around almost haphazardly creating a wild, ecstatic effect.

It may not seem as obvious as the subject and symbolism, but style can also convey meaning to a viewer. For example, Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings convey the motion and freedom of the artist in the act of creation, despite being completely abstract. Vermeer’s Milkmaid, on the other hand, is notable for it’s incredibly fine detail and careful application of thin glazes of oil paints (which doesn’t come across in a photograph, alas) which create a luminous quality, imparting a kind of nobility and even divinity to the simple act of a servant pouring milk.

My Kid Could Do That!

A large part of the appeal of art is emotional — some artists go out of their way to inspire strong reactions ranging from awe and lust to anger and disgust. It’s easy to dismiss work that upsets our notion of what art could be, and any visitor to a gallery of modern art is likely to overhear at least one person complaining that “any three-year old with a box of crayons could do that!”

Knowing that an artist may be deliberately evoking an emotional response, it pays to take a moment and question our immediate reactions. If a work makes you angry, ask yourself why. What is it about the work that upsets you? What purpose might the artist have in upsetting you? Likewise, if your feelings are positive, why are they positive? What about the painting makes you happy? And so on — take the time to examine your own emotions in the presence of the painting.

This is by no means a complete introduction to art, let alone a complete course, but it should help get you started in appreciating art. The more you know, the better the experience will become, but you don’t need to know much to get at least something out of a painting. Keep in mind these 4 concepts (I’m trying not to call them the “Four Esses”) — subject, symbolism, style, and self-examination — and pay a visit to your local art museum or gallery and see if you don’t find something worth your time.

by Dustin Wax (www.lifehack.org)
Artwork courtesy of Nicholas Pioch’s WebMuseum.

Landscape photography is a favorite with professional and amateur photographers alike.

There awaits a wealth of natural landscapes filled with beauty and drama, always changing with the seasons. To avoid taking bland images, follow these top landscape photography tips.

Create Depth

When you are taking a landscape photograph, try creating a sense of depth by keeping all the different elements of the image in focus.

To do this you need to use a small aperture, from f/16-f/22 because this keeps objects in the foreground and background sharp. Place your camera on a tripod (this will eliminate camera shake) when using a small aperture, as less light will be entering the lens.

Use a Wide-Angle Lens

Wide-angle lenses are preferred for landscape photography because they can show a broader view, and therefore give a sense of wide open space.

They also tend to give a greater depth of field and allow you to use faster shutter speeds because they allow more light. Taking an image at f/16 will make both the foreground and background sharp.

Remember to try some interesting angles with the photograph.

Use Photographic Filters

To get the best possible images, you can make use of two filters in your landscape photography.

Polarizing filters darken the sky and therefore bring out the blues in contrast to the white of the clouds.

Neutral Density (ND) filters prevent too much light from entering the camera. This is useful on bright days, when the camera is unable to give you a slow shutter speed (you may want to capture the movement of the sky or water for example).

Capture Movement

If you are working with moving water you can create a stunning white water effect by choosing a long exposure.

One way to do this is by using TV or S (Shutter-Priority) mode and choosing an exposure of 2 seconds or longer. You can also use AV (Aperture-Priority) mode and choose a small aperture like f/32 (which generally requires more light).

If working with bright daylight you must use an ND filter to reduce the amount of light hitting the camera, and this way the camera will allow you to have a longer shutter time.

You must always use a tripod for this kind of shot so that the rest of your image remains sharp.

Use Water as a Mirror

Water in subdued light can create beautiful effects and reflections.

The best time for this kind of shot is during the two “golden hours” which are the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset. Put your camera on a tripod and set the mode dial to TV or S (Shutter-Priority) mode. Choose a slow shutter speed and allow the camera to choose the correct aperture.

If you struggle to get a sharp image you can push the ISO up although ISO 125 is a good starting point.

Take Account of People

A landscape isn’t just about nature; so why not include people?

A beautiful landscape can be complemented by a cute child or by a beautiful girl running or jumping through the flowers.

Remember the rule of thirds and place the person in an off-center position to create interest.

Choose a fast shutter speed if you want to freeze the action or a slower shutter speed if you want to capture movement.

Compose in Thirds

To use the rule of thirds, imagine four lines, two lying horizontally across the image and two vertical creating nine even squares.

Some images will look best with the focal point in the center square, but placing the subject off center at one of the intersecting points of the imaginary lines, will often create a more aesthetically composed photograph.

When a photograph is composed using the rule of thirds the eyes will wander the frame. A picture composed by the rule of thirds is usually more interesting and pleasing to the eye.

Recommended Settings

When shooting during the day you can afford to use a smaller aperture of f/22 to capture a super sharp detailed image.

If you are trying to capture movement of water or of people and birds, then use a filter to reduce the amount of light going in and experiment with the shutter speed.

For water you want to choose at least 2 seconds or more and for moving animals or people start from 1/60.

You should always use a tripod for these types of landscape images.

Recommended Equipment

In bright light, you should always use a lens hood to prevent flaring.

In addition, you may use a neutral density filter or a polarizing filter to reduce reflections and bring out the sky.

A tripod is essential if you want to take very sharp photographs and if you want to capture movement.

A beanbag is also useful to experiment with angles (such as shooting a landscape from the ground up).

The use of flash will help illuminate shadowy areas in close range.

Conclusion

Landscapes are a real favorite with photographers and it’s not hard to see why; you get to spend time in the outdoors and be with nature.

Having patience helps, as you may need to wait for the right lighting conditions, and there will be times when conditions do not cooperate.

Some landscape photographers will sit for hours to get one stunning shot for the whole day. That one magic shot makes the time worthwhile.

With patience and some practice, you will develop skill and be able to capture striking photos of your own.

Attila Kun (https://www.exposureguide.com)

Consider the flightless fluffs of brown otherwise known as herring gull chicks. Since they’re entirely dependent on their mothers for food, they’re born with a powerful instinct. Whenever they see a bird beak, they frantically peck at it, begging for their favorite food: a regurgitated meal.

But this reflex can be manipulated. Expose the chicks to a fake beak—say, a wooden stick with a red dot that looks like the one on the end of an adult herring gull’s beak—and they peck vigorously at that, too. Should the chicks see a wood stick with three red dots, they peck even faster. Abstracting and exaggerating the salient characteristics of a mother gull’s beak strengthens the response. The phenomenon is known as the “peak-shift effect,” since a peak pecking response comes from a shifted stimulus. In it lies one of the core principles of visual art.

The Truth in the Lie

In 1906, Pablo Picasso was determined to reinvent the portrait and push the boundaries of realism, and one of his early subjects was Gertrude Stein. After months in his Paris studio, carefully reworking the paint on the canvas, Picasso still wasn’t satisfied. He didn’t finish the painting until after a trip to Spain.

What Picasso saw there that affected him so deeply has been debated—the ancient Iberian art, the weathered faces of Spanish peasants—but his style changed forever. When he returned to Paris, he gave Stein the head of a primitive mask. The perspective was flattened and her face became a series of dramatic angles. Picasso had intentionally misrepresented various aspects of her appearance, turning the portrait into an early work of cubist caricature.

Despite the artistic license, the painting is still recognizable as Stein. Picasso took her most distinctive features—those heavy, lidded eyes and long, aquiline nose—and exaggerated them. Through careful distortion, he found a way to intensify reality. As Picasso put it, “Art is the lie that reveals the truth.”

What’s surprising is that such distortions often make it easier for us to decipher what we’re looking at, particularly when they’re executed by a master. Studies show we’re able to recognize visual parodies of people—like a cartoon portrait of Richard Nixon—faster than an actual photograph. The fusiform gyrus, an area of the brain involved in facial recognition, responds more eagerly to caricatures than to real faces, since the cartoons emphasize the very features that we use to distinguish one face from another. In other words, the abstractions are like a peak-shift effect, turning the work of art or the political cartoon into a “super-stimulus.”

The sly connection between the instincts of baby gulls and abstract art is the work of V.S. Ramachandran, neuroscientist and director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California at San Diego. Ramachandran believes the peak-shift effect explains a wide variety of art, from abstract expressionist paintings to ancient religious sculptures like a 12th-century Indian sculpture of the goddess Parvathi with exaggerated feminine features. These creations are all examples of the “deliberate hyperbole” that defines the artistic process, says Ramachandran.

In this sense, the job of an artist is to take mundane forms of reality—whether a facial expression or a bowl of fruit—and make those forms irresistible to the human brain. As Ramachandran puts it, “If herring gulls had an art gallery, they would hang a long stick with three red strips on the wall; they would worship it, pay millions of dollars for it, call it a Picasso, but not understand why they are mesmerized by it. That’s all any art lover is doing when buying contemporary art: behaving exactly like those gull chicks.”

Ramachandran is a leader in neuroaesthetics, a new scientific field that uses the tools of modern neuroscience, like brain imaging, to unravel the mysteries of art. While much of this research focuses on modern art—it’s easier to study visual “hyperbole” in a Picasso than a Vermeer—the scientists believe their findings apply to all artists, even so-called realists. “A Martian who came to earth would be very curious about why all these people go to museums and look at 2D representations,” Ramachandran says. “Why does art work? That’s the question we’re trying to answer.”

Reverse-Engineering the Mind

At first glance, the premise of neuroaesthetics seems bizarre: Scientists are using artists to learn about the mind. They’re looking for objective facts in the most subjective of places, using paintings and sculptures as sources of experimental data. Sometimes, it seems as if the scientists are simply trying to catch up with insights long ago “discovered” by artists.

“The artist is, in a sense, a neuroscientist, exploring the potentials and capacities of the brain, though with different tools,” observes Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at University College London and director of the Institute of Neuroesthetics. Picasso had an intuitive understanding of the mechanics of vision—which he expressed in his paintings. Likewise, the power of a Rembrandt self-portrait is not an accident: The Old Masters knew how to captivate the eye and the mind, which is why we still gaze at their canvases in museums. Scientists can learn about the mind by reverse-engineering art.

But neuroaesthetics is also trying to bring precision to the study of art. Unlike traditional approaches, which treat the artwork as a product of historical and cultural forces, neuroaesthetics looks at art through the lens of neuroscience. Neuroaesthetics researchers want to decipher the power of a Picasso or a Rembrandt, to explain the sublime in terms of the visual cortex. All the adjectives we use to describe art—vague words like “beauty” and “elegance”—should, in theory, have neural correlates. According to these scientists, there is nothing inherently mysterious about art. Its visual tricks can be decoded. Neuroaestheticians hope to reveal “the universal laws” of painting and sculpture, to find the underlying principles shared by every great work of visual art.

Blame it all on an astonishing set of experiments conducted by David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel in the 1950s. Scientists long assumed the eye was like a camera, and that our visual reality was composed of dots of light, neatly arranged in time and space. Just as a photograph is made up of a quilt of pixels, so must our eyes create a two-dimensional representation of reflected light, which scientists thought was then seamlessly transmitted to the brain.

But Hubel and Wiesel demonstrated that the brain is much stranger than that. Instead of responding to pixels, cells in the visual cortex respond to straight lines and angles of light. The neurons prefer contrast over brightness, straight edges over curves; contrasts allow us to more efficiently pick out objects. Hubel and Wiesel became the first scientists to describe what reality looks like before it has been perceived, when our mind is still creating our sense of sight.

The findings wowed the scientific community and won Hubel and Wiesel the Nobel Prize. It turns out that the raw material of vision is incomprehensibly bizarre, that all of our visual perceptions begin as a jigsaw puzzle of lines, edges, and angles. The experimental results help explain the aesthetic appeal of abstract paintings.

Giving the Mind a Break

When Hubel and Wiesel were still in diapers, Dutch artist Piet Mondrian was painting works in an attempt to show, as he put it, that every visual form is ultimately reducible to “the plurality of straight lines in rectangular opposition.” Hoping to reveal the “constant truths regarding forms,” Mondrian turned his paintings into minimalist arrangements of rectangles and primary colors. As Zeki, author of Splendors and Miseries of the Brain,notes, the geometrical art of painters like Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich is remarkably similar to the geometry of lines sensed by the visual cortex—as if these painters broke apart the brain and saw how seeing itself occurs.

Mondrian wasn’t consciously trying to imitate the receptive fields of our brain cells. He was just trying to create a visually arresting image. But it was precisely that aesthetic impulse, that desire to captivate the eye, that led Mondrian to create such neurologically “accurate” art.

We may enjoy such paintings because the mind is naturally drawn to the kind of visual stimuli that are easier for it to interpret, suggests Ramachandran. It prefers pictures that accommodate its peculiar way of seeing. “It may not be coincidental,” write Ramachandran and philosopher William Hirstein, “that what the cells find interesting is also what the organism as a whole finds interesting. And perhaps, in some circumstances, ‘interesting’ translates into ‘pleasing.'”

In other words, the strange beauty of a Mondrian is rooted in the strange habits of visual neurons, obsessed as they are with straight lines. Abstract art seems so bizarre—so unrepresentative of anything at all—but it takes advantage of the innate properties of the brain. The geometric brushstrokes are a nod to the quirks of our visual neurons, which prefer straight lines. As Zeki notes, “If cells in the brain did not respond to this kind of stimulus, then this kind of art would not exist.”

Teasing the Brain’s Limits

Artists have learned to exploit other features of the visual system, too. The brain is an evolved machine, subject to all sorts of biological constraints. All of our color perception, for example, is wrangled from the responses of three different photoreceptors in the eye. Great art manages to translate these “limitations” into riveting creations.

When Mark Rothko painted an entire canvas in three shades of maroon, or Josef Albers painted his intensely colorful Homage to the Square in five slightly different shades of yellow, these abstract artists were tickling the parts of our visual cortex concerned with the processing of color. The visual cortex excels at perceiving contrasts between different colors, such as blue and yellow, but these paintings deliberately avoided sharp contrasts of color. The result is that the subtly distinct shades seem to shimmer and shift before our very eyes. We are riveted by these stimuli we can’t understand.

The strategy of taking advantage of the brain’s imperfections isn’t confined to modern art. Consider Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of the Mona Lisa, perhaps the most famous painting in the world. The smile is notoriously enigmatic, a precise summary of an ambiguous emotion. But what is it about those slyly upturned lips that make the portrait so intriguing?

Margaret Livingstone, a neuroscientist at Harvard and author of Vision and Art, argues that da Vinci exploits the peculiar structure of the retina. The facial expression of the Mona Lisa fluctuates depending on which part of our retina we are using to look at her mouth, she explains. When we first look at the painting, our eyes are automatically drawn to her eyes, which means our peripheral vision perceives her smile. This part of the retina naturally focuses on the shadows cast by her cheekbones, which serve to exaggerate the curvature of her lips. As a result, our peripheral vision concludes that the Mona Lisa is smiling. Livingstone demonstrated this by blurring the entire painting with Adobe Photoshop to replicate what we would see if we were relying solely on peripheral vision. The end result: a much happier Mona Lisa.

But when we focus on her mouth, the retina ignores the shadows—the blurriness disappears. Instead, we fixate on the lips of the Mona Lisa, which are virtually expressionless. All of a sudden, she is no longer happy: The painting has literally changed before our eyes. This ambiguity is intriguing, Livingstone argues, as we keep staring at the painting to figure out what she’s actually feeling. “I do not mean to take away the mystery of Leonardo,” Livingstone told the New York Times. “It took the rest of us 500 years to figure out what he was up to.”

Bare Spots and the Peekaboo Principle

While much of neuroaesthetics focuses on the most elemental aspects of vision—the sensations detected by the retina and visual cortex—the field is also trying to explain art that engages higher levels of cognition. Look, for example, at a late Cézanne painting. As Cézanne aged, his landscapes became filled by more and more naked canvas. No one had ever done this before. The painting is clearly incomplete, complained critics; how could it be art? Cézanne was unfazed. He knew his paintings were only literally blank.

The incompleteness effect is most apparent in Cézanne’s watercolors of Mont Sainte-Victoire and the surrounding Provencal landscape. In these pieces, Cézanne wanted to paint only the essential elements, the necessary skeleton of form. He summarized the river in the foreground as a single swerve of blue. The groves of chestnut trees are little more than dabs of dull green, interrupted occasionally by a subtle stroke of umber. And then there is the mountain. Cézanne often condensed the foreboding mass of Mont Sainte-Victoire into a thin line of dilute paint, just a jagged silhouette. The painting is defined by its voids.

And yet when you look at the painting, the mountain is there, an implacable presence. Our mind easily invents the form that Cézanne’s paint barely insinuates. Although the mountain is literally invisible—Cézanne has only implied its presence—its looming gravity anchors the painting. The brain has seamlessly filled in the empty spaces of the canvas.

According to Ramachandran, “Mont Sainte-Victoire” is pleasurable precisely because it is so spare. Cézanne’s blank spots force the brain to engage in perceptual problem-solving, as it struggles to find meaning in the brushstrokes. “A puzzle picture (or one in which meaning is implied rather than explicit) may paradoxically be more alluring than one in which the message is obvious,” observe Ramachandran and Hirstein. “There appears to be an element of ‘peekaboo’ in some types of art—thereby ensuring that the visual system ‘struggles’ for a solution and does not give up too easily.” In other words, the search for meaning is itself rewarding: The brain likes to solve problems. We actually enjoy looking for Cézanne’s missing mountain.

The “peekaboo” principle explains why subtle erotica (a supermodel shrouded in lingerie) is not only more alluring than hardcore pornographybut also has much in common with the fractured forms of cubism. Both compel the mind to assemble reality out of its shards. In both cases, the effectiveness of the pictures depends on their ability to inspire our imagination, to create a sensory problem that our brain wants to solve.

Unweaving the Rainbow

If Playboy and Picasso can be explained by the same principle, is neuroaesthetics really dealing with art? Or is it just revealing the perceptual machinery activated by any complex visual stimulus? After all, it’s easy to make the mind engage in problem-solving: Just look at the haphazard lines drawn by a 3-year-old. Are they equivalent to a Cézanne watercolor?

Attempts to define art are nothing new. But Ramachandran is seeking to define it from the perspective of the brain, and he’s in the midst of a brain-imaging experiment he believes will help. Subjects lie in an fMRI machine and view examples of kitsch—art objects ridiculed for their shallowness or sentimentality—as well as fine art, like the canvases that hang in museums. A Christmas lawn ornament of Santa Claus might be juxtaposed with a Michelangelo sculpture; an image from a Hallmark card might be compared to a Rembrandt painting. By measuring brain activity, Ramachandran hopes to find out why visual stimuli that seem so superficially similar can generate such different aesthetic reactions.

“The interesting thing about kitsch is that it often looks like art,” explains Ramachandran. “But it’s not art, because it doesn’t trigger the same intensity of feeling.” He suggests that while kitsch often relies on the same tricks as great art—universal principles such as the peak-shift effect and the peekaboo principle—these tricks aren’t as well executed. “Anybody can learn these visual rules,” he says. “But you still need talent and training in order to turn them into fine art.”

There will always be something mysterious about the visceral power of a Picasso or the perplexing smile of the Mona Lisa—but that doesn’t mean the mystery can’t be probed. By articulating the universals of painting and sculpture, the neuroaestheticians allow us to better understand what transforms a mass of brushstrokes into a masterpiece.

And if the brain scanner can’t detect any reliable differences between kitsch and art, well, sometimes the failed experiments are the most instructive. It’s possible, after all, that art has no universal definition: Perhaps each work of art activates the brain in its own peculiar way. Perhaps there is no lowest common denominator of aesthetic experience that can be detected in an fMRI machine.

The poet John Keats worried that Newton’s investigations into color had “unwoven the rainbow,” that scientist had destroyed the beauty of light by investigating it. But beauty is not so fragile. Neuroaesthetics doesn’t diminish the impact of art or puncture the power of the imagination. Instead, it leaves us with an even more profound appreciation for the intuitive wisdom of great artists. These are the geniuses who captivate us with nothing but a flat surface and some pigment.

“I’ve always loved art, but now I’m in awe of it,” Ramachandran says. “These guys understood the mind in a very deep way. All I’m trying to do is figure out what artists figured out a long time ago.”

Jonah Lehrer (2009), www.psychologytoday.com

Have you ever stood in front of a painting, taken by its visual power and yet absolutely bewildered by its meaning? Is it a giant snowy mountain shining brightly under the sunlight, or is it an intimidating volcano bursting through the sky? Is it even supposed to be anything? If questions like these have ever crossed your mind while viewing a work, you’re in the right place.

                   Tempting Destiny by Katja Yoon

What is abstract art? Here, we discuss how to understand it and comprehend the artist’s intention. By appreciating the art form for the freedom it inspires in making individual visual connections, we’re attempting to navigate every step toward understanding abstraction.

Let’s Begin…

Understanding abstract art is fairly easy – all you need is an open mind and a wandering imagination. The first step is to prepare yourself to look beyond the things you already know or recognize.

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes… Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.”
                                                                                                                                                                   – Arshile Gorky

      Wave by Amber Warren

Abstraction finds its roots in ‘intuition’ (of the artist) and ‘freedom’ (for the artist as well as for the viewer). It is the capability of the artist to use their imagination to look beyond what we can physically see and translate intangible emotions onto the canvas. It is also the ability of the audience to then try to connect to the artist’s intention and free their own mind of visual restrictions. Historically, the abstract art movement emerged in the nineteenth century as a reaction to academic painting or realism. In fact, a very simple way to understand the essence of abstract art is to think of it as a visual opposite of realistic art. While realism pays attention to every tiny fold or wrinkle, abstraction gives the artist the freedom to trust their intuition to create art that is equally worthy of an audience.

There is No Code to Crack

As human beings, solving problems comes naturally to us. While this can be quite useful in most situations, it isn’t so in the case of abstract art.

                Insolation by Henrik Sjöström

The most important thing to understand about abstract art is that it does NOT have to have a meaning, narrative or even a singular explanation.

The main purpose of abstraction is not to tell a story, but to encourage involvement and imagination. This art form is mostly about providing its viewers with an intangible and emotional experience – more often than not, the experience is completely different for every individual depending on their personality and state of mind.

Therefore, it is really up to the viewer to decide whether the painting in front of them has any meaning or provokes any emotion. As we mentioned, abstract art is all about freedom.

How to Look at Abstract Art

So, how do you actually look at it and understand it? Do you stand in front of it and try to find familiar figures or do you just glance at it in passing?

                  Euphoria by Carol Carpenter

Realizing that there are different ways to approach and criticize art is important when attempting to understand abstraction. It is easy to appreciate a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt, as the mastery of technique is visible. However, in order to appreciate abstraction, our focus should not be on how realistic the artist has painted something or someone, but rather on how successful a piece is in evoking emotion.

Abstract paintings can also be appreciated in terms of the individual elements of art: color, shape, line, texture, space, value, etc. An abstract artist’s skill lies in his or her ability to use colors and textures to their best visual strength and to create a sound composition from these elements.

Here are some do’s and dont’s to keep in mind:

Don’t look at the clock. There is no need to stand in front of an abstract work for hours to really understand it. Look at it for as long as you want, and for as long as it pulls you in.

Don’t talk about your five-year-old. We all know art is subjective, and sometimes there are pieces that we just can’t connect to, especially when it comes to abstract art. Nonetheless, your five-year-old can still not do that.

Don’t insult the artist’s imagination. Instead, if you really can’t seem to like a work, think about what it is that makes you feel that way.

Don’t mind the title. More often than not, abstract paintings will have an extremely vague title, like Number 4 or Black and Red. Don’t let that bother you. Most artists purposely don’t use giveaway titles because they want you to interact with the art and eventually find your own meaning. On the other hand, you don’t have to completely ignore the title; sometimes, they can be very helpful in guiding your imagination.

      Under the Sea by Susan Marx

Do read the wall text. Speaking of guides, always read the wall text. It can give you valuable information on the artist’s background or artistic intention.

Do let the painting reach out to you. Free your mind of any other thoughts, give it a little time and simply let the painting convey its intended emotion to you. Observe the colors and textures. What do they make you feel? Jackson Pollock said, “Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you.” Let the painting ask the questions instead of the other way around.

Don’t stress about feeling something. It is not necessary for an abstract painting to have a contextual side to it, and it is not necessary for you to be able to feel each and every emotion it is meant to convey. If it doesn’t do anything for you, so be it.

Don’t ask all of the questions just yet. Thinking too much about what the painting means can be disturbing or tiring. Instead, focus on how the painting makes you feel and what kind of emotions it conveys to you. Think about how the artist’s background or situation may have affected his painting. Try to work with the things you know, instead of questioning everything.

Do remember that abstraction does not have to have a meaning. While “getting” an artwork brings a momentary feeling of victory, bathing in its mystery brings enjoyment for far longer.

Kaleidoscope, 2018 (art-mine.com)

We all want to give that gift that will delight and stand out. Here are a dozen great reasons you might not have thought of to consider visual art.

It’s Personal

It’s often said that taste in art is personal. It’s true and this is a GOOD thing when you’re hunting for the perfect gift for someone you care about. If you know someone’s taste well enough to buy a piece of art for them, whether it’s because it compliments their style, aligns with their interests or represents that vibrant spark in their personality you appreciate so much the gift will celebrate how close you are and show the thought you put into it.

It’s Unique

Art is one of a kind. This means your giftee will not find this present anywhere else and neither will any of their other friends! Go with original art and there is no way you’ll be giving someone a dreaded (and embarrassing) repeat gifts.

It’s a Shared Experience

A present or experience? How about both! Art is obviously tangible, but it is also an experience; of the artist, travel destination or art fair you purchased it from. It is also a powerful experience in and of itself.

It’s a Shared Discovery

Everyone loves a passed on discovery! Think about music sharing or how the popularity of streaming shows grows by word of mouth. We love to be turned on to knew, up and coming creative sources from our friends. Be the taste-making maven!

They Won’t Know How Much You Spent

You have a range of possibilities when it comes to visual art and it’s nice to have a discreet price point for a gift. Your recipient won’t ever pass a sale rack at Target and know exactly what you spent on their present.

It Could Appreciate in Value

Unlike the latest tech gadget, some super fancy soy candles, or heck, even a car, original art never becomes obsolete and often goes up in financial value as time goes on. Almost no other commodity does this. A piece of beauty to enjoy now could be financially or culturally significant down the road.

It Spark’s Their Creativity

I’ve observed that people LOVE figuring out how to display their new art. Everyone wants to express themselves creatively, but often people are intimidated (or lack time) to learn a new art form – but give them something to beautify their home or work environment and there will be no hesitation! Whether it’s about framing and pairing the ideal mat and frame combination or just finding the perfect spot to place the art people, get into it!

It’s an Endless Conversation Piece

People love telling stories and art is always a great talking point. Your gift will not only delight in the moment and decorate, but be something your friends will talk about.

It’s a Treat

An upside of art being seen as a luxury is that you’ll be able to treat your giftee to something they may not have purchased on their own. When we’re budgeting, we often cut out the very things that uplift our lives. Art can bring as much pleasure as a box of chocolates or massage and it’s calorie free and lasts forever!

They’ll Keep it Forever

Art lasts and people tend to treasure their art collections. It can not be replaced so people often keep art through relocations, even generations. For a modest investment you can give someone a gift they will keep their entire lives.

It’ll Become Part of their Life

Your gift won’t just be a “Gee, thanks” in the moment of unwrapping, it’ll become a part of their daily life. I’m always touched to see my art prominently displayed in people’s homes.

They’ll Remember You

On top of all this, your friend will think you every time they look at their art. Wow.

Jacqueline Claire, 2017 (jacquelineclaireart.com)

First things first, in the context of this article, when I use the word medium, I mean something you mix with paint to change its consistency. I’m mentioning this because a medium can also mean the type of paint, for instance, acrylic or watercolor. (You can usually judge what is meant by the context in which the word is used.)

Texture medium (or gel or paste) is, as the name suggests, used to add surface texture to a painting. It’s stiffer than paint straight from the tube, so will hold a form or shape more readily. It’s also cheaper than paint, so an economical way to build up thick layers of impasto. You can mix it with a color, or paint over it.

The photo shows a tub of texture gel where I’ve scooped out a lump with a palette knife. You can see how the medium holds its shape. It doesn’t drip or droop, but stays put. You can create peaks and grooves with a palette knife, brush marks with a coarse-haired brush, press patterns into it, use it as glue to add collage items. It’s extremely versatile!

If you’re wondering about the texture medium being white rather than clear, this is one of the properties of texture medium you should pay attention to on the label.

Properties of Acrylic Texture Medium

Different brands of acrylic texture medium are formulated differently and variously labeled as pastes, gels, and mediums. They all do the same job of adding texture, but some will be glossy when dry and others matt; some will dry completely transparent, others will be slightly opaque or stay white. The medium may also act as a retarder to give you more time to work with it.

How to you know what it’ll be like? Read the label on the container, which should give you this information. If it doesn’t, see if there’s an information sheet available from the manufacturer, or test it before you use it on a canvas. Be aware that there are differences, so that if a new tub of texture medium doesn’t act quite as you expect, you don’t panic that you’re doing something wrong.

Whether it’s glossy or matt isn’t absolutely crucial as you can change something from glossy to matt (or matt to glossy) when you varnish a painting relatively easily. You simply use a varnish that gives the finish you want.

The opaqueness of the medium is important if you’re mixing it with a color as it will have an impact on what the color looks like when it’s dry. Don’t get caught out by a medium making your colors appear lighter than you’d intended. It’s something you learn from a bit of trial and error, until you get a feel for it. Remember, you can paint over the texture medium, so if something isn’t the right color when it’s dry, it’s not a disaster.

How long texture paste takes to dry depends on how thick you’ve used it. Very thick layers will be touch dry in a few minutes, but not dry all the way through, so if you apply lots of pressure it may flatten. Again, a little experimentation will soon teach you what to expect.

Clear vs White Texture Medium for Acrylics

This photo shows two different types of texture medium, spread on a piece of brown cardboard without any paint mixed in. On the left is a texture paste, on the right a texture gel. I chose the two as obvious examples of how some mediums dry opaque white and some transparent. It’s crucial to check what the bottle label says before you use it so you don’t get an unwanted surprise in an important painting.

Next: let’s take a look at how to apply texture paste to a canvas…

How to Apply Acrylic Texture Paste

You can use anything to apply texture paste onto a canvas or a sheet of paper. Different tools will produce different textures. A coarse or stiff-haired brush will create more marks in the paint than a soft brush. I like using a painting knife because it’s easy to get the paste out of the tub, it’s easy to spread out and to scratch patterns into the paste.

Spreading texture paste with a painting knife is akin to buttering a slice of bread with a springy knife. The action is the same, and if you don’t like what you’ve done, you can scrape it all up and start again.

In the photo I’m using texture paste straight from the container, without mixing any paint into it. This particular brand looks very white at this stage, but won’t be when it’s dry. You can also see that I’ve applied, applying the paste on top of some dried paint — as with all acrylic mediums, you can use it at any stage in a painting’s development.

Pressing into Texture Medium

If you press a painting knife into the texture medium (left photo) and then lift it off (right photo), the result is a ridged texture. It’s very different to the smooth result, you get when you spread the paste sideways. It’s a bit unpredictable, as it depends on how much medium, you’ve used, how dry it is, and the size/shape of your painting knife.

There’s tremendous potential here, for textures in the skies, sea shores, grasses, rusted surfaces, windswept hair. Don’t focus on getting a perfect end result when you first use texture paste, but play around and experiment to see what happens. Once it’s dry, it’s time to paint over it…

Painting Over Texture Medium

Once the texture medium has dried, you can paint over it without disturbing it. The two photos here (click on photo to see a bigger version) are details from the foreground of one of my seascape paintings where I pressed a knife into the texture paste, let it dry, then applied paint over it with a brush and by spattering.

By running a brush over the surface lightly, the paint hits only the top ridges of the texture. By pressing a brush firmly against the surface, it’ll go in between the ridges too. Another option is to use very fluid paint, which will flow off the ridges and puddle between them.

Correcting Mistakes in Acrylic Texture Medium

While it’s still wet, it’s easy to fix mistakes in texture medium or to remove it. Simply scrape it off with a painting knife or a cloth. How much time you’ve got before it dries depends on what brand you’re using and how hot it is in your studio. A draft across your painting will also increase drying time. Again, it’s something you’ll get a feeling for through experience.

If in doubt, remove the medium when it’s still wet and then think about what you’re doing with it. Because when it’s dry, however, you’ll have to take some sandpaper to smooth down the surface.

Marion Boddy-Evans, 2017 (thoughtco.com)

When it comes to artistic production, there’s no secret that it sure possesses its share of misconceptions. Or so people experience that in order to reckon yourself a real artist, you sustain to create something such as a sculpture or painting, while others believe that you either are or are not born with talent. Yet, every one of us are born with the desire and ability to express ourselves, and art is a wonderful way to accomplish this, particularly in terms of our mental health.

 Here are some of the best mental health benefits of art.

Art Relieves Stress

Drawing, sculpting, painting, etc. Are great ways to take down your overall stress levels and realize you feel a lot better mentally. Basically, it provides a distraction that will present your mind a much-needed respite from all of your usual ways of believing. Possibly one of the most popular artistic stress relievers, especially now, is coloring books, many of which accept been created specifically with stress relief in mind.

Art Helps to Encourage Creative Thinking

Equally opposed to math, art doesn’t require any kind of a right response. Alternatively, you can come up with your own type of solution and further excite your mind with this character of creative thinking. This is specially the shell since you will be able to utilize both hemispheres of your mind.

Art Helps to Boost Self-Esteem and Offer a Sense of Accomplishment

Similar to hanging a child’s artwork somewhere can boost their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment, doing the same with your own art can make the same type of issue. Even better is the fact that you don’t have to make something that looks absolutely perfect in order to obtain these feelings, and it doesn’t even matter what type of art you produce, whether it’s drawing, picture taking, or even knitting.

Art Encourages Brain Activity

Whenever you absorb in any kind of a novel activity, your mind begins running to produce links between all of your different brain cells. In conditions of creating art, this helps to perk up all kinds of links between various parts of your brain itself.

Art Improves the Overall Quality of Life in Dementia Patients

Art has been shown to enhance factors such as retention and cognitive powers, particularly in those who suffer from severe mental disorders such as dementia. While it’s been indicated that different types of drug treatments generally don’t go really easily with these people, creating art provides a keen sense of pleasure for them. This is because it has been proven to greatly improve their self-esteem and social conduct, as well as reduce various psychiatric symptoms related with their upset.

artfromthestreets.org, 2011

It is important you learn the difference between good art and bad art. You certainly do not want to spend your hard-earned money and time on a piece of artwork that isn’t as valuable as you first thought. So it is important to know what makes good art and how to spot a quality painting when you see one?

Learning how to spot quality artwork can be quite difficult. You cannot always trust art experts and artists will always try their best to sell their paintings to you at a higher price as they of course think everything they product is of the highest quality which is not always the case with some artist or replication and reproduction services.

There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind when shopping for artwork. After all, you do not want to spend big bucks for nothing, here a few things you need to keep in mind that will help you in spotting quality artwork. Not all of these will apply to you personally, but this is a general template you can use to assess the quality of the art:

Beauty of the Artwork

You certainly do not want to bring something home that does not captivate you or grab your attention. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Everybody has different standards of beauty so your decision about whether a piece of art is beautiful or not will be natural and instinctive.

The artwork should invite itself to you. You should be drawn to it regardless of what anyone else may say or think. Here are some aspects that bring beauty to a piece of art:

  • The Use of Colors:  The use of colors which complement each other enhance art and make it more beautiful and inviting.
  • Repeating Patterns and Symmetry:  Art that features repeating patterns, shapes and symmetry appears more interesting and unique.
  • Use Of Textures:  The use of textures and different kinds of paints which enhance the features of the artwork, giving it more edge and character.
  • Correct Use of Proportions and Placement: A painting needs to be proportioned or it will look too cluttered.
  • Crops and Composition:  Cropping out the excess and good composition highlights the artwork and captures the viewer’s attention.
  • Framing:  An artist should take special care in placement and framing as it plays an important part in capturing the viewer’s attention.

Rest assured, there are no rules when it comes to recognizing beauty, as beauty should come from within so you do not have to carry a checklist with you when you visit art galleries. If you are drawn to a piece of artwork, that should be good enough for you, but just keep these in the back of your mind!

Uniqueness

When purchasing art, you would want something that not only defines you, but something that is unique and abstract. Unique art will always stand out and focus on a subject that is either new or is generally neglected by artists.

Good art is always exploring new subjects, emotions, feelings, sceneries and methodologies. If something catches your eye or if you discover something new in a piece of art, you should decide whether this uniqueness really sets the artwork apart and enhances the piece, or not. Think about what makes “this” art special to you and why it is different and if you like this difference.

Skills and Technique

When purchasing a piece of art, you need to make sure the technical skills of the artist shine and have measurable qualities and aspects of art. If you want to purchase a painting, make sure you browse through paintings of many different artists. This way, you will have a better idea of what you are looking for and you will be able to tell good art from the bad.

While going through the work of many artists, you will find some of them are talented while others may not be as consistent or proficient. Some artists will copy others, but not always do as good a job, so do your background research and see where the inspiration for the painting came from!

Carefully look at each piece and examine strokes and lines. Does this piece of art look rushed, forced or copied? Though it is easy for artists to cover their mistakes, you can still identify whether a mark or line was intentional. If the artist’s work features many strange markings, it is a sign of carelessness and inexperience.

Good artwork includes elements that are cohesive and work in harmony. If something looks out of proportion, it means the artist may have misjudged. Do not worry if you are still having trouble spotting what makes good art, it’s not easy. Keep visiting art galleries and comparing the works of renowned artists. You will be able to tell the difference between the two soon enough.

Inherent Meaning

Art is a means of expressing yourself. Art is powerful and more than just about beauty and skill. While these two components are important, art should be moving and thought provoking.

Good quality artwork will make you think and trigger an emotional response. Artwork can generally be created for the following purposes:

  • Representational Art: This artwork is merely for visual appeal and does not hold any deep meaning. It could be a painting of a bowl of fruits or a picture of a pretty flower.
  • Art That Tells a Story:This artwork provokes a specific emotion in its viewers. These pieces affect you and pull you towards them.
  • Art That Makes Statement: These pieces hold a purpose and speak for a cause. In paintings and images, the artist is trying to highlight a cause that is important to them and holds meaning for them.
  • Art as a Metaphor: This type of art features multiple meanings, so there is literally more to them than meets the eye. These pieces feature many symbols that focus on intangible human issues.

In order to know what makes good art and a quality painting, try and follow the above qualities. Art that depicts meaning and strikes emotions opens up a whole new realm of excitement and will capture your attention at the same time. It is hard to categorize these qualities because at the end of the day art means something different to each and every person, but hopefully these points have given you something to consider!

Good art will speak to you. It not only appeals to you, but is skillfully made. Good art will always be more than what meets the eye. It will spark emotion, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry and most importantly, it will make you think.

An artist puts a lot of work into their pieces. Everything that they have used serves a purpose. Do not purchase a piece of art if it does not appeal to you. Just go with your instincts and do not forget to have a good time the above points are to help you evaluate what makes good art in general and cannot really be applied to everyone.

Sara Paxton. 2016 (sarapaxtonnetworks.com)

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