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The Mona Lisa is one of the most recognizable artistic paintings in the Western world by Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci

Painting is the practice of applying colour to a surface (support) such as, e.g. paper, canvas, wood, glass, lacquer or concrete. However, when used in an artistic sense, the term "painting" means the use of this activity in combination with drawing, composition and other aesthetic considerations in order to manifest the expressive and conceptual intention of the practitioner.

Painting is used as a mode of representing, documenting and expressing all the varied intents and subjects that are as numerous as there are practitioners of the craft. Paintings can be naturalistic and representational (as in a still life or landscape painting), photographic, abstract, be loaded with narrative content, symbolism, emotion or be political in nature. A large portion of the history of painting is dominated by spiritual motifs and ideas; sites of this kind of painting range from artwork depicting mythological figures on pottery to biblical scenes rendered on the interior walls and ceiling of The Sistine Chapel to depictions of the human body itself as a spiritual subject.


Chen Hongshou (1598–1652), Leaf album painting (Ming Dynasty).

"The boundary of things in the second plane will not be discerned like those in the first. Therefore, painter, do not produce boundaries between the first and the second, because the boundary of one object and another is of the nature of a mathematical line but not an actual line, in that the boundary of one colour is the start of another colour and is not to be accorded the status of an actual line, because nothing intervenes between the boundary of one colour which is placed against another. Therefore, painter, do not make the boundaries pronounced at a distance."

What enables painting is the perception and representation of intensity. Every point in space has different intensity, which can be represented in painting by black and white and all the gray shades between. In practice, painters can articulate shapes by juxtaposing surfaces of different intensity; by using just colour (of the same intensity) one can only represent symbolic shapes. Thus, the basic means of painting are distinct from ideological means, such as geometrical figures, various points of view and organization ( perspective), and symbols. For example, a painter perceives that a particular white wall has different intensity at each point, due to shades and reflections from nearby objects, but ideally, a white wall is still a white wall in pitch darkness. In technical drawing, thickness of line is also ideal, demarcating ideal outlines of an object within a perceptual frame different from the one used by painters.

Colour and tone are the essence of painting as pitch and rhythm are of music. Colour is highly subjective, but has observable psychological effects, although these can differ from one culture to the next. Black is associated with mourning in the West, but in the East, white is. Some painters, theoreticians, writers and scientists, including Goethe, Kandinsky, Newton, have written their own color theory. Moreover the use of language is only a generalisation for a colour equivalent. The word " red", for example, can cover a wide range of variations on the pure red of the visible spectrum of light. There is not a formalized register of different colors in the way that there is agreement on different notes in music, such as C or C♯ in music. For a painter, color is not simply divided into basic and derived (complementary or mixed) colors (like, red, blue, green, brown, etc.). Painters deal practically with pigments, so "blue" for a painter can be any of the blues: phtalocyan, Paris blue, indigo, cobalt, ultramarine, and so on. Psychological, symbolical meanings of colour are not strictly speaking means of painting. Colors only add to the potential, derived context of meanings, and because of this the perception of a painting is highly subjective. The analogy with music is quite clear—sound in music (like "C") is analogous to light in painting, "shades" to dynamics, and coloration is to painting as specific timbre of musical instruments to music—though these do not necessarily form a melody, but can add different contexts to it.

Georges Seurat (1859-91) - Circus Sideshow, (1887-88)

Rhythm is important in painting as well as in music. Rhythm is basically a pause incorporated into a body (sequence). This pause allows creative force to intervene and add new creations—form, melody, coloration. The distribution of form, or any kind of information is of crucial importance in the given work of art and it directly affects the esthetical value of that work. This is because the esthetical value is functionality dependent, i.e. the freedom (of movement) of perception is perceived as beauty. Free flow of energy, in art as well as in other forms of "techne", directly contributes to the esthetical value.

Modern artists have extended the practice of painting considerably to include, for example, collage, which began with Cubism and is not painting in the strict sense. Some modern painters incorporate different materials such as sand, cement, straw or wood for their texture. Examples of this are the works of Jean Dubuffet and Anselm Kiefer. (There is a growing community of artists who use computers to paint colour onto a digital canvas using programs such as Photoshop, Painter, and many others. These images can be printed onto traditional canvas if required.)

In 1829, the first photograph was produced. From the mid to late 19th century, photographic processes improved and, as it became more widespread, painting lost much of its historic purpose to provide an accurate record of the observable world. There began a series of art movements into the 20th century where the Renaissance view of the world was steadily eroded, through Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism and Dadaism. Eastern and African painting, however, continued a long history of stylization and did not undergo an equivalent transformation at the same time.

Modern and Contemporary Art has moved away from the historic value of craft and documentation in favour of concept; this has led some to say that painting, as a serious art form, is dead, although this has not deterred the majority of artists from continuing to practise it either as whole or part of their work.

Recently, painting has been used in paint-on-glass animation.

History of painting

The oldest known paintings are at the Grotte Chauvet in France, claimed by some historians to be about 32,000 years old. They are engraved and painted using red ochre and black pigment and show horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, mammoth or humans often hunting. There are examples of cave paintings all over the world—in France, Spain, Portugal, China, Australia, India etc.

In Western cultures oil painting and watercolor painting are the best known media, with rich and complex traditions in style and subject matter. In the East, ink and colour ink historical predominated the choice of media with equally rich and complex traditions.

Aesthetics and theory of painting

Apelles or the Art of painting (detail), relief of the Giotto's Bell Tower in Florence, Italy, Nino Pisano, 1334-1336

Aesthetics tries to be the "science of beauty" and it was an important issue for such 18th and 19th century philosophers as Kant or Hegel. Classical philosophers like Plato and Aristotle also theorized about art and painting in particular; Plato disregarded painters (as well as sculptors) in his philosophical system; he maintained that painting cannot depict the truth—it is a copy of reality (a shadow of the world of ideas) and is nothing but a craft, similar to shoemaking or iron casting. By the time of Leonardo painting had become a closer representation of the truth than painting was in Ancient Greece. Leonardo Da Vinci, on the contrary, said that "Pittura est cousa mentale" (painting is a thing of the mind). Kant distinguished between Beauty and the Sublime, in terms that clearly gave priority to the former. Although he did not refer particularly to painting, this concept was taken up by painters such as Turner and Caspar David Friedrich.

Hegel recognized the failure of attaining a universal concept of beauty and in his aesthetic essay wrote that Painting is one of the three "romantic" arts, along with Poetry and Music for its symbolic, highly intellectual purpose. Painters who have written theoretical works on painting include Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Kandinsky in his essay maintains that painting has a spiritual value, and he attaches primary colors to essential feelings or concepts, something that Goethe and other writers had already tried to do.

Iconography is the study of the content of paintings, rather than their style. Erwin Panofsky and other art historians first seek to understand the things depicted, then their meaning for the viewer at the time, and then analyse their wider cultural, religious, and social meaning.

In 1890, the Parisian painter Maurice Denis famously asserted: "Remember that a painting – before being a warhorse, a naked woman or some story or other – is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." Thus, many twentieth century developments in painting, such as Cubism, were reflections on the means of painting rather than on the external world, nature, which had previously been its core subject. Recent contributions to thinking about painting has been offered by the painter and writer Julian Bell. In his book What is Painting ? Bell discusses the development, through history, of the notion that paintings can express feelings and ideas. In Mirror of The World Bell writes:

‘A work of art seeks to hold your attention and keep it fixed: a history of art urges it onwards, bulldozing a highway through the homes of the imagination.’

== Painting media ==

Honouré Daumier (1808-79) - The Painter.

Different types of paint are usually identified by the medium that the pigment is suspended or embedded in, which determines the general working characteristics of the paint, such as viscosity, miscibility, solubility, drying time, etc.

Examples include:

  • Acrylic
  • Enamel paint
  • Encaustic (wax)
  • Fresco
  • Gouache
  • Ink
  • Oil
  • Water miscible oil paints
  • Dry pastel
  • Oil pastel
  • Spray paint ( Graffiti)
  • Tempera
  • Watercolor
  • Light

Painting styles

'Style' is used in two senses: It can refer to the distinctive visual elements, techniques and methods that typify an individual artist's work. It can also refer to the movement or school that an artist is associated with. This can stem from an actual group that the artist was consciously involved with or it can be a category in which art historians have placed the painter. The word 'style' in the latter sense has fallen out of favour in academic discussions about contemporary painting, though it continues to be used in popular contexts. Such movements or classifications include the following :

  • Abstract
  • Abstract Expressionism
  • Post-Abstract Expressionism
  • Art Brut
  • Art Deco
  • Baroque
  • Body painting
  • CoBrA
  • Colour Field
  • Constructivism
  • Contemporary Art
  • Combined Realism
  • Cubism
  • Expressionism
  • Fauvism
  • Figuration Libre
  • Folk
  • Futurism
  • Graffiti
  • Hard-edge
  • Impressionism
  • Lyrical Abstraction
  • Mannerism
  • Minimalism
  • Modernism
  • Naïve art
  • Neo-classicism
  • Op art
  • Orientalism
  • Orphism
  • Outsider
  • Painterly
  • Photorealism
  • Pinstriping
  • Pluralism
  • Persian Miniature
  • Pointillism
  • Pop art
  • Postmodernism
  • Post-painterly Abstraction
  • Precisionism
  • Primitive
  • Pseudorealism
  • Realism
  • Rectoversion
  • Representational Art
  • Rococo
  • Romanticism
  • Romantic realism
  • Socialist realism
  • Stuckism
  • Surrealism
  • Tachism
  • Tonalism

Common painting idioms

Painting idioms include:

  • Allegory
  • Bodegon
  • Body painting
  • Botanical
  • Figure painting
  • Illustration
  • Industrial
  • Landscape
  • Portrait
  • Still life
  • Veduta

Some other painting terms are: Altarpiece, Broken Colour, Cartoon, Chiaroscuro, Composition, Drybrush, Easel Picture, Foreshortening, Genre, Halo, Highlights, History painting, Imprimatura, Landscape, Madonna, Maulstick, Miniature, Mural Painting, Palette, Panel Painting, Perspective, Pietá, Plein Air, Portrait, Sfumato, Stippling, Technique, Trompe l'oeil, Underpainting, Varnish, Wet-on-wet and Four-dimensional painting.

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