Party Hard–It’s Good for the Artistic Vision

The Girl with the Wineglass by Johannes Vermeer, 1659.
The Girl with the Wineglass
by Johannes Vermeer, 1659.

We are in a social time of the year. Holiday parties, galas, end-of-the-year revelries—there are celebrations galore. What’s great about such occasions for artists, in addition to seeing friends and family, is that if you can sit back and look, you’ll find engaging and complex social interactions and compositions for oil painting portraits, group paintings, even still lifes. Observe with your artist’s eye and you’ll find people whose body language and expressions tell their stories for them. Strangers becoming acquainted, romance taking hold of couples, uproarious laughter, maybe a little drama—the gamut of emotions and actions you’re likely to witness is wide and varied.

There are many ways to establish an emotional situation or psychological interplay in a painting or drawing. Vermeer, for one, was a master at innuendo and at giving veiled meanings to his group compositions. The gestures, body positions, and expressions of his figures are usually quite subtle and can be interpreted several ways. In The Girl With the Wineglass do we see a tipsy girl enjoying the attentions of handsome man or a woman grimacing, made uncomfortable by the closeness of a male guest? Is the man farthest from the foreground an embarrassed companion or bored chaperone?

Thomas Hart Benton had an uncanny ability to incorporate into his paintings large groups that operate as a whole but also comprise smaller units of activity. At first glance, Doing the Twist appears to depict one big group twisting the night away. But the composition also works as a series of dancing pairs contrasted with the stillness of the couple on the right. The central couple is part of the whole but also part of a trio, as the drum player in the foreground pulls them into his orbit. Is he looking at them with appreciation? Envy? It is unclear, but the group that seemed fairly uniform at first glance has, in fact, a depth of context and interworking.

Doing the Twist by Thomas Hart Benton, 1960.
Doing the Twist by Thomas Hart Benton, 1960.

Evaluating and learning from complex figurative compositions can enhance any artist’s work. To make sure you recognize conceptually interesting situations and execute strong compositions, having a library at your disposal from The Artist’s Magazine is just about priceless. In the 2013 Annual CD, you’ll find full-length articles on how to create outstanding portraits–and so much more–from a variety of artists and instructors. There’s the Pastel Journal Annual CD and the Watercolor Artist Annual CD as well, filled with the best articles and instruction we have to offer. These resources give you a year’s worth of issues from the art magazines you trust, with information that you can organize and search according to your own interests. You can “flip” through the articles on your computer screen while working in your studio or search an entire year of articles and instruction from established artists to eke out the info you need. The instructive insights you are looking for are at your fingertips. Enjoy!

P.S. The Annual Holiday Sweepstakes is in full swing! Check out today’s prize from Richeson, enter to win, and see the rest of the giveaways that are in store for you!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

3 thoughts on “Party Hard–It’s Good for the Artistic Vision

  1. I’m seeing that because the drum player is the only man in the room in a short sleeve shirt he must not be part of the other group of couples. He brought two musical instruments with him so maybe he lives next door and when he heard a party going on he figured he’d just join in. He is looking at the girl in the yellow shirt on the left with a sort of hopefulness that she might make eye contact with him any second and give him the “look” and be open to going for a coffee later on.

  2. 🙂 Or….because the girl on the left in the yellow shirt is the only woman of the group wearing pants and the guy playing the drums is the only man wearing a short sleeve shirt, they are already a couple and are hosting the party for everyone else. The man playing the drums is looking over at his girlfriend in the yellow shirt thinking “Man, this party is grooving”. If that’s the case then, the only person without a partner is the guy dancing with the girl in the yellow shirt and where his partner is that is still a mystery to me unless the painting was done through her eyes as she stands in a door way out of sight.