Linear vs. Painterly

This comparison addresses the definition of forms or shapes. Linear is when a line defines the contours or boundaries of objects. Objects are neatly contained by sharp edges. These edges are so analytically defined, that you could cut the objects out of the composition with a scissors.  Painterly is when objects are defined with areas of colors. Changes in color intensity, or high and low value, inform us of the presence of an object, where it is closest to us or fading away. Edges are not defined. An object disappears when its color fades away.

An example of linear is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, from the Renaissance era. There actually appears to be a black analytic outline around each object. That edge is so emphatic that you could take a scissors and cut out Venus’ body from the composition.

An example of painterly is Rembrandt’s Night Watch, of the Baroque era. The figures in this painting appear as blotches of color. We see the man on the left because his dark red garment stands out. We do not know where the figures’ bodies begin and end as they seems to melt one into the other and into the atmospheric setting. Only areas of warm color or high value distinguish objects.