Painting – Definition, History, Events and Importance


What is Painting?

In essence, painting is a visual composition on a cloth or canvas surface.  In reality, the term can be applied more broadly. So when asking a critic the concept of painting, he or she will inevitably linger on the question of form. Thus, the defining aspects that unite all works of art in the category of painting include the use of certain materials. This means that a painting is generally defined by the consistency of some kind of material applied to some kind of surface, usually a flat, two-dimensional canvas. However, in a broader sense, graffiti is a type of painting because it is made with spray paint applied to a flat surface, such as a wall or paving slab. There are a variety of commonly used paint types, such as gouache, acrylic, watercolor and fresco. The possibilities of the medium to apply paint can be besides canvas, canvas, paper, wood, leather among others.

Definition of Painting

In art, the term painting describes both the act of capturing an image, a person, an animal, an object, a situation or fact (using a brush or other instrument, such as brush, spatula, sponge, airbrush to apply the paint), and the result of the action is defined as a work of art.

Painting is also defined as an image (art) created with pigment (color) on a surface (substrate) such as paper or canvas. The pigment can be in a wet form, such as paint, or in a dry form, such as pastels. Thus, painting can also be a verb, the action of creating a work of art.

The elements of painting are the basic components or building blocks of a painting. In Western art they are generally considered to be: the tone of Color (or value), of line (a narrow mark of a brush or a line meeting between two things), of shape (2D, can be positive or negative) and (3D), of space (or volume), texture (or pattern) sometimes these elements are also added to the list of the composition. Also valued in painting are elements such as direction (vertical, horizontal, inclined), time, size and movement (how the viewer perceives and sees the painting).  Likewise, special consideration and knowledge about the composition of the work must be taken into account. Therefore, this concept is described below.

Characteristics of Painting

Painting is the expression of ideas and emotions, with the creation of certain aesthetic qualities, in a two-dimensional visual language. The elements of this language, its forms, lines, colors, tones and textures, are used in various ways to produce sensations of volume, space, movement and light on a flat surface.

These elements are combined in expressive patterns to represent real or supernatural phenomena, to interpret a narrative theme, or to create wholly abstract visual relationships. An artist’s decision to use a particular medium, such as tempera, fresco, oil, acrylic, watercolor or other water-based paints, ink, Gauche, encaustic or casein.

The choice of a particular form, such as a mural, easel, panel, miniature, manuscript illumination, scroll, screen or fan, panorama or any of the various modern forms, is based on the sensual qualities, expressive possibilities and limitations of those choices. The choices of medium and form, as well as the artist’s own technique, combine to realize a unique visual image.

Earlier cultural traditions of tribes, religions, guilds, royal courts and states largely controlled the craft, form, imagery and subject matter of painting and determined its function, whether ritualistic, devotional, decorative, entertaining or educational.

Painters were employed more as skilled craftsmen than as creative artists. Later, the notion of the good artist developed in Asia and Renaissance Europe. Outstanding painters were accorded the social status of scholars and courtiers, who signed their works, decided their design and often their subject matter and imagery, and established a more personal, though not always friendly, relationship with their patrons.


is the term used to describe the arrangement of the visual elements of a painting. It is how the elements of art and design, such as line, shape, color, value, texture, and space, are arranged according to the principles of art and design to achieve balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, unity/variety in the work. As well, these elements of composition provide the structure of the painting and allow the artist’s intent to be conveyed.

Therefore, composition is different from the subject matter of a painting. Every painting, whether abstract or figurative, regardless of the subject matter, has a composition. Therefore, a good composition is essential for the success of a painting. Hence, done successfully, a good composition draws the viewer in and then moves the viewer’s eye through the painting so that it all ends up finally focusing on the main subject of the painting. Thus, in his notes, the painter Henri Matisse defined composition as the art of decoratively arranging the various elements in the painter’s command to express his feelings.

What is Painting

Elements of Composition 

Composition elements in art are used to arrange the visual components in a way that is pleasing to both the artist, and hopefully, the viewer. They help give structure to the design of the painting and the subject matter presented. They can also stimulate or lead the viewer’s eye to wander throughout the painting, to come back to rest on the focal point.

In Western art these are the compositional elements generally considered:

Unity: all parts should give the feeling of composition, that is, they belong to the work. Thus, unity makes it possible to differentiate when something feels awkward, or out of place.

Balance: This is the sense of painting, since having a symmetrical arrangement adds a sense of calm, while an asymmetrical arrangement creates a more dynamic feeling. A painting that is not balanced creates a sense of unease.

Movement: There are many ways to give a sense of movement in a painting, such as the arrangement of objects, the position of figures, the flow of a river. Main lines (photography applicable to painting) can be used to direct the viewer’s eye around the painting. Main lines can be real lines, such as railroad lines, they can also be implied lines, such as a row of trees or curve of stones or circles.

Rhythm: Largely does the same thing as in music, so, a work of art can have an underlying rhythm or beat that leads the eye to see the artwork at a certain pace. Looking for the large underlying shapes (squares, triangles) and repeated color.

The Focus (or emphasis): The viewer’s eye ultimately wants to rest on the focal point which is the most important point of the painting, otherwise the eye feels lost, wandering in space.

Contrast: Paintings with strong differences between light and dark, high contrast, for example, have a different feel than paintings with minimal contrast in light and dark. In addition to light and dark contrast, there may be differences in shape, color, size, texture, line types, among other aspects.

Pattern: A regular repetition of lines, shapes, colors or values in a composition.

Proportion: It has to do with the way things fit together and relate to each other in terms of size and scale; whether it is large or small, close or distant.

History of painting

The term history of painting was introduced in the 17th century to describe paintings with subjects drawn from classical history, mythology, and the Bible, in the 18th century. It was also used to refer to more recent historical subjects.

The term, likewise, was introduced by the Royal French Academy in the 17th century, since it was considered the most important type (genre) of portrait painting, depicting scenes from everyday life, such as genre painting, landscape painting and still life.

Painting Techniques

Whether a painting is completed by careful stages or executed directly by a “hit-or-miss alla prima” method (in which pigments are applied in a single application) was once largely determined by the established ideals and techniques of cultural tradition.

For example, the meticulous procedure of the medieval European illuminator, whereby a complex linear pattern was gradually enriched with gold leaf and precious pigments, was contemporary with the Chinese artists’ practice of immediate calligraphic brush painting after the contemplative period of spiritual preparation.

Importance of painting

The contribution of painting in the modern and postmodern era is that since the Renaissance, it allowed civilizations to be free from an understanding of the universe where the human being was only defined in terms of a larger cosmic order which in turn, was the assumption, manifested in the word of God. The new modern view, on the other hand, also allows the human being to make a self-definition. However, from this viewpoint of enlightenment that is still shared of the human being as subject, the world is envisioned as a set of neutral objects, which can be observed, measured or manipulated. Likewise, as artists, the achievement of self-defined subjects has been achieved, a historical achievement indeed. But it has also allowed the human being to become a creative subject who feels separate from the objects he paints, and that is the part of the achievement that is still worrying, it means that the artist’s task lies largely in observing and commenting on the world, recording his observations or comments on canvas (or not).  The miracle or important truth of which we speak pushes this self-understanding of oneself as a subject, that is to say self-definition, one step further, very important. In this understanding, life is seen as an expression where the human being realizes in his work, something to feel or desire, by virtue of the activity itself. To put it more bluntly, in expressions, the human being becomes aware of being who he is because it is only through the effort of expressing himself that he becomes clear and distinctive about what he is and what he is becoming.

From this point of view, when a mark is made on a canvas, it becomes possible not only to create a thing, but to become a human being. It is possible, then, not simply to make an image of something, but to create and recreate oneself through art. Thus, if one were to look at a painting by Paul Cézanne, for example, one could see the apples, but that is the superficial. Nobody cares about the apples or the sunset or the thing called painting except insofar as it can move, in a way that is somewhat inexplicable. That is to say that the value of painting, and here we are not talking about market value or investment value, is that through it Cezanne specifically, continues to speak to and reaffirm his viewers.

Therefore, to capture an idea, a thought, a feeling on a canvas is to open the door to the possibility of being deeply moved and to move others. This approach to painting comes directly from what can be described as the golden age of painting (expressionism).  It was the central approach to the rejection of academic demand that artists skillfully recorded from around the world. Thus, certain American artists found their way to Paris in the 19th century and returned home to pass on this set of beliefs, as well as a set of practices and techniques, later expressed, from this point of view.

Legacy of Painting in Art

Legacy of Painting in Art

One of the most important legacies of painting in general, are the criteria and different genres with which it has been possible to identify and classify this art. Thus, Chinese painting is different from Western oil painting. The two cannot be judged with the same criteria. Before experiencing the renewal of Chinese painting, it is necessary to study its historical essence to reveal the beauty without losing the original spirit.  In fact, the traditional painting of the literati represents not only an aesthetic school, but also the presence of the philosophical mentality of the Chinese people, in this case. The painter Li I-hung, one of the best in contemporary Chinese painting, quotes the words of a Belgian sinologist in explaining this phenomenon, stating that in order to understand Chinese philosophy, one must first of all know Chinese landscape painting. On the other hand, for someone who is not familiar with Chinese philosophy, in front of a Chinese ink painting, he is not able to grasp the underlying meaning beyond the background of the floating clouds. All the paintings will look the same to him.  Nevertheless, the landscape theme, after the Five Dynasties (around the 10th century AD), became the predominant trend in Chinese painting.

The aesthetic transformation whose origin had to do with the philosophical mentality of that time, sprouted due to the constant wars and social turmoil from year to year, the most enlightened talents of the intellectual society, resigned and helpless in this chaotic situation, were inspired by the mystical thought of the sages Lao-tze and Chuang-tze to unite with nature as a form of retreat. Therefore, for example, Chinese painting has influenced other paintings in the region such as Taiwanese painting with a strong contemporary nuance and local colors. Unlike the soft tonality and metaphorical sense of traditional Chinese painting of the literati, Taiwanese painting today is more surprising, shifting and changing.  The trends are sketched in the manner of Chiang Ming-shyan’s drawing, mixing the materials, such as oil, acrylic, watercolor or Japanese jiaocai on top of the layer of Chinese ink. It is no wonder that when people see these pictorial works, they are surprised to wonder if they are really Chinese ink paintings.  Likewise, the traditional landscape painting of the literati is a product of the agricultural society, which Mr. Lo added. In ancient times, artists lived in the countryside, soaking in the natural environment around the mountains and waters; while today, living in a super industrialized or so-called postmodern society, surrounded by the medium of science and high technology, it would be anachronistic to continue painting those landscapes. Faced with this crossroads of social change, the millenary tradition of Chinese painting has also reached its moment of transformation. Therefore, more and more trends and cultures from different countries and cultures are intermingling in painting. Therefore, painters are increasingly daring to use colors, with abundant western sketches or watercolor technique and mixed materials, such as shredded newspapers, collage, spray paint or brush, even abandoning some techniques and taking others that allow them to transform this art, which has left a certain bitter taste to art critics. Thus, the particular characteristics of Chinese painting, for example, are the vigor and delicacy of the brushstrokes. However, if color and texture are to be expressed, oil is best, and to emphasize sketch-like technique, watercolor is best.  In fact, with the advance of modern Western art and artistic schools such as Picasso and the cubists, Matisse and the fauvists or Miró and abstractionism, the flow of Chinese ink painting has widened. Painters have begun to reconstruct concrete landscapes and integrate more abstract elements. Thus, the works are being made by making new experiments reveal a new vitality and richness of the art of painting.

Types of painting

Egyptian painting

Known as one of the oldest and richest civilizations that ever existed, the Egyptian civilization has so far withstood the test of time. With its pyramids standing close to the sky and the monumental sphinx guarding the tombs of the pharaohs, it tends to forget another subtle but very important part of ancient Egyptian culture that exists alongside the pyramids and the sphinx, such as ancient Egyptian paintings.

Prehistoric Paintings

Prehistoric paintings have been discovered as cave paintings in many parts of the world, from Europe and Africa to Australia. Africa has some of the earliest rock paintings and engravings that have been dated with certainty, thousands of years old, some were discovered in 1969 in the rock wall of a cave near Twyfelfontein in Namibia.

But the most numerous and sophisticated of the prehistoric paintings are on the walls of caves in southwestern France and northern Spain.

Roman Painting

The history of Roman painting is essentially a history of plaster wall paintings. Although ancient literary references report Roman paintings on wood, ivory, and other materials, the works that have survived are found in the durable fresco medium that was used to adorn the interiors of private homes in Roman cities and in the countryside.

Action Painting

This painting is framed within the abstract expressionism of the United States, which began in the decade of the 40s, in the twentieth century, from this country spread to Europe, is characterized by being completely abstract and gestural type, so, in the finished work is evident speed, fury and intentionality of the creator in each of the splashes.

Indian Painting

The main objective of the Indian painter artist is to create beauty and while working on a particular painting he keeps this in mind. That is why Indian arts have a distinctive position in the global arena. Comparing to other art forms like dance and music, Indian paintings are able to portray the feelings and emotions of the artist, they also have the ability to portray human emotions and sustain them for a longer period.

European Painting

European painting is considered among the most outstanding of the arts, featuring important Old Master paintings, including a rare group of 15th century Spanish, Italian and Northern European paintings, 17th and 18th century paintings from most European nations, and El Greco’s most renowned painting in the United States, the Assumption of the Virgin.

This collection of paintings is world renowned for its extensive and outstanding holdings of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works.

Greek Painting

Greek painting has survived primarily as pottery decoration. The few surviving Greek murals are remarkable in that they show significant advances in realism techniques such as shading and perspective.

The origin of Greek culture including painting, was Athens, this fact is evident even in the Greek Dark Ages, during which time Athens, like all other Greek settlements, had not yet become a city.

Western painting

Western painting should be considered to mean painting not only in Europe but also in regions outside Europe that share a European cultural tradition, such as the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin and, later, the countries of the New World.

Western painting is generally distinguished by its concentration on the representation of the human figure, whether in the heroic context of antiquity or in the religious context of the Christian and early medieval world.

Oriental Painting

The Orient calls for images of sages, rich spices, luxurious tapestries and incense. Oriental paintings evoke the rich culture in wonderful colors and details. Likewise, Oriental art includes in its unusual paintings, bridges, majestic birds, extravagant images, Middle Eastern landscapes and calm colorful fish.

Representatives of painting in the epochs

This name is given to works in art, which marked a milestone in painting. For example in the Renaissance great works were produced during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries in Europe under the combined influences of a greater awareness of nature, a revival of classical learning and a more individualistic view of man.

Renaissance paintings show the interest in nature, humanistic learning, and individualism that were already present in the late medieval period and became dominant in 15th- and 16th-century Italy.

Universities of painting

In the universities of painting, the course structure depends on the type of art degree you want to study. For example, art history degrees are likely to be much more essay-based than fine art degrees, which are likely to be practical in nature and perhaps taught in studios or workshops.

Fine art degrees are also more likely to conclude with an assessment through a project or portfolio of works that can be exhibited to the public, although some courses have the traditional dissertation or supervised research project more commonly found in art history degrees.

The length of an art degree also varies depending on the country in which you choose to study. For example, most undergraduate courses in the UK last three years, while in the U.S. four years is the norm.