The Art and Science of Selecting the Right Art for You…
Identifying the things that make art feel good to you.
Did you ever wonder why some paintings or photographs stop you in your tracks? Did you ever wonder why certain colors make you feel great? How about the calming effect or what excited you about a piece of art – where does that feeling come from?
Hopefully this overview will help you focus and help answer some of those questions- so that when you look at fine art in the future you will understand why it appeals to you.
There are 8 things that fall into what I call “the art and science” of what makes wonderful art for you – and I stress… for you. Of course, not everything appeals to everyone in the same way and it would be good if you understood why some things appeal to you. And that’s just what I hope to do with this guide.
I spent an entire lifetime studying these things. With my background both in the sciences and as an advertising executive/creative director who purchased thousands of photographs, paintings and illustrations…and as a co-owner of a gallery that created limited-edition fine art sculpture it was my job to make sure that I either purchased or created work that was highly appealing. Over time I began to recognize what those things are that that give a work of art appeal.
I hope this paper helps give you a better understanding of what appeals to you.
As I said, there are 8 things… now please, recognize that no one piece of artwork, photograph or sculpture has all 8 items. If you find a piece that embraces two or three of these things that appeal to you, then you are on the right track.
Have fun on your fine art search.
Number 1. Subject Matters
Subject matter matters. Here is a list of the top 10 subject matters, in rank order that people buy. And a lot of the subject matter that patrons buy is what remind them of something or some places in their life they’ve visited, or pleasant situations from their memories or things that put them at peace with the world.
1. Traditional Landscapes. Believe it or not, traditional works of art stills sell very well. Most people still have a very traditional points of view and how they see the world. Remember the Old Masters traditionally painted the beauty of nature and scenes that they saw in their local areas.
2. Local Scenes. Things that evoke good memories or a wonderful vacation sell very well. Why, because it brings back such strong feelings and good thoughts even when it’s a rainy or cold day outside.
3. Modern or Semi-abstract Scapes. As long as you can still see something familiar in the work of art and you love the color, form and format – buy it if you love it.
4. Abstracts. Abstracts have become very popular -when you don’t know what to buy, but you know you need something on the wall and it evokes something in you and it probably matches your décor- buy it.
5. Dogs, Cats and Other Furry Things. People love their animals and they love their animals doing wonderfully loving and funny things. Some people could just look at that stuff all day and they do when they buy that kind of art.
6. Figure Studies and Street Scenes (excluding nudes). People watching as a past time is something that many people enjoy– especially if it evokes a warm and comfortable feeling.
7. Seascapes, Harbors, and Beach Scenes. Everyone loves the ocean, lakes and rivers. They love seeing the boats tied up at the harbor docks and it helps one remember those wonderful vacations in days past when they just sat there looking out at the stillness of the water feeling at peace with the world.
8. Wildlife Scenes. Nothing feels better than taking a walk on the wild side. Even if that wild side scene is a stroll your living room.
9. Impressionistic Landscapes. The colors, the textures, the thoughts of nature and the feelings that impressionistic landscapes evoke make many people purchase these and bring them into their homes to enjoy all year round.
10. Nudes. Oh yes, we can’t forget about the study of the human body and its beauty. No matter what size or shape you are – a beautiful body… is a beautiful body.
Number 2. Color your World
Ever heard the expression the whole world is your palate? Ever walk outside and see a combination of colors that just looks absolutely gorgeous to you?
Now, of course you know that not everybody sees color the same as you do. Most people agree that the colors in nature are the most comfortable and soothing colors to view. These colors fall into what is known as the visible light spectrum. They are the colors you see with the naked eye. They are the colors that are refracted through a crystal prism.
So when light strikes a green leaf on a tree and makes that tree look like it has leaves of 10 or 15 different shades of green --you are seeing the visible green light spectrum. A clever and talented artist can do the same thing with their paint brushes and pallet knives. The question is what colors appeal to you?
There are certain combinations of colors that work really well together. And if you take the visible light spectrum and make it into a color wheel you will see that colors opposite each other work well together. That’s why I say “opposites attract”. What I mean by that is, look at a color and then look at the color that’s opposite it and you will see that opposite color combinations seem to go very well together.
Of course, a color wheel is a very simple presentation with just the basic colors. There is a whole world out there now of paint and color -it’s almost too gigantic to imagine. There is so much wonderful art out there, so be careful to find something to match your color tastes and personal preferences.
Number 3. Let the Light Shine Through
Light and lighting techniques are something that artists have been using throughout the centuries to illuminate certain portions of their art or to create a more dramatic effect. Light can evoke emotion, excitement and energy – it adds dimension to any two-dimensional painting. It brings depth and richness that involves the viewer to rise to a higher place when an artist has used light in a meaningful way.
Light and the use of white has been the subject of many articles written by scores of art critics, gallery owners, and museum curators. Using white to make light is a technique that was mastered by John Singer Sargent, a famous American painter who truly understood the use of white light- be sure to look at his work.
In reviewing his work you will see that he uses many colors and hues to represent various shades of white and light. You see this technique in the work of da Vinci, who truly understood how to evoke motion from the use of light and also in the photography of Zacher Rise. These artists learned how to wield their creative instruments as nature wheels natural light. The fact of the matter is not many are very good at it and it take years of experience and trial and error to get it right. Sit down in front of your favorite works of art and see how those who really understand lighting have used it to punctuate their work.
Number 4. Point of Interest
In all my years of working in the advertising and graphic design business, the one thing I’ve learned is, focus your viewer and “make the product the hero”.
Using the 1/3 x 1/3 composition technique you will see how this works to create the 4 optimal points that create perfect point of interest positions.
Look at the painting "Psalm 42:1", painted by the Santa Maria Twins as an example--the deer is the point of interest even though it is the smallest object in the painting. And your eyes should automatically be led to the deer, which has been placed at one of the four optimum points.
I learned this from observing how great artists and photographers have created their work to have the viewer’s eye trained on a single segment or element in their paintings and build everything else around it. This holds true for great paintings as well… “The creation of Adam”, painted by Michelangelo is one of the greatest examples of point of interest.
When viewing this painting, look at how close the almost touching fingers are – it makes you focus on that one spot and all the emotion, drama and light in this painting are built around that. That’s what’s meant by point of interest.
Number 5. Fibonacci Numbers or Fibonacci Sequence
This is the original paint by numbers guy. Fibonacci was one of the popular names that Leonardo Bonacci (c. 1170 – c. 1250) was known as. Fibonacci was a very talented Italian mathematician and considered to be "the most talented Western mathematician of the Middle Ages".
And this is one of the more well-known things he was famous for. Stated in mathematical terms it looks like this: Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2. Not very interesting and not very artistic looking, but yet very brilliant mathematically speaking.
When Fibonacci’s sequence is put into an illustrated form you see a perfect spiral. And even more importantly when found in nature it gives a spectacular visual presentation to certain elements like the Nautilus shell and the sunflower. This is Mother Nature’s way of presenting Fibonacci’s mathematical formula.
Be sure to take a look at some of the fine examples of nature at work, doing what comes naturally. These are all wonderful examples on a micro scale of what is appealing to the eye and can be created either in art or by nature.
And on a macro scale…take a look at the universe. You will see the same spiral and same shape that we see in the Nautilus shell, flowers and everywhere in nature but on a much more gigantic scale.
Number 6. The Golden Ratio
The Golden Ratio, Golden Mean and Golden Section are just a few of the terms used to describe this perfect shape for creating beautiful works of art. The Golden ratio has been used for at least 2400 years. And once you get familiar with it and understand what it’s all about – you will see it everywhere.
I have found in studying art, looking at artist portfolios, and spending countless hours in museums, that it is everywhere. Funny thing though, lots of artists, who are intuitive about their art and create with their minds eye don’t always know that they use the Golden Ratio. Now that you know about Fibonacci and you look more closely at his spiral you will see that the Golden Ratio is the building blocks of his spiral.
From the days of Pythagoras and Euclid in ancient Greece right up till now, it has been used by artists and architects. The Parthenon is based on it. Some say that the Mona Lisa by da Vinci was created using the Golden Ratio as a basis for his composition. This is one of the most pleasing shapes I find in created works of art. But let me remind you, not all these elements need to appear in every painting- but some of them make a wonderful first step when laying out a painting and for positioning different elements of that work of art.
Many painters and artists I know, use the Golden Ratio as the very first thing they do when laying out a new painting. Start looking for it and you’ll see it everywhere.
Number 7. Knowing all the Angles
There is something very dynamic in a painting that gives it life and motion when an imaginary right triangle shows up somewhere in it. There is something about that little triangle that gives it more perspective, energy, and a dynamic quality that just makes it feel right.
I first noticed this in the paintings I saw at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. I was just a young adult attending my nuclear engineering classes’ right across the street from the museum. Back in those days, there was no admission fee, so I would take my lunch there every day and sit and study the paintings.
Of course, being an engineering student, geometric things, like triangles, caught my eye. So I started to look at paintings to see how many of them had triangles. To my amazement hundreds of them did. What I’ve come to realize is the triangle is the basis for giving a work of art perspective. It takes the work from a flat two-dimensional piece and in the right hands a good artist can turn that into a three-dimensional masterpiece. Of course, everyone knows the pyramids of Egypt. They are based on a right triangle. If you measure from the center point to the middle of anyone side you’d make a right triangle.
I bet this sort of thing makes you wish you had paid a little more attention in geometry class and learned your theorems a little better. Take a look at some of the most famous pieces of work in the world and I’m sure you’ll spot the triangles…there everywhere.
Number 8. Getting the Right Point of View and Perspective
So how do you figure all the angles? How do you know how to frame the subject? What’s the best way to make the point of interest stand out? The answer. By understanding perspectives and vanishing points.
As a young engineering school student I had to take an architectural drafting class. I knew nothing about vanishing points, single point perspective, multiple point perspective or zero point perspective. And today the truth is… I still don’t know how to draw these things very well because I’m not an artist or draftsman. But what I do know is that adding perspective to art gets one a much stronger, dynamic and dramatic point of view.
It’s easy to see that when you take a two-dimensional piece of work like a painting and add perspective to it. It can jump off the canvas or take you back infinitely inside that painting.
The European artists’ understanding of all this perspective stuff started around 1400 when Filippo Brunelleschi, demonstrated the geometrical method of perspective. What he did was use a mirror as his canvas and painted some of the Florentine buildings onto his mirror. By angling the mirror in different ways he was able to figure out the various perspectives that he was visualizing. Thus, came the understanding of the art of perspective and perspective drawing.
The Asian art community also had the concept of prospective as well and you can be sure they weren’t comparing notes with the Italian art community. Now there are lots of types of perspective, from linear to 5 point perspective and everything in between.
The prospective styles that I see being used most in paintings are single point perspective, two-point perspective and vanishing point perspective. And of course we can’t forget linear perspective that representing the light that passes from a scene through an imaginary rectangle.
Single point perspective is one of the most prevalent perspective drawing styles. The reason for this is that all lines lead to a single point, and regardless of how complex your object is, it's easy to realize when you've made a mistake, and just as easy to correct it. Two point perspectives is by far the best suited perspective drawing styles available for rendering environment concept art to show the breadth and size of your image. Vanishing point perspective is widely used when trying to give drama and meaningful depth to the images that are being depicted.
Where to you go from Here? So now, how do you take these various concepts, ideas, geometric shapes, mathematical formulas, and in your own way put them all together if you are an artist?
As an art lover, buyer or as a seller of art, how do you recognize all these elements? Then how are you able to describe them and recognize a good piece of work from one that is not as well composed? Of course, all of these things will never get used in one painting. As a matter of fact I can’t imagine that you’ll see more than 3 or 4 ever being used in a painting.
The question is which ones were used? When to use them? And can you recognize them? I hope I have helped to give you some perspective on what makes great art and why.