How do I describe a painting?

Posted on March 4, 2014 by Lesley Arnold

“If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.”
~ Edward Hopper

I love this quote by Edward Hopper. It reminds me that paintings are images that are expressed, just as a poem or composition has images expressed in words. It is often so hard to describe a work of art, especially these days when everything is made so visual. When my granddaughter was born everyone asked for a photograph right away. It was as though my descriptive words were not enough for them. They wanted more of a picture. I began to really look at her and tried to describe in detail what she looked like rather than send a photograph. It was really hard to do! Before we had photography, painters had the joy of painting what they saw, felt, or experienced in their world.
In some assignments you will be asked to describe a painting or write how it makes you feel. Sometimes I get responses like, “The color is dull,” or “I feel dizzy when I look at it.” These comments crack me up! If you haven’t been exposed to how to really look at a painting or work of art, it can be difficult to find the words. It always helps to know the history of the artist and the environment in which the artist painted. I love watching Sister Wendy describe and interpret paintings. The videos are very long, but well worth the viewing. She’s funny and so interested in the paintings! Her historical summary of when, where, and how the paintings were accomplished is outstanding. Enjoy! I’ve included a sample here: Sister Wendy

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