James McNeill Whistler -- Arrangement in Grey and
Black No. 1: The Artist’s Mother
El Greco –
View of Toledo (ca. 1600)
Words are our familiar language, and it is through writing and speaking that we most often tell others about our
ideas and feelings.  Art is a language as well, and its vocabulary consists of line, shape, color, texture, pattern and
form:  working together like words, these create visual “sentences” through which an artist can communicate his or
her emotions, ideas and thoughts.   Just as we learn to choose exactly the words we need for what we want to say in
our everyday language, artists too learn to select the components of their language to express themselves.  They
may choose lines that are lyrical or dancing, aggressive or jagged; colors that excite (hot orange, red…) or calm
(cool blues and greens…); soft rounded shapes, or jagged forms that jab at the viewer; dramatic contrasts that
create visual shocks like “wake up” chords in music, or subtle tonalities that are soothing and quiet.  The
combinations are endless, bound only by the artist’s imagination and intent.

James McNeill Whistler and El Greco were masters of the language of art – so much so that their paintings continue
to speak to us across the expanse of time and place.  Although El Greco painted
View of Toledo 400 years ago,
depicting a city in a far-off land, his use of strong colors, eerie light, jagged shapes and brilliant contrasts of light
and dark create a painting through which we can experience the powerful emotions he might have felt in a violent
storm under an angry heaven.  How different in mood is Whistler’s portrait of his mother:  although he unwittingly
created an icon of motherhood, his subject matter alone does not account for the feeling of calm and serenity we
find  -- it is his careful, harmonious composition and shades of muted color that make this scene so peaceful and

Although the subject matter in each of these paintings is unmistakable – and memorable – it seems clear that the
intent of the artists was to take us beyond what we see to what we feel.  In this session of
GalleryTime we examine
their methods, and experiment with creating feelings – through the language of art – in our own works.
The Artist's Mother

View of Toledo