Contrary to the popular adage, beauty is not solely in the eye of the beholder. Human perception is largely a multi-sensory experience, often initiated by visual stimuli. We function almost mechanistically, processing our environment through instinctual frameworks optimized for survival and reproduction.
Is Beauty Rooted in Biology?
Biologically speaking, our nervous systems operate at remarkable speeds, fueled by electrical currents. Neuronal circuits serve as pathways for the exchange of ions and molecules, orchestrating the intricate processes of information transmission and processing.
Does biology explain beauty?
No, not exactly.
The brain is ultimately so complex, 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 (source).
The Judging Lens: More Than Just a Cover
It’s an open secret: we all evaluate a book by its cover before even recognizing it as a book. This is not inherently problematic; it’s a manifestation of our biological wiring to quickly assess our surroundings.
However, does this mean that evaluating a miniature painting should be a straightforward process based solely on its visual merits?
The question of aesthetics, even in something as apparently straightforward as a painting competition, is never solely a matter of immediate visual appeal.
It encompasses a labyrinth of factors, from the technical skills demonstrated to the emotions evoked, and perhaps even the historical context or the artist’s intent. Thus, while our initial judgments may be informed by our biology, our ultimate assessments of beauty are anything but simple.
How Does someone Judge the beauty in a Painted Miniature?
A judge in painting contest 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.
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.
The Abstract Concepts within a Narrative, Of Story, leave Biology Behind
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 make you feel this way?
While technical prowess in painting can certainly be honed through practice and study, the elusive element of “story” presents a more complex challenge. In miniature painting, as in all forms of art, the aesthetics go beyond the surface, beyond mere biology and initial impressions. It’s not just about clarity, contrast, use of color, or technique—though these are undeniably important.
The true power lies in narrative depth: the ability to evoke emotion, to tell a story that captivates the viewer. This element becomes the tiebreaker when two pieces are technically impeccable but differ in their emotional resonance. In this realm, we transcend biology and enter the domain of the abstract, where words like “gloomy,” “light-hearted,” or “crunchy” come to the fore, enriching our experience and interpretation.
As viewers, the more we delve into a piece, the more subjective our judgments become, adding layers of complexity that defy objective measurement. This holds true for any work of art—be it a movie that leaves you pondering the characters’ fates long after the credits roll, or a miniature painting that hints at a broader, awe-inspiring narrative.
So how do you enhance the narrative depth of your own work? That’s a subject worthy of its own exploration, and one that I plan to address in a future blog post. For now, it suffices to say that the best way to improve is to both create and consume more art.
To paint a picture is to tell a story; the better the storyteller you become, the more compelling your creations will be. Therefore, in the ongoing journey to elevate your miniature painting skills, let this be your guiding mantra: Admire more, paint more.