Painting is one of the oldest and most important arts. Since prehistoric times, artists have arranged colors on surfaces in ways that express their ideas about people, the world, and religion. The paintings that artists create have great value for humanity. They provide people with both pleasure and information.
Sometimes artists paint primarily for their own enjoyment or self-expression, choosing their own subjects. Artists may also paint for a supporter called a patron, who commissions (orders and pays for) a work. A patron may be a private individual or a ruler who wants to decorate a palace or give the painting as a gift. A patron also may be an organization or institution. Religious groups have commissioned works of art to help believers worship and understand their faith. Rulers use art to assert their importance. Governments use painting to teach people about the history and ideals of their country.
Even when artists paint primarily for themselves, they want others to see their work and understand and enjoy it. People enjoy paintings for a number of reasons. Many viewers take pleasure in the artistic qualities of a painting, such as its colors or composition. Some paintings interest viewers because of the way the artists have expressed some emotion, such as fear, grief, happiness, love, hero worship, or faith. Such paintings, in turn, can inspire similar emotions in people looking at them. Other paintings are enjoyable because they skillfully portray nature or illustrate the daily lives of people who lived long ago.
Paintings can also teach. Some paintings reveal what the artists, their patrons, or their society felt about important subjects, including death, love, religion, and social justice. Many paintings tell about the history of the period in which they were created. They provide information about the customs, ideals, and interests of people of past societies. Much of our knowledge about prehistoric and ancient times comes from paintings and other works of art because many early cultures left few or no written records. For example, paintings can tell about such things as the architecture, clothing, recreation, and tools of a particular society or historical period.
What painters paint
It would be very difficult to find a subject that no one has ever tried to paint. Artists paint the things they see around them–people animals, nature, and objects. They also paint dreamlike scenes that exist only in the imagination. An artist can reach back into the past and paint a historical event, a religious story, or a myth. Some artists paint pictures that show no recognizable subject matter at all. Instead, they arrange the paint in some way that expresses feelings or ideas that are important to them.
Since prehistoric times, many artists have painted the subjects that were most important to their societies. For example, religion was particularly important in Europe during the Middle Ages, and most of the paintings created then had religious themes.
All great paintings, regardless of subject matter, share a common feature. They do more than just reproduce with paint something that exists, existed, or can be imagined. They also express the painter’s special view about a subject.