• Annie Mason

Touch. Is it real in art?

The five senses: smell, hear, taste, see, and feel (touch). These links lead to a resource for writers. These sensory words are descriptive and define how we experience the world, and writers need to bring this to their readers. This is our environment; it is how we react to what is in front of us. Words related to sight indicate colors, shapes, or appearance. For instance, gloomy, dazzling, foggy, gigantic. We smell the bowl of fruit on the table, we hear the birds singing right outside our window, we taste the sweet strawberries, we see the beautiful sunset. I am going to concentrate on feeling; that is touch or a tactile element in art.

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How is touch directly part of the art world? After all, aren't we told "do not touch" in a gallery museum?

The touch that I want to explore is connected to "seeing" the art as something that we "feel" we could "touch." My degree in Art History is going to throw a little "shade" at my readers and discuss how important the "illusion" the artist creates when he/she applies the brush to canvas to let "us" see silk, grass, ice, brick...as if we can touch it.

Let's start with this 1434 painting by Jan van Eyck (National Gallery, London)

Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife. N. Renaissance

Van Eyck was adept at giving "life" to fabric. The green, flowing gown that we see; perhaps if we could touch it we would find a heavy, brocade and fur trim, a show of social status. If we were close we could see Arnolfini's straw cap and velvet cloak. We might notice the wooden clogs on the floor.

The gold chandelier, the tassels on the green gown, and the furry dog, all painted in exquisite detail to engage the sense of touch. And let's not forget the mirror which reflects "the couple" and us (the viewers). There is a lot more symbolism here and you can read this for further study: The Arnolfini Portrait.

The 19th century of "Impressionism" is a resounding era of the artist "touch". The stroke of the brush became loose, fluid, quick, yet studied to the point that light became the focus. In fact, the rise of impressionism is a response to the newly established medium, photography. Kiama Art Gallery.

Three versions of "Haystacks" by Claude Monet

Even something as mundane as a field of haystacks becomes of interest to an artist. Not only is the 19th-century painter Claude Monet intent on showing the itchy, prickly texture of the hay, but he chose to do so with many versions of this subject, as in the morning, noon, and dusk of this same scene, creating light and mood. This gives the viewer a sense of time, air, and perhaps the crunch of feet as the farmer walks across this field of hay.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh 1889

Jumping ahead to perhaps a more familiar painting, "Starry NIght" by Vincent Van Gogh.

The texture is thick heavy paint that literally is built on the canvas.

No sky looks like this, no moon, no plants nor houses. The colors, the shapes, the brush strokes all contribute to the feeling that the painting can be touched and felt by the viewer. It's why so many people love this painting. It draws you into the swirls, the paint, the color. The thick paint makes you "feel" that you can touch the sky.

It's a sensory reaction: It involves color stimulation, mood, depth, movement, and



Sometimes texture and tactile items are created when the brain realizes what the object is. Then, the brain tells you that it is prickly and will hurt, as in this watercolor painting of an aloe plant by Annie Mason.

Tout Sweet

Another artistic method is to pay attention to detail, and that again lends itself to cause the viewer to think "sweet, juicy" fruit. That element relies on the artist painting a "realistic" impression, as in this watercolor painting by Annie Mason.

Finally, the artist's technique produces texture by using light, shadow, crosshatching, and other methods to simulate roundness on a flat surface.

Many of the texture techniques in the graphics above are used in this watercolor painting of a cat: brushstrokes, light/dark, cross-hatching, stippling are used to give the areas texture. Cat fur, soft blanket, pillow fabric, wood wall. All are different surfaces and need to be treated differently by the artist.

In conclusion, the artist wants to "bring" the viewer into the painting or drawing; whether it's realistic or abstract we want to please, surprise, agitate, set a mood, All of the senses are in play (accept taste, although I am sure that this has been done by contemporary artists. Texture or the tactile quality of paint, drawing, or digital art is something that is foremost in the desire to please the eye.

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