Thursday 7 December 2023

The Power of Colour: Exploring its Influence on Art and Psychology

Vincent Van Gogh 'Sunflowers' c.1888
Vincent Van Gogh 'Sunflowers' c.1888

As you may have noticed from my previous posts and paintings, nature, especially flowers, is an ongoing theme in my creative work.  I love the rich source of metaphors and storytelling it offers, adding further dimension to my practice.  It also lends opportunity to study colour, and its impact on psychology, emotions, and artistic expression and that’s what we’re going to look at in this post.

Despite the dreich (dreary or bleak) tendencies of our wonderful Scottish weather, I still walk on most days.  Sadly, the warm autumn colours are past and wet leaves litter the ground, but there are still pops of colour that grab my attention. Against the winter’s muted tones, those small colourful bursts draw the eye, a timeless technique artists have been using for centuries.

I’d like to share with you how colour can affect our psychology, how we can use it to our advantage and expose some artists’ tricks in using colour to draw us in and make us feel a certain way.  And, of course, a bit of science to make it all more believable or not 😉.

Cracking the Chromatic Code: A Historical Perspective

Colour psychology is the study of how colours can influence human behaviour, emotions, and perceptions. It aims to understand how colour affects our moods and decision-making.  When it comes to business, research shows that the proper use of colour increases brand recognition by 80% and 85% of consumers buy because of colour .

The formal study of colour psychology is relatively new, starting in the twentieth century, however, the belief in the power of colour dates back to ancient times as cultures around the world recognised the impact of colour on well-being.  

A True Story

The Egyptian God Thoth, born from the lips of Ra at the beginning of creation, was the founder of colour therapy.  This form of therapy was connected to the Egyptians' worship of the sun, and they believed that harnessing the sun's rays through coloured crystals had healing effects on the body.  They took this knowledge further by building temples dedicated to healing through light.  These temples featured different rooms, painted in specific colours that related to their healing properties. 

Avicenna, a Persian polymath, born in 980 AD, is credited with advancing colour's role in diagnosing and treating diseases, expressing the view that ‘Colour is an observable symptom of disease.’  He observed that a person with a nosebleed should not gaze at things of brilliant red and should not be exposed to red light because this would stimulate the sanguineous humour, whereas blue would soothe it and reduce blood flow.

In 1810, German poet and artist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published one of the earliest works on colour psychology, in his book ‘Theory of Colours.’  Here, he explored how colours could induce specific emotions. Despite initial scientific rejection, some of Goethe's insights, particularly regarding the impact of colours on mood, have been validated by modern research.

Kurt Goldstein, an influential German neuropsychologist, expanded on Goethe's ideas, conducting experiments in 1942 that suggested certain colours could affect motor function. Though Goldstein's specific colour hypotheses faced challenges, his work significantly contributed to the foundation of modern colour psychology, popularising the concept that colours can stimulate physiological responses, a theme still studied today.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) expressed, ‘colours are the mother tongue of the subconscious.’  His studies in the field led him to develop art therapy, emphasising the use of images and colours as a means for patients to express themselves and recover from trauma or distress.  That must be why I am so sorted.  Jung also connected cultural perceptions with the idea that there is a universal, bodily response to colour stimulus, contributing to our understanding of the psychological impact of colour.

Modern Colour Psychology

Modern colour psychology research looks at how colours impact our bodies, influence our emotional and behavioural responses and our favourite colour choices.

1. Bodily Reactions to Colour Exposure

To understand our bodily reactions to colour exposure, researchers measure indicators such as blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity. Red emerges as a stimulant, while blue offers a serene respite. Warm tones ignite excitement, while cool tones offer calmness.

2. Colour and Emotions

To measure the emotional effects of colour, researchers use psychological tests such as semantic differential scales.  This is a scale like a customer satisfaction questionnaire, 7 means fantastic and, 0 means bloody awful.  Instead of numbers, emotional words like Happy = 7 and Sad = 0 are used.  Participants are asked to choose where a colour belongs on the scale.  However, doesn’t our mood of the day or time of enquiry dramatically influence how we answer?

3. Colour Preferences

In the area of preferences, studies often involve asking people to rank a series of colours.  Blue consistently takes the lead as the crowd-pleaser, closely followed by red or green. We lean towards bright, vivid colours, with darker shades such as brown, black, and murky greens receiving a cold reception.  

4. Seeing Red - Colour and Behaviour

In behaviour tests, researchers stage scenarios.  In a study published in the ‘Journal of Experimental Psychology,’ researchers found that red negatively affected performance on a test. When participants were given a red participant number (rather than green or black), they scored 20% lower than their peers. 

What Are You In The Mood For? Feeling Blue? In the Pink?

As mentioned above, colour can have an impact on how we feel.  Research suggests the following, but feel free to make up some of your own because we also make colour associations based on our experiences:

  • Yellow: Cheerful and optimistic, happiness and smileys 😄. It can bring a sense of positivity and optimism.
  • Orange: Happiness, enthusiasm, warmth, energy.
  • Red: Bold and passionate, love, anger, and energy. It can symbolise warmth and intensity.
  • Purple: Regal and mysterious, often associated with luxury, royalty and spirituality. It can convey a sense of elegance and creativity.
  • Blue: Calming and serene, often associated with tranquillity, depth, and introspection.  Also, sadness and loneliness.
  • Green: Nature and growth, balance, harmony, and renewal.  It can promote feelings of freshness (think menthol) and calm. 
  • White: Purity, innocence, cleanliness, coolness.
  • Black: Strength, elegance, mystery, darkness, fear, death.

How Artist’s Use Colour to Grab Attention

The colour we tend to notice first is yellow. This is because yellow is at the centre of the visible spectrum of light, and our eyes are most sensitive to wavelengths around 555 nanometers, which corresponds to yellow-green light.

While I imagine Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890) was unaware of this phenomenon, he painted five large canvases of sunflowers in a vase using three shades of yellow and nothing else.  The paintings were created in Arles in the south of France from 1888 - 89.  He proved that he could create a series of beautiful and impactful paintings of the same subject using the same limited palette, while maintain expression and intensity.  The paintings held a special significance for Vincent; they symbolised ‘gratitude,’ he wrote.

Art Bite: Vincent painted a variety of flower still lifes, like many other artists of the time.  However, he then chose to take a different approach and chose a specific variety, the sunflower.  Sunflowers were considered unsophisticated by his peers but Vincent enjoyed their rawness and also liked to paint them when they had gone to seed.  After he died, friends brought sunflowers to his funeral, and the sunflower became associated with Vincent, just as he had hoped.

The Red Trick

Even though we notice yellow first, red is often the money shot.  This is because it creates the strongest contrast against many other colours and artists use this to draw attention to specific elements of a painting or to guide our eye around the composition in the way they intend.  Our eyes are drawn to contrast.  For example, while walking this morning, I was quickly pulled out of my reverie by the site of red berries.  They were in contrast with the green leaves of the foliage and the muted tones of the surrounding trees and shrubs.  It felt uplifting, a pop of colour along the damp, dark path.

Do you remember this?  What do you feel when you look at this image?

Scene From The Movie 'Schindler's List' (1993)
Scene From The Movie 'Schindler's List' (1993)

French artist, Jean-Baptise-Camille Corot (1796-1875) was rather opposed to colour, instead focusing on the harmony of tones and a muted palette.  However, in most of his landscapes, there is a small spark of red or scattered dots of intense colour to enliven the painting and enhance the grey tones, see the image below.  Can you spot the red?

Fisherman Moored at a Bank, c.1870, oil on canvas
Fisherman Moored at a Bank, c.1870, oil on canvas 


As we wrap up this exploration into the world of colour, we've journeyed through ancient practices and modern theories, but is there really a conclusion about colour’s influence on our psychology?  How much of it is subjective?  I would suggest a great deal.  

Artists, do indeed use colour to create impact, mood and so on but, at the end of the day, it is you, the audience who decide what it means to you and how it makes you feel.  When you next look at an image, focus on the colour palette and ask yourself, ‘what am I feeling right now?’  You can try this on a different day, when you are in a different mood and see how your feelings compare.  Subject matter can also play a significant role so, for this experiment, I suggest selecting an image that is innocuous and isn’t going to trigger a barrage of emotions and memories; perhaps a flower painting 😉

Speaking of, I’m working on abstract flower paintings right now. Abstraction doesn’t come naturally to me at all so it’s a learning process, longer than I’d like.  You can have a peak here.

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Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling.

What's On The Easel?

Flowers, flowers, flowers. I'm experimenting with different styles and media with the aim of moving towards a semi-abstract approach. It's best to understand the subject matter before attempting abstraction, and this can be done by painting realistically first. Below are a few examples.

Pink Watercolour Flowers by Jane E Porter
Flowers in Watercolour

Watercolour can be very loose and have an abstract quality to it. It kind of has a mind of its own if you let it. It was a good place to start.

All That You Desire, mixed media flower painting by Jane E Porter
All That You Desire, mixed media on canvas board

I was going for a street-art vibe with this one, a bit grungy, using a blend of painting and illustration techniques.  I like how it turned out 😊.

Master Study of 'Flowers in a Vase' c. 1866 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir by Jane E Porter
Master Study of 'Flowers in a Vase' c. 1866 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. 

A master study is always helpful, especially when you're stuck and not sure what to paint next. I love this painting by Renoir, and it offered quite a challenge. Although this painting is realistic, I had to move beyond that idea as attempting to paint so many individual flowers would be overwhelming. Instead, I had to think of it as abstract shapes and masses to be able to pull this off and not end up with something tight and overworked. I painted this in acrylic just to torture myself a little further - I find oils so much easier.

Lillies and Peonies, oil and acrylic flower painting by Jane E Porter
Lillies and Peonies, oil and acrylic

For this piece, I used acrylics for the underpainting, which dry really quickly. I then moved to oils so I could achieve greater variation in the colours and values. Oils also allow me to blur and soften some edges, which helps the eye to focus in and out of different aspects of the painting.

Thanks for reading this post and for following my abstract journey.

As always, have a wonderful weekend.

Janee x

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology, and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity, and storytelling.

Friday 6 October 2023

Flowers and Flirtations: Nature as Inspiration

Sweet Dreams | Jane E Porter

I've always had a deep love for nature, and it's been an ongoing source of inspiration. But, after a quiet dalliance with landscape painting, I quickly realised it wasn’t my forte. However, the natural world offers a rich source of symbols and metaphors, which provide a plethora of opportunities to add them as storytelling elements.

One of the most poignant metaphors I find in nature is the cycle of impermanence. Just as flowers bloom and wither, everything in life has its season. Deepak Chopra once referred to being, ‘in the Autumn’ of his life which I found very meaningful and endearing.

Just like the natural world, life is filled with periods of growth and dormancy, light and darkness. In the bitter chill of winter, nature rests, conserving energy for the rebirth of spring. She reminds us that no matter how dark or challenging life can become, there is the possibility to start over, to bloom again.

And nature is everywhere. As humans, we are inextricably linked to her, as we depend on plants, animals and microorganisms. As artists (and humans 😉) she generously offers an endless source of material to study, paint and write about. The flower doesn’t mind if I photograph her or capture her best side unlike painting a portrait where the stakes can be very high.

My latest painting 'Sweet Dreams' led me to research the symbolism associated with the flower and come up with the title. Symbolism can be subjective; attaching your meaning is as important as the artist’s intention. Below are a variety of interpretations of poppies I think you’ll find interesting:

Poppies: Facts, Fiction and Symbolism

Papaver somniferum L., commonly known as the opium poppy or breadseed poppy, is a medicinal plant known to the human race since ancient civilizations. Inside the seed pod is an opaque, milky sap. This is opium in its crudest form. Opium is a powerful narcotic whose derivatives include morphine, codeine, heroin, and oxycodone. ‘Narcotic’ refers to opium, opium derivatives, and their semi-synthetic substitutes, used therapeutically to treat pain, suppress cough and induce anaesthesia. They are some of the most addictive substances known to man.


In Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead and used as emblems on tombstones. They symbolised eternal sleep because of the sedative qualities of opium.

Hypnos, the god of sleep, often holds a poppy or places poppy flowers on someone’s head to help them sleep. Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, also used poppies to help people sleep and find rest from their troubles.

In The Wizard of Oz, poppies had a memorable story element:

‘And now my beauties, something with poison in it I think, with poison in it, but attractive to the eye and soothing to the smell . . . poppies, poppies, poppies will put them to sleep.’ The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz (movie, released 1939).

‘Now it is well known that when there are many of these flowers together their odour is so powerful that anyone who breathes it falls asleep, and if the sleeper is not carried away from the scent of the flowers, he sleeps on and on forever...’ Excerpt from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (book, published 1900)

Sleep and Dreams

Morpheus, meaning transformation, was the son of Hypnos and the god of dreams. His attributes included a horn of sleep-inducing opium. Morphine, an opium derivative, gets its name from Morpheus.

The Greek gods often chose him as their messenger to appear in the dreams of mortals. Dreams could liberate the desires, hopes, and imaginations of the sleeper and, upon waking, would motivate them toward action. However, some dreams could portray false realities, manipulating the receiver into untoward action.


The most common association with poppies today is remembrance, particularly for those who have died in war. This association is linked to historical events where scarlet corn poppies grew in soil disturbed by war. Poppies grew in fields across Europe during World War I, despite the destruction and death caused by the war.


Poppies are a metaphor for hope of a peaceful future. They thrive even in the poorest soil, rest during the winter and bloom again in the spring, the season of rebirth.


In Christianity, poppies symbolise the blood of Christ, his resurrection and his ascension. Poppies often grow where the earth has been disturbed and are connected to new life emerging from death or destruction. The Bible refers to the ‘flower of the field’, which could refer to any flower however poppies became part of Christian belief in popular culture and art.

Magic and Witchcraft

This is a true story! Poppies were used in spells and charms to create mental confusion and prevent rational thinking. The seeds are connected to the astrological sign of Gemini, the planets, Neptune and the moon, Ajna, also known as the third-eye chakra, associated with intuition, insight, spiritual awareness and feminine energy.

Thanks for reading until the end. I got quite lost in the symbolism research but learned a lot, pretty good for a late Friday afternoon.

Did you find the symbolism behind poppies intriguing? Do you have any thoughts or experiences of symbols and metaphors in art or other media you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below and keep the conversation going!

As always, have a wonderful weekend.

Janee x

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To discover new works, insights from art history and the power of storytelling, Click here

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling.


Thursday 5 October 2023

Art and Alchemy: From Disenchantment to Empowerment

Renegade Rose 2023 | Jane E Porter

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”  Brené Brown

So, here goes 😬 …

Ever since I was a child, I have been both fascinated and terrified by the absolute absurdity of human beings. What started out as hope, almost unwittingly transmogrified into a cacophony of disenchantment.; Only a resonance of how I believed life was meant to be remained and the dawn of a new reality emerged.

The departure of love is not as painful as one might think, as it quickly becomes the status quo, the new you.  Adorning the robes of the rejected adds weight to the creative endeavour, giving licence to do, whatever the hell you like.   

Yet the unrelenting pull towards a warmer life, unconscious though it may have been, left an aching emptiness that no amount of creative output could soothe.  Slipping into the abyss, I can only describe as the most horrendous, and later transformative time of my life.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”  Brené Brown

There was a certain fear of relinquishing the dark matter – who will I be, will I have any substance?  Will I be left with the remnants of a limited capacity to only produce pastiche?  Isn’t misery the essence of great art?  It may or may not be, but eventually, misery leads to death, either in physical form or in spirit.  

The depth of my experiences, from childhood to each new moment, dark and light, still seep into my work without invitation. I could, of course, suppress them, but I’ve found that truth finds its way out through a myriad of media. And isn’t that what real art is about, expressing what can’t be said in words, however light, dark or inappropriate?   

I believe we all share the desire for innate expression, connecting me to you and you to me.  Our stories may be a perception or constructed reality, but they still live intently within us longing for a means of message.  

My story is your story, my medium is art. 

If you found this article helpful or you can relate, I'd love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment below or reach out to me by following this link.

Image: Renegade represents a rebellious spirit, strong and resilient. The flowers symbolise femininity, passion and growth.

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To discover new works, insights from art history and the power of storytelling, Click here

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling.

Friday 22 September 2023

Fifi Trixabelle: How to Capture Expression and Personality in a Portrait

Fifi Trixabel aka Mimi | portrait commission | Jane E Porter 2023

I’d like to share one of my favourite portrait paintings, Fifi Trixabelle. It’s a commissioned piece of Mimi, the daughter of one of my closest friends, Daisy Jo Bear. The story begins with Daisy Jo announcing, ‘By the way, I don’t really like portraits…’

Well, that was a kicker 🤪! How was I going to paint a portrait she’d love when she doesn’t like portraits? However, I love problem-solving; it’s like a drug to me, so I was up for the challenge.

Luckily, I was given carte blanche when it came to choosing the reference photo so I opted for the one that was the most ‘out there’. As artists, we have a trained eye to see potential in what may be considered a risky or even bad choice. Daisy Jo was a bit surprised by my choice but after, what felt like a long ponder said, ‘Go ahead. I trust you!’ And that was that.

The Portrait Painting Process

I approached the digital painting process in a similar way to how I’d create a piece in oils. I started off with sketches, then I did a watercolour and ink painting before moving to digital. I mixed the colours on the canvas (see the process video below) before applying them to achieve variations of the hues. The colour and textures were built up in layers, some transparent, others more opaque.

Mimi | watercolour painting

I try to emulate traditional methods when painting digitally, for example, using grainy pencil brushes to create hand-drawn elements and the use of broken colour, a kind of impressionist style I love. That’s achieved by using dry, textured brushes so that the hues underneath shine through. I think of it like scumbling in oils, a technique I have used traditionally for years.

In her true form, Mimi is a strawberry blonde. However, I cranked up the heat as I did with all the colours in the palette to make the painting really pop. Orange and blue work really well together because they are opposites on the colour wheel. When you use opposites, each colour stands out against the other. Conversely, when you mix opposite colours together, they become neutral, cancelling each other out. That’s not relevant here, but an art tip for creating neutral greys.

Art Bite: To make your paintings really pop, use opposite colours on the colour wheel. Each colour will stand out against its opposite.

The glitter on the hat and the sparkles in the background finished off the piece, adding a bit of a theatrical vibe, reminiscent of Mimi’s personality.

Capturing Expression and Personality

When painting a portrait, capturing expression and personality is paramount. It brings the piece to life and helps create a narrative.

In real life, Mimi has a captivating character. She is funny, creative and determined. Because she’s a child, she still possesses those qualities most of us desire; wonder, playfulness and authenticity. Expressing those qualities in a painting is a major component of its success. Mastering colour and composition we can learn and it only takes, a million or so, hours of practice. However, portraying personality takes a bit of research.

Here are a Few Tips

If it’s a commissioned portrait, we need to ask questions, for example, how would you describe his or her personality? I’ve put a link at the end of the article with descriptive words, but here are a few examples. 

Is he or she: 

  • Quiet and introverted or the star of the show?
  • Very feminine or more a tomboy?  
  • Fiery and heroic or more of a bookworm?
  • Laid-back or energetic?
  • Gentle or mischievous?
  • What are their hobbies and interests?

Because Mimi is energetic and vibrant, I chose a colour palette to reflect that. Using props can be another way to portray personality. The sparkly hat gives this piece a playful touch, another one of Mimi’s traits. The expression on her face, with her tongue out, adds attitude - carefree with a touch of cheekiness. It’s really important to consider all these elements when it’s a commission and check with the client. 

It is also a good idea to ask how they want to be portrayed. She may be quiet and reserved but would like to be expressed as confident or heroic.  You may be thinking of a calm and gentle personality, pastel hues and flowers 🤔, when in fact, she wants to be portrayed as a superhero. All of these features also add to the narrative.

Why is Narrative Important?

I’m inspired by artists from history such as Toulouse Lautrec, Frida Kahlo and Francis Campbell Cadell to name a few. I greatly admire the narrative element, a prominent feature in their art. Their paintings ignite stories in our imagination from first viewing, a concept I try to embrace and convey in my own work.

As humans, we love stories, we are hardwired to respond to narratives. Stories trigger our emotions, and imagination and save ideas to memory. They can even shape our beliefs and behaviours. When we see a story in a piece of art, we interpret it based on our own experiences, uncovering personal meaning. This is a good thing! Each such experience offers a little nudge forward on life’s journey. Anything that sparks our imagination is a little deposit in our self-discovery piggy bank.

The narrative behind Fifi Trixabelle is one of wonderment and the innocence of childhood. The lack of self-consciousness and embracing life as it is, are all key elements in the story. The painting can remind us of those latent qualities within ourselves, perhaps hidden but still there. I believe that owning our true self and our story can help to set us free. And that's a massive deposit in the piggy back.


To wrap up, we went from, 'I don't really like portraits' to OMG! how am I going to pull this off to crafting one of my prized pics. Oh, and Daisy Jo loved it - TG!

I hope you found this article enjoyable and engaging. If there’s anything you’d like to ask me about my process, narratives or anything else, please leave a comment below or reach out to me by following this link.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend.

Janee x

Be The First to Know

To discover new works, insights from art history and the power of storytelling, Click here

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling.


Saturday 16 September 2023

The Inspiration Myth: How to be a Creative Conqueror

Have you ever found yourself waiting for that elusive moment of inspiration when a brilliant idea will strike like lightning? You may ask or even beg your muse, which possesses the power to awaken even the sleepiest of senses and set your creative soul on fire, to please pay a visit. Or, you quietly hope she'll just show up unannounced, infusing you with a surge of optimism and enthusiasm. Hmmm, you are not alone, and it can happen, but it's somewhat romantic.

Sure, there are those rare instances when inspiration does strike like a bolt of lightning, but these awe-inspiring moments of creative genius can be a bit like finding a unicorn.

The truth is, inspiration comes from doing. If we want to be prolific artists, we have to make lots of art, whether our creative bird is in residence or not. Most of the time, she'll flutter in once we start spreading those creative wings. Of course, there will be days when the muse has taken an extended vacation, and that's okay. It might be a sign to take a break, explore different avenues, or indulge in a Netflix binge. As we grow as artists, we learn to understand and listen to our own creative spirit and respect that the ebbs and flows are a necessary part of the process. 

Ask any seasoned artist, and they'll tell you that the act of creating is what generates ideas and inspiration. It's putting pen to paper, brush to canvas, or fingers to keyboard that opens the channel to creative flow.  

However, rest is also important. According to Writer and artist Tim Kreider, 'idleness is necessary for productivity. Taking a break and doing nothing gives our brains a chance to sift through data, make connections, and creatively problem-solve using our unconscious mind.' 

Neuroscientist, Andrew Huberman posted, well everywhere, 'Neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to change & learn, is a two-part process: 

  1. Learning is triggered by focused attention, especially to novel, emotionally laden or otherwise meaningful events. 
  2. Actual brain rewiring occurs during sleep, and other forms of deep rest.'

I'm not sure if Netflix counts as deep rest, but I think I will go with it. To get back to art and us creatives - inspiration is a byproduct of action and rest.  Every painting can't be a masterpiece, some you'll be super proud of, others, you'll want to disown.  Loads of my work ended up in the trash, some I even burned (I'm not advocating torching your work). Yet with persistence (and rest 😉) we hone our craft and learn to navigate the ups and downs of inspiration and lack of.   

Having said all that, we can nudge our inspiration along. Below are some of the places I find inspiration. I hope they will help you towards your own ideas. Making a list can be really helpful.

Inspirational Ideas

  • Nature: Flowers, leaves, and gnarly tree bark catch my eye and I take photos for reference
  • Movies: Especially those with psychological depth or moral dilemmas
  • Comedy: We all need a good laugh. Comedy inspires me to add humour and joy to my work
  • Humans: I'm fascinated by how we think and feel. I read a lot of psychology articles  
  • The Media: What’s going on in the world, socio-political issues and injustices that can fuel and infuriate 
  • Women: Inspiring women, activists, artists   
  • Stories: Fact, fiction fantasy
  • History: The tales of triumph and struggle 
  • Technology: The world of tech and AI both fascinates and terrifies

Where The Wild Things Grow 

The inspiration for the painting above came from my ongoing research into the psychology of self-worth and the symbolism found in nature. The message is to dream big, even if we're feeling small and the flowers represent feminity, growth and transformation.

Thanks for reading until the end. If this post has sparked your inspiration, please consider leaving a comment or sharing the love by clicking on one of the social buttons below.

Have an incredible weekend, filled with inspiration, or have an inspirational weekend, filled with the incredible.

Janee x 

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling.


Friday 8 September 2023

10 Mavericks Who Rock the Art World

From left to right: Kehinde Wiley, Randerson Romualdo Cordeiro 2008 | Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled 1982 |Shirin Neshat, Women of Allah, 1993-7

Hey there, creative cousins, Happy Friday! As the weekend approaches 😁 what better way to kick it off than with a sneak peek into the worlds of ten extraordinary artists? These pioneers go far beyond the conventional role of creators; they're visionaries, provocateurs, and renegades who fearlessly challenge society's mainstream definition of what art should be. So, let's embark on this artistic journey together and get ready to be inspired. Let's take a look and get inspired.

10 Influential Artists Defying Conventions

Jean-Michel Basquiat: With graffiti-inspired art, Basquiat critiqued power structures, race, and consumerism, leaving an indelible mark on contemporary culture.

Art Bite - Jean Michel-Basquiat’s Untitled (1982) had a pre-sale estimate in excess of $60 million, and was sold by Sotheby’s in 2017 for $110.5 million 😮

Yayoi Kusama: The infinity rooms and polka dots of Kusama mesmerise, offering a lens into the realms of mental health, obsession, and the infinite.

Ai Weiwei: Through art and activism, Weiwei challenges authority and censorship, becoming a global symbol of resistance.

Frida Kahlo: In her vivid self-portraits, Kahlo delved into pain and identity, boldly challenging societal norms of beauty and gender.

Kara Walker: Her silhouette art dismantles racial stereotypes and prompts critical dialogues on race.

Banksy: The enigmatic street artist critiques capitalism and social injustice, his works hidden in plain sight.

Jenny Holzer: Holzer's texts in public spaces provoke contemplation on feminism, consumerism, and violence.

Marina Abramović: Through performance art, Abramović pushes the limits of the human body and psyche, questioning what it means to be human.

Kehinde Wiley: His reinterpretation of European portraiture with African-American subjects challenges historical representations.

Shirin Neshat: Neshat's art explores gender, identity, and politics in the Middle East, offering a nuanced perspective.

In their defiance of convention, these artists remind us that art is not just about aesthetics but a powerful medium that reflects our shared human experiences. It invites us to question, reflect upon, and reimagine the world around us through the captivating art of storytelling.

Join the Conversation

I'm eager to hear about your experiences and thoughts on these remarkable artists who challenge the status quo. Which artist's work resonates with you the most, and why? Have you been inspired to explore new perspectives on art and creativity? Your insights and comments are invaluable, so please share them below.

Have a wonderful weekend. Artfully Yours

Janee x

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling.

Friday 25 August 2023

Threads of Consequence: Faith, Hope and Plastic

From left to right: George Frederic Watts, Hope 1886 | Threads of Consequence, Jane E Porter 2023

Exploring Art's Impact on Environmental Awareness

In today's world, where art and environmental concerns intersect, a single stroke of inspiration can unravel a cacophony of meaningful reflections.

Art is more than just a visual spectacle; it is a dynamic conversation between artist and observer, where ideas and emotions take shape. While aesthetics and beauty may steal the spotlight, art's ability to ignite meaningful conversations about societal and environmental challenges is an essential aspect of its impact. 

Hope: A Symbolic Masterpiece

One such timeless masterpiece that continues to spark dialogue is George Frederic Watts enigmatic painting, 'Hope.' Painted in 1886, this symbolist painting invites viewers to delve into the realms of interpretation, and its resonance has endured for over a century. It stands as a testament to art's power to not only captivate the eye but also to inspire thought, foster connection, and shed light on the complexities of the human experience.

Watts chose to let the viewer interpret his paintings, a choice that can be both rewarding and frustrating for the audience. I often adopt a similar approach in my work, leaving interpretations somewhat open. This not only creates intrigue but allows the audience to find meaning or ideas that I have yet to discover.

Interpreting 'Hope': Insights from Art Critics

In this post, I'd like to explore some interpretations of 'Hope' made by art critics. I'll also draw parallels to contemporary art's role in addressing urgent issues, as exemplified by my own artwork, 'Threads of Consequence.' These parallels highlight the enduring power of art to reflect and shape our understanding of the world.

Hope and Its Enduring Resonance

This painting is often considered a timeless and universal image of hope's endurance. It became widely popular and was reproduced in various forms, making it one of the most recognized and enduring allegorical paintings of the 19th century.

The painting depicts a female figure sitting atop a globe, blindfolded and playing a lyre that has only a single string remaining. She appears to be deep in thought and concentration despite her lack of sight. The background is dark and sombre, possibly representing a sense of uncertainty or despair.

Exploring Symbolism in 'Hope'

The painting is renowned for its powerful symbolism and art critics have offered various interpretations over the years. Below are some critiques of the painting's meaning:

  1. Symbol of Resilience: Some critics view the painting as a symbol of resilience and the human spirit's indomitable will to survive. Despite the broken strings, the woman continues to play, suggesting that hope persists even in the direst circumstances.

  2. Commentary on Victorian Society: Others see the painting as a commentary on the social conditions of the Victorian era. The blindfolded figure represents the masses, blind to their plight, with the broken lyre symbolizing the broken promises of the era. The single unbroken string represents the slim hope that things could improve.

  3. Fragility of Hope: The fragile lyre with a single string could also symbolize the delicate nature of hope itself. Watts might be conveying the idea that hope can be easily diminished or lost.

  4. Personal Struggles: Some critics suggest that the painting reflects Watts's personal struggles. The blindfolded figure and the broken lyre symbolise his own feelings of despair and his struggle to find hope. Professionally, Watts's commitment to symbolic and allegorical subjects was often at odds with the tastes of the Victorian art establishment, which favoured more literal and narrative-based works. Despite his eventual success, he often felt misunderstood by critics and the public.

Overall, 'Hope' by George Frederic Watts is a poignant representation of the power of hope in the face of adversity. Its emotive imagery and symbolic elements have made it an enduring piece of art that continues to inspire and resonate with viewers worldwide.

I've always been drawn to the painting but, never have I considered it an emblem of hope. I can't help but wonder if Watts named the piece 'Hope' to make it more appealing to his Victorian audience. If it had been titled 'Despair', it may not have received the recognition it did.

From 'Hope' to 'Threads of Consequence'

Reflecting on Watts' 'Hope' and its various interpretations, I'd now like to introduce you to my own recent artwork, 'Threads of Consequence'. Much like 'Hope', 'Threads of Consequence' is allegorical and uses symbolism to heighten the impact and strengthen the narrative. It's a stark depiction of the environmental impact of the fashion industry, with each thread representing a different aspect of this complex issue. Unlike 'Hope', it tells a grim story about what's going on under our noses and in our closets. Let's take a deeper look into its metaphors and meaning.

Crafting 'Threads of Consequence'

I kicked off the creation of 'Threads of Consequence' with a study of a striking, black model, wearing a headscarf. Visually, she reminded me of Billie Holiday, who featured in an early series of mine, titled, 'The Tortured Soul Creates Art'. This series explored creative souls who had fallen prey to the tragedy of addiction. But let's get back to the portrait. My initial goal was to achieve a realistic representation and a charcoal effect using digital painting, which I believe I accomplished. Sure, using actual charcoal might have been easier, but the digital medium allowed me to save the completed piece as a new file and experiment with it. Ah, the joys of digital painting!

Navigating Artistic Challenges and Weaving the Narrative

The second version was an exercise in hatching, a technique I've never been particularly fond of. Armed with a 'get on with it, you'll learn something' attitude, I set to work. Initially, it was quite relaxing, therapeutic even, but my enthusiasm began to wane. In an attempt to rekindle my motivation, I found myself researching the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and Rafael, hoping their mastery would inspire me to continue. It didn't, but I did manage to pass an hour or so and clock up my procrastination time. I then decided to leave it until the next day because tomorrow is the prime day for creativity and productivity.

The following day, I approached the piece with a fresh perspective. The research that had gone into 'Solitude', the Billie Holiday painting, had fascinated me as I was focusing on a narrative as well as an aesthetic. I found myself looking again at the image of the beautiful woman, who resembled a fashion model, and pondered how to make the piece more engaging. Beauty alone wasn't inspiring enough for me, so I asked myself, what story could I tell?

Environmental Awakening: Unveiling the Message

I toyed with the idea of having a pop at the fashion industry, particularly the sweatshop angle. However, I couldn't find decent data linking luxury brands to child labour, and she didn't strike me as an 'H&M' kind of girl. I considered an anti-war message, but her image didn't fit the profile. The pull towards the fashion industry was strong, so I knew I needed to find another angle and save the child labour conversation for another piece.

That's when I began researching environmental concerns around fashion, and then it hit me - pollution! Specifically, plastic pollution. A couple of years ago, I illustrated a children's book, 'The Green Fairy and the Lost Dog', which centred around single-use plastic. The author, Daisy-Jo Bear, is a dear friend of mine, but if the book had been about a prince on a white horse, I would have politely declined the offer, no matter how much I adore her. In preparation for the book, I'd read a lot about plastic pollution, so it was great to draw on that knowledge. It's good to recycle or upcycle your art and knowledge, as well as your plastic 😉.

Crafting the Message Through Aesthetics

'Threads of Consequence' is a powerful commentary on the fashion industry and its role in plastic pollution. The portrait features a black woman, her gaze directed upwards and away from the camera, expressing a sense of indignation and disbelief. Her camouflage headscarf symbolises the ongoing conflict we face with our environmental impact and the industry that perpetuates it.

The monochromatic palette, punctuated by the red in her eyes, serves as a stark reminder of the toxicity and harm caused by plastic waste. This red, reminiscent of blood, underscores the potential harm to our health and the severity of the environmental damage we're confronting.

I opted for a street art aesthetic to infuse the piece with a raw urban edge with a socio-political message. The skull and crossbones serve as a grim warning about the repercussions of our actions on the environment. In 'Threads of Consequence', the worlds of beauty and fashion intersect with environmental activism, creating a compelling call to action against plastic pollution.

Understanding Plastic Pollution

The Growing Threat of Microplastics

Plastic pollution has rapidly become a pervasive and pressing global issue with far-reaching implications. The unchecked production and disposal of plastic products have led to an alarming accumulation of plastic waste in our environment. From oceans and waterways to landfills, and even permeating the air we breathe, the ubiquity of plastic waste poses a significant threat to ecosystems and human health.

Microplastics are minuscule fragments of plastic debris present in the environment, resulting from the disposal and degradation of consumer products and industrial waste. Among environmental concerns, microplastics, especially those originating from the fashion industry, hold a substantial place.

The Silent Threat: Microplastics in Our Bodies

UK scientists discovered microplastics in the digestive systems of fish and shellfish, raising concerns about the safety of seafood consumption. Further studies were conducted to determine whether the greater threat came from consuming mussels or breathing air in a typical home. The conclusion was that people ingest more plastics from inhaling fibres shed by clothes and carpets than from consuming shellfish.

In 2022, scientists from the Netherlands and the UK found tiny particles of plastic deep within the lungs of surgical patients and in the blood of anonymous donors. This discovery shifted the focus towards the vast amount of airborne microplastics we are exposed to daily. These particles are so small that they can penetrate the human body and embed themselves deep within our cells.

Fashion's Role in Plastic Pollution

The Fast Fashion Connection

Fast Fashion refers to inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. A significant portion of today's fast fashion is made from cheap, synthetic, non-biodegradable plastic materials such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic. These materials shed microscopic fibres that become airborne and, when washed, release microplastics into our water supply, which eventually flow into our rivers and oceans.

The Accumulation of Waste: Fast Fashion's Impact

Research estimates suggest that over 14 million tonnes of microplastics have accumulated on the world’s ocean floor according to research estimates and the amounts are increasing every year. Fast fashion accounts for particularly high levels of such releases - over a third (35%) of all microplastics released into the world's oceans are from synthetic textiles. It is estimated that by 2050 we will have more plastic than fish in the ocean.

This alarming contribution perpetuates the microplastics crisis and underlines the crucial intersection between fast fashion and plastic pollution.

Confronting Uncertainty: Health Implications

The UK lung study identified particles made of plastics that are known to be toxic to humans, causing lung irritation, dizziness, headaches, asthma and cancer.

Albert A. Rizzo, recognized for his national contributions to the prevention and control of lung disease and serving as the Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association, states 'The science is too unclear to draw conclusions….. The most relevant analogy may be the decades-long effort to convince the government that smoking causes cancer. By the time we got enough evidence to lead to policy change, the cat was out of the bag. I can see plastics being the same thing. Will we find out in 40 years that microplastics in the lungs lead to premature ageing of the lungs or to emphysema? We don’t know that. In the meantime, can we make plastics safer?' Reference

A Creative Journey: From Art to Advocacy 

As I sit here, wrapped in my fleece (which, ironically, is probably shedding microplastics as we speak), I can't help but wonder: how did a simple task of creating a digital charcoal portrait lead me down this rabbit hole of plastic pollution? It's as if I set out to doodle a tree and ended up mapping the entire forest!

Embracing Change: A Call to Action

This topic's expanse is staggering, and I have only scratched the surface. If you'd like to learn more, I have listed a number of links below. They include my references and suggested steps we can take regarding our clothing-related impact on the environment. I have a lot more to learn and aim to make more conscientious consumer choices.

Join the Conversation

I'm eager to hear about your experiences and thoughts on this issue. Have you ever paused to consider the environmental footprint of your wardrobe? I'd love to hear your insights and comments. Your input would mean the world to me.

Have a wonderful weekend.

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling.


Friday 11 August 2023

Honouring the Iconic Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo | digital painting
Honouring the iconic Frida Kahlo.  Finding a unique way to capture her essence wasn't easy, given the abundance of stunning Frida portraits out there. Eventually, I decided to depict her in a Day of the Dead makeup, as I love the aesthetic and it feels like a fitting tribute to this remarkable artist. 

Frida Kahlo's talent and unwavering determination have always inspired me. Despite the harrowing accident she endured at just 18 years old, she continued to create breathtaking art, often painting from her bed. 

Frida is often considered a feminist artist. Her artwork and life experiences have greatly influenced feminist movements and discussions. Through her paintings, Kahlo explored themes of identity, gender, and the female experience. She portrayed her own struggles, physical pain, and emotions, challenging traditional gender roles and societal expectations. How could I not be an admirer 🥰 .

Please share any thoughts, questions, or suggestions in the comments below.

Have a wonderful weekend.

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.  

Friday 4 August 2023

The Shadow in the Suit: A Jungian Perspective

What do your fantasies really say about you? Who are you in your wildest dreams? Accountant? Probably not. Siren, superhero? More likely.

This recent painting is about just that, a fantasy, a desire, the wish to be someone or something else. It symbolises the 'Hero' archetype, the 'Shadow', and the idealisation of the superhero. It's about that yearning to transcend our ordinary, perhaps boring lives, to embody something greater, something extraordinary where we feel respected and powerful.

The black suit - a mask, his heroic alter ego that he presents to the world - is also his 'Shadow'; his silent echoes, the aspects of himself he wishes to deny or hasn't yet awakened to. The painting tells a story of vulnerability squeezed into hiding by a façade of fantasy. In this portrayal of a young man, his longing to surpass his ordinary life is influenced by his cultural identity and the societal expectations that surround him.

Superheroes and the Power of Archetypes in Pop Culture

In the world of superheroes, costumes play a significant role. They are visual representations of the characters' identities, their powers, and their journeys. One of the most striking examples of this is Spider-Man's black and gold suit in the film 'No Way Home'.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, known for his exploration of the human psyche, didn't specifically discuss modern-day superheroes. However, his theories on archetypes, which are universal patterns or images residing in our collective unconscious, find relevance in superhero narratives as they tap into our deepest fantasies and desires.

The Hero's Journey: The Common Narrative in Superhero Stories

Archetypes, according to Jung's theory, are universal symbols, themes, or patterns that are deeply ingrained in the human psyche and shared across cultures. They represent fundamental human experiences and emotions that are part of our collective unconscious, meaning they are inherited and present in all of us. In superhero stories, these archetypal patterns often manifest as the hero's journey, the battle between good and evil, and the discovery of one's true identity. By recognizing and understanding archetypes, we gain insights into the deeper layers of storytelling and glimpses into our own lives within these captivating tales.

One of the key archetypes Jung identified is the 'Hero,' which aligns closely with the concept of a superhero. The Hero embarks on a journey, faces and overcomes challenges, often fights evil, and undergoes personal transformation. This Hero's Journey, as it's often called, is a common narrative in superhero stories.

Peter Parker's Transformation: Embracing the 'Shadow'

In the movie, 'No Way Home,' Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, turns his red and blue suit inside out to reveal a black and gold version. This transformation of his iconic costume is more than just a very cool look I wish he'd held on to; it's a symbol of a darker time in Peter's life, a period marked by public mistrust and personal struggle. The alteration of his iconic costume serves as a visual metaphor for the internal conflict and transformation he undergoes during this pivotal part of the film's narrative.

This black suit can be seen as a manifestation of another Jungian archetype - the 'Shadow'. According to Jung, the 'Shadow' represents the darker, unconscious aspects of ourselves that we might deny or repress. In Peter's case, the act of turning the suit inside out to reveal the black suit, can be seen as a metaphor for bringing his 'Shadow' aspects to the surface, forcing him to confront and integrate them into his identity.

Discovering Ourselves Through the 'Shadow'

The 'Shadow' is not something negative to overcome, but a necessary part of our psyche to be acknowledged and accepted. Peter's journey in the black suit embodies this concept. It illustrates his internal struggle, a testament to the complexities of his character, and reminds us of the universal human experience of grappling with our darker sides.

In the realm of superheroes, Spider-Man's black suit stands out as a powerful symbol of the 'Shadow' archetype. It's a reminder that even in the world of superheroes, the journey towards self-understanding and transcendence is a crucial part of the story.

However, Spider-Man is not the only superhero grappling with their 'Shadow.' Take, for example, Batman, whose alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is driven by the trauma of witnessing his parents' murder, leading him to channel his anger and fear into vigilantism. Batman's dark, brooding persona is an embodiment of his 'Shadow,' representing his internal struggles and unresolved emotions.

Another compelling example is the Hulk, whose human counterpart, Bruce Banner, struggles with repressed anger and traumatic memories. The Hulk, a manifestation of his 'Shadow,' embodies the rage and power that Bruce tries to keep contained. This inner conflict between the mild-mannered scientist and the raging green behemoth is a constant battle for control, reflecting the complexities of the 'Shadow' archetype.

Beyond Superheroes: The 'Shadow' in Real-Life Figures

Beyond superheroes, the 'Shadow' archetype is evident in many real-life figures as well. Consider historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi, known for his nonviolent principles, yet facing his own internal struggles and doubts. Gandhi's 'Shadow' manifested as moments of doubt and temptation during his fight for India's independence, a struggle he openly acknowledged.

Similarly, in the business world, influential leaders often wrestle with their 'Shadow' traits. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was renowned for his visionary leadership but also had a reputation for being demanding and uncompromising. His brilliance and ambition were undeniable, but they also led to internal conflicts and strained relationships with colleagues.

The above examples demonstrate that the 'Shadow' archetype isn't just present in superhero narratives, it's part of all of us. The conflicts and complexities of these characters and real-life figures resonate with us because they reflect our own internal battles.  Sometimes, we don't like certain traits in others, but could they be traits that we, in fact, possess ourselves? Do you know someone who is continually critical and controlling towards others, without awareness that they are indeed, the biggest culprit. These are examples of the 'Shadow' at work. By exploring and acknowledging our 'Shadow' aspects, we can learn valuable lessons about self-acceptance, personal growth, and the universal human journey towards wholeness.

Embracing and integrating the 'Shadow' is not about succumbing to darkness and becoming the villain of our own story, but a transformative journey towards self-awareness and personal growth. Awakening to our hidden aspects and unconscious desires allows us to achieve a greater understanding of ourselves. 

My portraits and characters have always been about telling stories, the life and persona behind the image. In my upcoming series for a book about archetypes, I'm creating characters based on reality and fiction, inspired by characters I've met, both in my mind and in my life. Their struggles may be more important than their strengths and powers as this is what makes them relatable; for example, the Warrior is not only fearless and courageous, she grapples with the burden of responsibility and her desire for retribution.

When we become open to our 'Shadow,' and embrace it, we unlock the potential to transform ourselves. By learning to own up to our true self, warts and all, we achieve a deeper connection with others as we no longer operate within the confines of a fictional character. And, we are far more powerful than we may believe. We have the power to change! We can soften our rough edges and find compassion for our shadow parts we wish to avoid, perhaps like the 'Warrior's' shadow that seeks retribution. 

To Wrap Up

The power of story lies in its ability to create connection, through words and images. We relate to the internal conflicts the protagonist is facing in the novels we read and the movies we consume. We secretly imagine ourselves donning the suit and saving the day. In that moment, we're not just observers, but part of the story. We're living the narrative, feeling the protagonist's struggles and triumphs as our own. This is the transformative power of story - it allows us to step into another's shoes, to see the world through their eyes, and perhaps, to understand ourselves a little better.

I hope you found this article engaging and entertaining.  If you did, please share the love by clicking on one of the share buttons.  And please share any thoughts, questions, or suggestions in the comments below.

Have a wonderful weekend.

For more art, follow me on Instagram and Facebook.  

image: The Shadow in The Suit

Friday 21 July 2023

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Art and Allegory: The Power of Visual Storytelling

Who doesn't love a good story?  Storytelling in art is as old as the human race itself. It's the caveman's version of Netflix. From the primitive etchings on cave walls to the intricate hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt, humans have always had a penchant for a good yarn. And why wouldn't we? Stories are the spice of life, the universal language that connects us to each other.

Fast forward a few millennia and the art of visual storytelling continues. We traded in our cave walls for canvases, our chisels for brushes, creating remarkable religious paintings, like Michelangelo's awe-inspiring frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Historical masterpieces, such as Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' and Delacroix's 'Liberty Leading the People,' vividly narrate stories of bygone eras. Graphic novels and comics illustrate modern storytelling through art, with their unique art styles contributing to the overall mood and theme.

Installation artists like Yayoi Kusama and Christo and Jeanne-Claude have taken storytelling to new heights, crafting immersive experiences that delve into personal and societal issues. Street art and murals also embrace storytelling, as seen by Banksy's humorous, yet challenging spin on social and political matters. And murals serve as community biographies, sharing tales of history and culture, one wall at a time.

But why are we so drawn to stories in art? Well, it's all in our heads – literally. Our brains are hardwired to respond to narratives. Stories engage our emotions, spark our imagination, and can even shape our beliefs and behaviors. When we see a story in a piece of art, we're not just looking at it, we're interpreting it, connecting it with our own experiences and finding meaning in it.

And the best part? Stories stick. They linger in our minds long after we've left the gallery or closed the book. They're like a catchy tune – we may not remember the lyrics, but the melody stays with us.

So, whether it's a painting that takes you back in time, a comic strip that unfolds a gripping narrative, or an installation that immerses you in a new reality, storytelling in art has the power to move us, challenge us, and make us think. It's not just a tool for artists to express their vision, it's an invitation to step into their world and see a, potentially new perspective.

Let's take a look at three contemporary artists who use story to get their message out there…

Kara Walker, a true maestro of monochrome is known for her controversial exploration of race, gender and sexuality. Walker's black, silhouetted figures might seem simple at first glance, but they're anything but. Each silhouette is a chapter in the grim narrative of American slavery and racism. Her storytelling technique is both confrontational and deeply engaging, forcing us to grapple with uncomfortable truths.

Kara Walker, Slaughter of the Innocents
Kara Walker | Slaughter of the Innocents 2016

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese contemporary artist and activist uses a variety of media - sculpture, installation, photography and film - to comment on cultural identity, individualism and government oppression, particularly related to his home country of China. His installation 'Sunflower Seeds,' comprising 100 million seeds individually handcrafted in porcelain, is more than just a sea of hand-painted seeds, it's a commentary on mass production and loss of individuality. 

Ai Weiwei | Sunflower Seeds |The Tate Modern CREDIT: Photo: GETTY

Art Bite - The Tate bought, approximately 8 million (10 tonnes) of the individual sculptures, less than a 10th of the installation in China, but still the largest number of works of art ever acquired.  

Marina Abramović, the 'grandmother of performance art' doesn't just tell stories; she lives them. She uses her own body as a canvas, pushing its limits to tell stories of human emotion and relationships. For her piece, 'The Artist is Present,' she sat in silent stillness as museum visitors took turns sitting across from her. No words, no movement, just a shared experience, an example of storytelling at its most intimate.

Marina Abramović | The Artist Is Present 2012 

Despite their different mediums and themes, all three artists share a common thread, they use their art to tell stories that provoke thought and stimulate discussion. In doing so, they have made a profound impact on the art world and the many who have experienced their work.  For example …

Kara Walker's work has been exhibited in prominent institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. Her 2014 installation at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, 'A Subtlety,' drew over 130,000 visitors and sparked widespread discussion about race and history in the media.

Ai Weiwei's 'Sunflower Seeds' installation at the Tate Modern in 2010 was a critical success, with The Guardian calling it a 'work of genius.' His activism and criticism of the Chinese government have also made international headlines, bringing attention to issues of human rights and freedom of expression in China.

Marina Abramović's 2010 performance at the Museum of Modern Art, 'The Artist is Present,' attracted over 850,000 visitors, with many reporting deeply emotional experiences. The performance was also the subject of a documentary, bringing performance art to a wider audience.

These examples demonstrate how each artist has made significant impacts in the art world and beyond, influencing public discourse and challenging societal norms.

To Wrap Up

Without context or an understanding of the narrative, it can be easy to look at works, such as those described in this article, and perceive them as 'just sunflower seeds' or 'simple paper cut-outs'. For sure, I've been guilty of such comments myself. But art isn't just about what meets the eye. Instead of a quick 'meh', let's ask, 'What's the artist really trying to say here? Is there something I'm not seeing because I'm caught up in aesthetic?' 

These pieces are stories, commentaries, and dialogues that invite us to see the world from a different perspective, perhaps one we may not want to consider. In my experience as an artist and a human, I've found that what I try to avoid usually evolves into the most transformative. Engaging with art goes beyond appreciating the artist's vision; it's about the effect the work has on us, stirring something deep within. Every story has the potential to change even a sliver of our identity.

If you can relate to the influence stories have played in your life, whether positive or negative, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.  And if you enjoyed this article, please share the love.

Have a great weekend.    


Kara Walker | Slaughter of the Innocents

Kara Walker 

Ai WeiWei | Sunflower Seeds

Ai WeiWei | Sunflower Seeds at The Tate

Ai WeiWei and the Sunflower Seeds

Marina Abramović's | The Artist is Present

Marina Abramović's | The Artist is Present, Moma

Jane E Porter is a fine artist and illustrator from Scotland, dedicated to exploring and understanding the fascinating interplay between art, psychology and philosophy. As she navigates her own search for meaning, she shares insights and observations made over the past two decades with a delightful mix of wit and wisdom. Join her as she continues her journey, delving into these themes, offering you fresh perspectives and insights on art, identity and storytelling.