What makes a painting beautiful?

I am thinking if people comment about a particular painting and call it beautiful, I have accomplished my mission. But what exactly is it that makes art beautiful? In the ’70s the word ‘kitsch’ was used for art that was considered…well, not beautiful, or substandard!

Wikipedia says:
‘Kitsch (/ˈkɪtʃ/; loanword from German) is a low-brow style of mass-produced art or design using
popular or cultural icons. Kitsch generally includes unsubstantial or gaudy works or decoration, or works that are calculated to have popular appeal.’

I guess that includes Thomas Kinkade! A winter scene with smoking chimney tops and lights on in *every window* of the house, yet somehow green and red trees? Yeah….kitsch! Not beautiful. In his excellent 1950s book Eye of the Painter & Elements of Beauty, Andrew Loomis listed 12 Elements of beauty. After all, it can’t just be one thing!

Here’s what Loomis wrote: Unity, Simplicity, Design, Proportion, Color, Rhythm, Form, Texture, Values, Quality of light, Choice of subject, Technique.

Definitely the bible for me when I first started long ago. Even now every teacher talks about these! They repeat themselves in traditional painting like the backdrop in a Flintstone’s cartoon. And forgood reason! The ones I struggle the most with is ‘Rhythm’ and since I am mostly watercolor painting nowadays, ‘Texture’. Texture in watercolor painting is very limited.
‘Rhythm’ is almost esoteric. You can’t put your finger on it. There’s rhythm in a landscape, the hills. There’s rhythm in a tree or a flower. Everything has rhythm, from the smallest forms to the cycles of the universe (to quote Loomis).

Choice of subject is relative, in my opinion. You can make a pretty drab subject look beautiful. That is when the artist comes in! Just look at Dean Mitchell’s work. Often far from pretty subjects, but beautiful art nonetheless. I’ll talk about some of the other elements in the next blogpost.

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2 thoughts on “What makes a painting beautiful?

  1. lesliepaints

    Well written. What I have always been most drawn to, in your work, that just takes me and makes me stare is your excellent compositions and always the feeling of “being there”. I always feel that I could be standing there and feeling the space and hearing the sounds.

    1. frankeber Post author

      Leslie, that is a big compliment! Thank you, I know you mean it. That is exactly what I am after! It is a lifelong pursuit for me…I always look at my work and I know I can do better..Sorry I am such a lame duck reciprocating on your blog…I am so busy now, I created a monster!!

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