Painting, in art, describes any work of art that’s created with painting via brush, sponge, palette knife, or any other tool to apply paint.

Painting is a medium, not a genre unlike abstract or contemporary art.

Paintings’ Origins

Paintings as old as 40,000 years old have been discovered around the world – mostly in caves as they served as shelter during the Upper Paleolithic era.

Back then, paint was mainly composed of earth ochers (iron oxides) and manganese (metallic substance). These would be crushed into a fine powder and applied directly by hand, but there are also instances of these powders being mixed with animal fats and implemented with rudimentary tools.

Over time, dyes were mixed with water and gums to create more vivid paint. However, It wasn’t until the fifteenth century when oil was implemented – creating a more durable and flexible paint.

Painting in Early Civilizations

After Mesopotamia, Egypt emerged as the most prominent of the first civilizations. Much of Egypts history was passed along through their well-kept written and artistic records.

Most of the art in ancient Egypt was found in the well-preserved tombs of kings and pharaohs – which were shielded from the climate.

The ancient Egyptians believed that the soul could continue to exist after death, hence the process of mummification, and with that came vibrant and detailed art which depicted major events of that person’s life.

Greeks and the Arts

The ancient Greeks were responsible for the grand wall paintings (murals) that paved the way for Roman murals.

In addition to murals, the Greeks fancied pottery as an artistic medium. Pottery was in high demand due to the amount of trade that was coming in and out of Greek city states.

The Renaissance

Around the Renaissance, artists typically maintained the same social status as scholars, and were essentially artisans that focused on art.

Prominent artists were commissioned through wealthy entities, be it families, religious sects, or merchant moguls. At the time, the idea of artists selling admittance into a gallery in order for them to earn a living didn’t exist.

Once commissioned works were no longer the mainstay of an artist’s earnings, they needed to appeal to the market, not just patrons.

Painting Today

From innovative origins in cave paintings, painting has taken on more forms than one could count.

The tools of the trade aren’t much different from the first instances of painting, but the techniques, visual aides, and subject matter have erupted into a myriad of artistic works.

Regardless of what the future of painting has in store, one can be certain that it’ll derive from styles and techniques of the past and present.

Abstract Art

Abstract art is exactly that – abstract. It used shapes, forms, and marks to depict common lifelike forms.

In relation to art specifically, abstract means reducing or withdrawing details until you only have core elements of a subject.

In the 2017 Netflix docu-series Abstract, one graphic designer uses Legos to summarize New York icons in just a few blocks.

Netflix – Abstract: The Art of Design 2017

This is a great example of abstractionism at play. Given the topic of New York City, one can quickly surmise which landmark that bit of Legos is meant to represent.

Abstract art is most prominent in sculpture and paintings, where artists can use simplistic gestures to form the essence of a subject.

Finding Meaning in Abstraction

Some argue that abstract art follows the mantra ‘art for art’s sake’, in that it creates beauty without necessarily carrying deeper meaning.

Others, however, believe that abstraction in general stands for virtues such as purity and simplicity – as the style certainly lends to.

Abstract art can be traced to impressionism and cubism, and was born in the early 20th century.

The cornerstone of abstract art is anything that doesn’t directly portray a recognizable object or scene. This was contrary to Classic Realism, which was taught in the great European art academies.

Traditional artists were fervent about creating art in order to provide a recognizable scene or object.

Abstract Artists

Piet Mondrian

Dutch artist Piet Mondrian was a student of the De Stijl art movement, which advocated for pure abstraction through a reduction to the essential forms and colors.

Mondrain’s masterpiece, Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43) abstracted a sky-down view of Manhattan’s busy streets. This work had heavy influence on New York’s Minimalism movement.

Broadway Boogie Woogie – Piet Mondrian (1942-43)

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock applied the drip painting method to his abstract art works. Drip painting involved literally dripping or flicking paint onto a canvas instead of carefully applying it.

Pollock is credited with the concept of action painting in which the physical approach to how the art was created is as essential as the finished work.

His greatness lies in his development of artist movements, and all around risk-taking in artistic form.

Number 5 – Jackson Pollock 1948

Jackson’s Number 5 one time held the record for the most expensive work of art sold, at $140 million.

Not only is he renowned for his contributions to abstract art, but Pollock is widely considered a leading figure of 20th century art.