Art History for Real People

If you’re super intimidated by paintings, or if you *gasp* find art galleries boring, then I’m out to change your mind. My friend Payal is an amazing artist, and a makeup blogger on Fifty Foot Lashes. We’re conspiring together to write about art in an normal way- so for me on here I talk more about the history of the painting, why it’s important, why I like it, the museum it’s in, the city it’s in… stuff like that. Payal will be doing a makeup look inspired by the painting and talking about art in a way more intelligent way than I ever could. Some paintings will inspire a DIY on my crafts and sewing blog bows and buttons. DIY is expensive, my resources are limited.

Why are we doing this?

Simple. We love art. So much. Nothing kills an art lover more than people who say they think art is boring, or that they don’t understand it. And you know what? It’s not their fault. Art education is a bit of a joke the world over. It’s not some hoity toity crap where you need to wear a monocle and top hat- though monocles and top hats do sound fun. We have no format ideas, we’re just going to kind of do it until we hit a swing that works. So, with that spirit let’s talk about art.

This is a painting called Charles IV of Spain and his family, painted by Francisco Goya.

It’s displayed at the Prado in Madrid.

So what are we looking at?

First off, the dimensions of the canvas are three by four metres. This thing is huge. Imagine, if you will, walking down the aisles of the Prado then just BAM. Holy fejula! So obviously this is something super important because well, who puts that much effort into something that’s not. *This was before bronies.

Well, when you look at the plaque you see it’s Charles IV and his family. Spoiler: On the left there’s a sneaky self portrait of Goya lurking in the shadows.

He was the king of Spain in the 1780’s. There’s a lot to know about him. Fun fact, he cared more about hunting and left politics to his prime minister and his wife. I recommend the biography.com link for non-academic purposes. He loved Goya.

But let’s get back to the Prado.

Most museums publish a guide, and if you’re into art I’d definitely recommend the Prado guide. It’s incredibly well written and  the pictures are beautiful. I read through the things for the rest of my trip. It’s so good.

But that’s not what we’re here for today. Today we’re just going to talk about how to look at art. More specifically, how I look at art. I did my field school in art history, and I take any art history or museum studies class I can now. Keep in mind, I’m probably not the most technical person in any of these aspects; I just really, really love art and want to share it.

Sandy’s Steps to Sort of Maybe Understanding Art More Than You Did Before But Definitely Enjoying it a Hella Ton

  1. Read the plate at the museum or gallery. See all that information? It tells you the artist, the approximate year(s) it was painted, and what it was painted with. In this case, it’s 1800 and oil on canvas. This is good information for many reasons.
  2. Consider the material. I have a thing with materials. I like to know exactly what something was made with. It’s also a great way to make yourself sound like you know more than you actually do because you know materials. Also, it’s fun to see how a medium plays on different surfaces. Oil on canvas looks very, very different than oil on wood. Sometimes things impress you. For example, any time anything is pastel or watercolour I get super impressed by the artist because I think of elementary school and playing with both of them and just full on sucking. Sometimes materials get weird.
  3. Consider the time in history. So here we have 1800. This gives some context. Look at how they’re dressed. How they stand. Even the body types of the figures. Having a guide or really nerdy friend with you usually helps with this a lot.
  4. Consider the subject matter. This was commissioned as a royal portrait, so we’re looking at the king and his family. This isn’t always that obvious.
  5. Ask a ton of questions to yourself. Or out loud. Depends how comfortable you are being the crazy person in public. This is literally 80% of looking at what might be the most subjective subject in the world.

What do I mean by ask questions? I find that the two most important ones are….

What do I like about this painting?

I love the dresses. Damn, there’s something about the way they dressed back then. Would I have been able to afford to dress like that? Probably not. Definitely not. Look at the shoes on the guys, too. Guys don’t dress that flashy anymore. I love the navy and the gold together, it adds a ton of richness. I love how the gold and crystals really look shimmery and life like.

What don’t I understand?

I don’t get why they look like they all have super old people faces. Even the kids look slightly middle aged. I also don’t get why the one girl is looking away. Who is she?

Wait, What?! A SIXTH STEP?!

6.Write down the painting and google it later. Most museums have websites with tons and tons of info. I also find that the masterpiece cards blog is amazing for giving information without shoving it down your throat. Find the answers to things you don’t understand.

What did you like about this painting? What didn’t you understand? Let’s talk about it.

And make sure to check out Payal’s much better analysis and the makeup that she’d better be popping on my face soon at Fifty Foot Lashes.

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Art History for Real People

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