Miniature Painting: A Philosophical View of Beauty

Beauty is not all in the eye of the beholder. In reality, we can all agree that we judge things with our five senses, most of the time first with the eyes, visually.  We are automatons. We absorb and digest information with instincts finely-tuned for survival and procreation. 

Can Biology Explain Beauty?

Our biology is fast. Our nervous systems operate with electric power. Neuronal circuits are the medium through which ions and molecules travel. A machine-like cellular system controls information processing and transmission.

There are many interesting articles about the neuroscience of beauty.

How does biology explain beauty?

It doesn’t. Not exactly.

The brain is ultimately so complex, [Ed Connor, director of the Mind/Brain Institute] says, the mind so rich, for scientists ever to arrive at simple neurological prescriptions for what makes art matter—to eliminate subjectivity, as it were—is not the aim.

John Hopkins Health Review

I’m judging a book by its cover, before I even know its a book. 

Okay, honestly. We all do it. We all judge a book based on the cover.

And, that’s okay!

So judging a competitive painting piece should be simple on visual merits alone.


How to Judge a Painted Miniature?


A judge in competitive painting contest we could look for several things:

  • Clarity – how distinguishable are structural elements from other elements?
  • Contrast – how far apart are the darkest to lightest values on the piece?
  • Use of color – does color compete or cooperate within the piece to help clarity and contrast? Is there color harmony?
  • Technique – the least important, hardest to judge without watching an artist actually work. Did the artist apply paint in a way that enhances rather than detracts from clarity, contrast, and color?

Here’s the problem.

Miniature Painting: a Philosophical View of Beauty
“Story” can overcome many technical issues – this is an unfinished model with only three general colors.

If two models are close on the technical points above, then the judge would have to use less concrete clues on the skills of the artist.

  • Story – does the piece connect with the viewer? Is there an effect on the emotional/affective level?

A way to describe how “story” might be used, is by examining the adjective words that a judge might need to describe the painted model.

For example, words like “gorgeous” are useful.

But a winning submission might evoke more narrative-like words, such as “gloomy”, “light hearted”, or “crunchy”.

“Story” can overcome many technical issues.

The Power of Story

Another measure that might be helpful is to understand how deeply you can make an interpretation of a painted model.

In other words, the deeper a person studies a piece of art, the less and less objective the measurement becomes.

Awesome stories don’t need a hard ending.

A great movie is one where you walk out of the theater and wonder what the characters are doing even after the credits roll.

There is a never ending story in a painted piece that evokes more-than-meets-the-eye.

You are left wanting more. You are awe-inspired.

Have you seen any works of art that makes you feel this way?

My Pinterest page “Miniature Inspiration” is where I collect painted miniatures that inspire me.

Miniature Painting: a Philosophical View of Beauty
Discovered on Pinterest

Final Word

Of course, you can study and teach yourself how to be a better painter through technical improvements. But, how do you improve the story elements of your painted model?

So much goes into a painted model’s aesthetics, including the sculpt itself (space marine, a tank, etc), brute force talent, and planning ahead. Suffice it to say, I think my ideas on how to improve story elements will be another blog post in the future.

For now, I’m that I’ve gotten better at painting miniatures simply by painting more and admiring other work.

Good advice for everyone….

Admire more, paint more.

Miniature Painting: a Philosophical View of Beauty
An Inception

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