If you’re new to making art, then it’s possible that you might not know much about the history of art and all of the many types of new and old art out there. In fact, the idea of learning about all of this stuff can seem boring, irrelevant and off-putting. After all, if you’re just making cartoons, comics, random paintings etc.. then why on earth would you want to research things like art history?
I used to think about it in this way until about 2013 when I remembered that most really old paintings were out of copyright and, thus, could be freely copied whenever I was feeling uninspired. So, I went through a whole phase of making copies, altered copies and/or parodies of old paintings etc…, like this:
Of course, whilst using this new source of backup inspiration, I also began to do a bit of research and I suddenly realised why art history and knowledge about art in general is such an important thing.
In short, it can not only provide you with new types of inspiration (when you discover a cool genre of art that you knew little about) but it can also help you to both describe your own art in a more sophisticated way and to help you see which directions you want your art style to go in over the next few years of regular practice. It’s also fascinating because, well, it’s history.
So, how can you learn more about interesting types of art? Here are a few tips:
1) Wikipedia: Ok, you’ve almost certainly heard of Wikipedia before. Did you know that, not only does it contain a large number of articles about art, but it also contains an absolutely gigantic collection of old out-of-copyright paintings (be sure to check the info for each painting though – since the works of some old artists like Matisse are still in copyright in Europe. But, don’t get me started on the subject of copyright duration) that you can download and copy to your heart’s content.
Of course, since Wikipedia is an online encyclopaedia, if you find an artist that you really like, then you’ll also be able to quickly find links to articles about similar artists and to more information about the style (eg: impressionism, ukiyo-e, tenebrism, art nouveau, pre-raphaelite art, Mexican calavera art etc…) that this particular historical artist uses.
2) Image searches: If you only have a vague idea about a type of new or old art that interests you, then just do an image search (eg: Google Images) for whichever words you can think of that describe the type of art that you’re looking for, even if you don’t know the technical terms for it.
For example, if you’ve seen a really badass painting of a giant skeleton from 19th century Japan, then just type “old Japanese art” (don’t do this at work, school etc.. though, since some examples are fairly risque). When you see a picture that you like, follow the links and see if you can learn more (eg: the term for one type of old Japanese art is “Ukiyo-e”).
Just remember that, if you’re looking for more modern types of art (eg: comic book art, heavy metal album covers etc..) then you shouldn’t publish any direct copies of them that you make when you’re trying to learn how to make this type of art.
Learning from types of art that are still copyrighted is a more complex thing to do, but it basically just involves carefully studying what kind of compositions/layouts, colour palettes, general themes etc.. that the artist uses (and maybe borrowing the occasional artistic technique) and then trying to find a way to turn those general elements into a totally new and original painting.
3) Cool art and interesting history: One of the things that can really put people off of looking at art history is looking at less interesting examples of it.
So, when you do your research, start by looking entirely at types of art that you think are cool. Since you’ll have a genuine interest in these types of art, researching them and learning from them won’t really feel like “studying”.
Likewise, if there’s a period in history that really fascinates you, then look online for pieces of art that were made during this time. You can end up discovering entire genres of art that you didn’t even really know much about by doing though.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂