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Understanding what you see

Here is a photo of a young Georgia O'Keefe

Learning to understand Art

Here is a photograph of Georgia O'Keefe.  Today we take photographs and for everyone that we take, we throw many, many away.  We do recognize the good ones,  don't we?  So you can already say that you recognize good design!  We just don't know why we recognize good design.  


Before photography, everyone knew how to draw.  They received instruction in composition, color theory and perspective, so when they were on vacation they could record what they saw by drawings and watercolor paintings.  This way they could show all their friends what they saw as we do with photos today. 

The Horizontal Abstract Lines

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The Landscape

In Classical art, abstract lines have meanings all by themselves and set the stage for every artwork.  Here we have the horizontal line in the landscape.  These lines produce a calm and peaceful feeling as all lines relate to our human experience.  How many people do you know who love to just sit on the beach and say how peaceful it feels?


Why? Because every everything we feel relates to the human condition.  And we react to great paintings for the same reason.  We make a horizontal line as we lay down for sleep just like the horizon in a beach-ocean scene?  Everything relates to us.

The Vertical Abstract Line

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The Vertical

The Portrait - A Vertical line.  This is Peter Paul Rubens and he was a very  'upright man'.   We tell someone, "Give  me a straight answer!"  The vertical line has power and we pay attention to it.  

Colors and how they affect us

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The Color Yellow

What we see and feel when looking at artworks depends on what we experience in our world.  It will be hard to make a gloomy picture using the color yellow.  Our experience tells us that when the sun comes out we are the happiest!

The Absence of Color

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Grey skies

Because of our own experiences, it will be hard to make us feel happy looking at a picture of a gloomy day with grey clouds.

Upward Curved Lines

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The smile

Again, because of our own experiences, our smile turns upward, our shoulders pull back and our arms go up to greet our favorite people in our lives.  Upward curved lines are happy lines all by themselves!

Downward Curved Lines

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The frown

And when we are sad, our smile turns upside down, our shoulders slump, our head hangs and we show the downward curved abstract lines.  So when you are looking at a drawing or painting that makes you feel sad or depressed, look for the abstract downward curved lines and you will start to understand more about why the picture is affecting you.

The Cave Paintings

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What do we really know about the cave man?

We know he could draw!  And not just represent but actually design. Follow the curve of the horns of tallest animal on the left and see how it continues to curve into the neck of the lower animal.  Look at the curves of the belly, the hind quarters, even the curve of the legs and how the horns of the lower animal playfully interact with the horns of the taller animal.


Where did he learn this?  Historians believe that the ancients sought out order when things got out of hand just like we do.  Imagine, without understanding when a tsunami came barreling down at them how frightening that was. Imagine the thunder blasting in the sky, a snow storm that never ended or flood that wipes out everything. It must have been terrifying.


The ancients thought their gods were angry at them when these things happened so they sought out order in their world trying to please their gods. How were they to please them. They looked at nature which was designed so perfectly and they found consistent designs that nature used for its own purposes and tried to repeat them to appease their gods.  And, in the process they learned how nature used these designs and applied them to their life.