One of the best parts of being a writer at Gentleman’s Gazette is that rather than focusing on individual and brief articles, I have the ability to write an entire series of in-depth features on a variety of topics. The reason I like this is unlike the standard 500 word article found in most magazines, with an entire series of articles that each average 2500 words, we have the unique ability to delve into topics and cover every aspect and detail of that topic.
With that said, it is an absolute privilege to introduce you to our latest series on fine art. In this series, we’ll focus on all aspects of fine art from the various styles and renowned artists to famous forgeries and thefts and even gallery exhibits worthy of your attention.
I’ve always had an appreciation for art. My father is an artist and educator, my aunt has managed some of the top galleries in New York and many other family members have dabbled in various expressions of art.
In my office, I have a selection of works that include a print of Marc Chagall’s Fiddler on the Roof as well as some original oil paintings from around the world that I’ve inherited from my grandparents.
Art fascinates me. It inspires me and on days when I have terrible writer’s block, I’ll take a gander at the finer details of the art on my wall and inspiration will hit with the force of a Mack truck.
Despite this love of art, I am by no means an expert on the subject. I don’t have a degree in fine art and just because my family members have experience in the field, doesn’t mean I do. My father could be a world-class surgeon, but it doesn’t mean I should be trusted with a scalpel, let alone a stethoscope.
This is why we’ll rely on the experience of leading experts in all of the future articles in this series.
The History of Art
Well, this is one history lesson I’m certain most are familiar with. Art dates back to the beginning of time. From rudimentary paintings on cave walls to sculptures made of natural stone and materials, art has been a form of self-expression since the dawn of man.
Traditionally, fine art is defined as having an aesthetic purpose, as opposed to the practical functions of applied arts. Despite art consisting of six styles being painting, sculpture, architecture, music, performing arts and poetry, we will focus strictly on painting and sculpture in this series.
The oldest paintings found today that weren’t applied to structure or ground are about 32,000 years old and are displayed at the world famous Grotte Chauvet in France. They are engravings painted using black pigments and red ochre that display various animals and what experts believe are partial human figures. Despite these being the oldest paintings, the earliest evidence of painting remains were found in the two rock shelters at Arnhem Land in Australia. Archaeologists who have examined these paintings believe them to be around 60,000 years old. In addition to these rock-wall paintings, cave drawings have been found all over the world including China, India, France, Spain, Portugal and even Mexico.
While the most ancient paintings are rudimentary at best, some of the paintings found on display in galleries are so rich and complex that they almost seem impossible for the artist to have achieved based on the inks available in that day.
Many of the most famous paintings date back to the early 19th and 20th centuries with art movements such as impressionism, post-impressionism, fauvism, cubism, expressionism and dadaism which were introduced to favorably compete and transform the world from its predominant renaissance views of the era.
While the world of art has continued to develop and grow, with more ‘artists’ in today’s world then ever before, the fact is that contemporary art has moved away from the traditional forms of painting since about the 1960s. Many experts believe that the traditional forms of fine art have perished making way for new aesthetic forms of modern art.
Today, the majority of paintings produced are hard-edge, abstract, minimalism, pop art and various forms of computer art and animation.
For the most part, paintings are usually described by the medium that the pigment is suspended or embedded in. At Christies and Sothebys auctions, it’s commonplace to hear art described as “oil painting” or “watercolor”. This has become a standard language in the world of art and the globally popular way of identifying the type of painting. Most artists and admirers have a favorite medium they focus on and mediums that they don’t have the same level of appreciation for.
One of the most common mediums used in the production of fine art paintings, oil painting uses pigments bound with a medium of drying oil such as linseed which was used significantly in early modern Europe. The oil would be boiled down with a resin that artists refer to as varnish. The prime benefits of using oil paints is the high gloss and depth of body. Due to these traits, oil became the predominant medium used beginning in Europe and rapidly expanding in popularity throughout much of the world. Still used today, it’s most widely known for its use during the Renaissance era.
Tempera paint was probably the most common medium used prior to the use of oil. Also referred to as egg tempera, it’s a quick drying medium that consists of a colored pigment mixed with a water-soluble binger such as egg yolk. The prime benefit of using tempera paint is that it’s long lasting and many of the painting created with it during the first few centuries AD still exist today. Today, there is a paint called tempera that is used as poster paint in parts of North America, however, it should not be construed as being the same as the traditional tempera paint.
Pastels are one of those mediums often used in school but rarely used by professionals. The medium is well regarded as a love/hate style of painting due to color and opacity, however, it does have some very unique benefits such as smudging that can be effective when used by a talented artist. Pastels, unlike most paints come in the form of a powdered stick that’s a mixture of a pigment and binder. The pigment is the same used in all colored art including oil, however the binder is a neutral hue that is very low in saturation. The end result is a very fragile form of art that is prone to damage and smudging so it’s important that the artist or owner of the piece protects it by framing it behind glass or spraying it with a special fixative that binds it to the canvas. One big benefit is that unlike many other mediums, pastels aren’t prone to cracking or discoloration like oils are.
An exceptionally fast drying paint made of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion, acrylic paint has the unusual benefit of being water resistant once it’s dried, but still capable of being diluted while wet. Acrylic paint is often used as a substitute for watercolors and oils as it can resemble both dependent on how diluted it is. In fact, the primary difference between acrylic and oil is just the drying time and one medium is often chosen over the other simply as a result of artist preference or the interest of blending and glazing the paint. Since acrylic dries so quickly, it’s often chosen over oil as it doesn’t impede the artist’s ability to work quickly.
Ink painting is often simply referred to as a drawing and is generated using a pen or sometimes a quill. It’s a very difficult medium to use as the components which create the ink are complex in comparison to other mediums. Ink often consists of various solvents, dyes, pigments, resins, lubricants, surfactants, particles and solubilizers. Ink can be a preferred medium for many artists as it’s much easier to travel with a pen than it is a set of oils or watercolors. My father is a prime example of an artist who often uses ink in his artwork. However, unlike other paints, the artist has to contend with less control over flow and thickness. This is one reason why artists who do use ink favor a specific line or type of pen over another and are often very protective of them. I have clear memories of being a child and not being allowed to use my father’s pens. It was a rare treat when he allowed my siblings and I to draw with his artist pens.
Watercolors is a very popular paint medium made of pigments suspended in a water soluble solution. Traditionally, unlike many other mediums, watercolor is used strictly on paper. While, throughout most of the world, the medium is commonly referred to as watercolor painting, in East Asia it’s actually called brush or scroll painting. It’s a very popular medium throughout much of Asia and is often applied with fingers instead of a brush.
Fresco painting is a style of mural paintings usually conducted on plastered walls or ceilings. It was a very popular style of painting in the Renaissance era, especially in Europe. The Fresco, or sometimes called Secco paint is a pigment mixed egg, glue or oil that helps to affix it to the wall.
Very popular in the 18th through 20th centuries, enamel is made of a heated fusion of laminated glass and metal with color oxides that produce the color. It’s a very popular medium for producing portrait miniatures and outdoor murals on metal.
Another water based paint, it consists of a pigment that’s specifically engineered to produce an opaque finish. The prime difference between gouache and watercolors is that the particles are much larger due to the ratio of pigment to water being significantly higher.
A three dimensional plastic art, sculpture is created by removing materials to create a piece of art. Various mediums are used from clay and stone to wood or even metal. Sculptures are one of the most prominent, but overlooked mediums of fine art and are visible in almost every part of the world. Often used to create vivid busts or biblical statues, it’s a time consuming, but exceptionally beautiful and captivating display of artistry. Sculpture is an extensive topic and we will focus on it thoroughly in future articles.
There are four primary elements in art which consist of intensity, color and tone, non-traditional elements, and rhythm.
Every point in space has it’s own different intensity represented by black, white and shades of gray. Artists use intensity to articulate specific shapes by juxtaposing the surface of the painting. Using shading and reflection, the artist can provide a realism to the piece that differentiates and illuminates the perception of the painting.
Color and Tone
Despite being subjective, especially to those with color blindness, color theory is an important element in art that has been theorized by such artists as Kandinsky, Newton and Goethe. Color offers a wide range of spectrum for each color name and artists use the tone and color in a similar way that musicians use pitch or rhythm to highlight parts of a song.
Where most of us have a standard definition of what the color blue or red is, artists will use the full range of tones for each color as a way to showcase meaning in their paintings.
Non Traditional Elements
These are typically found in modern and contemporary art and include the use of collages and cubism or can even involve the use of materials like sand, straw or wood to incorporate various textures. Many artists have used non-traditional elements to push boundaries even using bodily fluids, animal skins and garbage to accentuate their piece. Of course, this can also include the use of computer programs which digitally paint the canvas.
For any artist, rhythm is an integral part of their work. Defined as a pause incorporated into a sequence, these pauses are used to add various textural or melodic elements to a piece of art. It can be the use of a different color, medium or even material used to increase the aesthetics of the piece.
Art is such a vast topic to cover even a small percentage of it in this article would be impossible. This is why we decided to simply focus on the mediums and elements of fine art. Stay tuned for articles focused on the various styles of art, theory and famous artists, galleries and paintings.