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  • Writer's pictureJules

What gives a painting emotion?

I have a Pinterest board with about 700 images of artworks, ranging from the well-known realistic paintings, to lesser-known abstracts. As much as that sounds like I'm bragging, it's probably more a worrying indication of my procrastinating tendencies.

I often scroll through these images marvelling at the range of expression and emotion each one can induce. I've been wondering for a while now, how exactly does an image create emotion? After all, emotion is at the heart of connection, and connection is pivotal. What is it about an image that can really speak to your soul?

What dictates the feeling of a painting?

Is it the subject matter? Is it the colour choice? Is it texture? Paint strokes? And what can I be doing to make sure the message I'm wanting to convey in my paintings is backed up by all these subconscious indicators? How do *I* feel when I look at a painting? And what is that feeling, exactly?

The scientific approach (I think)

One of the good things about having done a lot of science studies in my past, is that instead of blindly hoping to stumble on the answer, I tend to look at it pragmatically. Sort the data in a meaningful way, and the answer should make itself known. Other people may be better at trial and error; both ways will get you an answer!

So, one day while I was procrastinating and scrolling (and to make use of Pinterest's new sorting feature) I decided to group these artworks into groups of emotion. The first job was to decide what to call each emotion. I decided on the following titles (just by looking at the most obvious paintings in the group - the ones that had really nailed it):

  1. Happy & Joyful (the easiest to identify)

  2. Dark & Contemplative

  3. Peaceful & Calming

  4. Romantic & Gentle

  5. Intense

I went through and tried to sort as many of the artworks into each of these groups, adding more groups if needed, and only adding images that I really thought ought to belong in the group.

The results

Overall, it was really fascinating to see the results of this grouping process. Not only were a couple of groups significantly bigger than the others (Peaceful & Calming, and Dark & Contemplative), but they also looked different too. The overall colour palette was subtly different, and so was the subject matter.

I've included the images below, to show you what I mean.

I then went through and tried to pick out exactly what set each of these groups apart. I made a list of the dominant colours, the flow of the shapes, the structure of the pictures and the subject matter. The Romantic & Gentle seemed to have more flowers and females in them. The Happy & Joyful were busier and more vibrant. And the Intense had more saturated colours, and lots of smaller elements scattered throughout.

There were of course some images that didn't get put in any of the groups, and it will probably take me a while to work out exactly why not (and if they need a different group?). It's also worth noting, that what I've selected is probably quite unique to me. Not only are these works that resonate with me, I've also arbitrarily grouped them to my personal preference and emotional response. Whether you'd have the same reaction, I'm not sure. I'm hoping though, our choices would be more similar than different.

If you want to check out all the images, you can see them on my Pinterest Art board. And if you have any idea what category the ungrouped images would fall into, let me know!

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