Art Quote of the Day

“Painting is a language much like English, Latin, French, or mathematics.  It just happens to be a language you learned, without even trying, when you were very young.  Today you are as fluent in reading paintings as you are in reading English.  You look at a picture and know what it’s a picture of .  You take the language of painting for granted.

You had to learn the conventions of English, build your vocabulary and learn grammar in order to communicate effectively.  In this regard, painting is no different from English or any language.  In painting, aesthetic conventions are the vocabulary and composition is the syntax.


The only way we can represent a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface is by using aesthetic conventions.  There are very specific rules about how to represent a tree.  If the artist doesn’t follow these rules, or aesthetic conventions, the picture won’t read as a picture of a tree. Of course, there is considerable latitude within these rules.  A tree by Monet looks nothing like a tree by Claude Lorrain, but both read as trees, maybe even the same species, because both artists  followed the rules for painting trees.

Two painters painting the same subject will produce two very different pictures because each uses different aesthetic conventions.

Making a painting is a lot simpler once you start to think in terms of aesthetic conventions instead of trying to duplicate what you see. Then all you have to do is find a way to make paint stand for what you see. Much of what you may now find difficult about painting disappears almost magically because you have no longer set yourself an impossible task.”

Conversations in Paint – A Notebook of Fundamentals by Charles Dunn


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