The Art of Paintings – Why we love rendering life in 2 dimensional images

Posted by NikH

Man has likely been painting since the beginning of time. Earliest paintings were found in caves and these are of prehistoric origins, the earliest known today date back to 40,000 years ago (found in the El Castillo Caves in Spain) [1].  While we think they are the first paintings mankind have created, that may not be so.

It is possible — and my theory at least — that even earlier art as paintings were created but did not stand the ravages of time. How could they? Those were created with organic material after all. Even today’s paint would not keep when exposed to the sun.  Cave paintings survived simply because these were kept in pitch darkness, and protected from the damage from sun and environment.

Art is Human Instinct


Human beings are the only animals in this world that are able, or have any interest at all,  to create art for the sake of creating art.  No other animal does that. There is a certain psychology in art. Art is something that makes us human. What is it about the human mind that makes us want to create art? What makes us understand art and the concept of art in the first place?

Psychologists know that the human mind is different from even our closest animal cousins. Our conscious mind (the analytical and content-centered part ) is more acute and has more control over our subconscious mind (which is more instinctual). I believe that in humans, there is a conflict between this two mindsets.

The instinctual mind just wants to survive — live, breathe, eat and reproduce. The conscious mind has societal rules that makes us ‘human’.  Animals, on the other hand,  live very easy on their instincts and thus do not have this kind of psychological conflict.

Could it be that this conflict of the minds is the brain-child of art?

I think so. As an artist, I constantly wonder “what am I painting for? and why is it such a relief to paint?”

Read also: Art Is A Lie That Brings Us Nearer To The Truth.

I wrote that article after a short seminar on enneagrams, which included days of meditation and soul searching. Before that time I used to think I painted for ‘fun’ or some kind of self actualization. Now I know that there is something more psychological in art.

Many people say that art is about engaging the ‘right brain’. This is true, but the right brain is the instinctual brain. I believe that while the right brain creates the essence of the art, it is the left brain (the conscious mind)  that initiates the need to create the art in the first place.

This is why humans create art.

Art of Paintings

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B002E3GS0M” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”91″]Earliest pieces of art that we can find today are actually sculptures dated  24,000 and 22,000 BCE. Why? Because these things, which are made of stone, last longer. So it is reasonable to think that paintings were created from the very beginning when men found their conscious-self.

Paintings are more interesting than sculpture because they are about life rendered in 2 dimension. It probably took human beings a period of mental development to be able to “see” a 2 dimensional image and recognize its contents as 3 dimensional objects.  Animals cannot do that. You cannot show a dog or ape a picture of yourself and expect it to understand that it’s a picture of the person next to it.

Somehow the human mind is able to connect and interpret 2D images with their consciousness.

Nobody knows what human beings first used as paints. My theory is the first paint used was blood; either that or mud. Isn’t that logical to think that?

Painting is a lighter way of creating art than sculpting or forming.  For us who need to create, will find it quicker to start painting, like with little children.

There are also many modes of art creation, such as creating music, telling stories and dancing. These are temporal art, and are also uniquely human. Yes animals do “mating dance”, but that is dance for a purpose. Animals do not create any perceivable art form for something that doesn’t have anything to do with survival.

Painting and sculpting has permanence. That is why history of art is well studied and can be analysed.

The need to Paint

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”B000G6UQP2″ locale=”us” height=”108″ src=”” width=”160″]Over the years, I have met artists – sculptors and painters, and have come to understand what makes a person choose painting over sculpting and vice versa.

This is the same reason that makes a person choose visual art over temporal art, or temporal dance art over creating music or writing.

It has to do with the artist’s subconscious.

In the study of psychology and / or [easyazon-link asin=”1573244988″ locale=”us”]NLP[/easyazon-link], we know that individuals use their senses differently. People can be characterised as:

  • Visual : those that use their sight as the main sense.
  • Auditory: those who used their hearing most
  • Kinesthetic: those who rely on touch

People who are visual tend to think things in pictures. If you always visualize your thoughts, tend to be more affected by what you ‘see’, either with your eye or your mind’s eye, you are dominantly visual. You would also tend to prefer visual arts like painting, design, interior decor, landscaping, etc. Your language would likely be sight centred. “I looks like a great day.”

Auditory folks use their ears more, and listen out for things before using visual of feel. If you are auditory, you would be sensitive to what you hear, be more attuned to sounds and music. Be better at linguistics, and have language like : “It sounds good.”

Kinesthetic people are touchy feely. You like to feel your way around and you like touch because it helps you think. Most sculptors I know tend to be kinesthetic.

This is also known a VAKT (visual, auditory kinesthetic and tactile) style of learning [2].

We can think of painters as mostly Visual people who use images to feel and think their way through life.

How Paintings Work

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B004CZAO28″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”160″]The act of painting is putting an artist’s vision into permanence. It is about marrying the conflict between conscious and subconscious minds.

What do I mean?

We have emotional conflict because our lives, unlike animals, are controlled by rules and not instinct. We create art with our conscious mind, because only the conscious mind can make us put the right color on canvas at the right point. We evoke feelings of emotion in our art when our conscious cooperates with our sub-conscious minds to carry out a unified task.

This is why the best art are those that evoke an emotion in the viewer. It is when the conscious of the artist is able to speak to the subconscious of another person.

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”0810994429″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”160″]When we study history of art, especially paintings, we can see the soul of the era in which the painting was created. This is powerful human communication.

I believe that if we think this further, we’ll be able to find the answer to the understanding of God through the subconsciousness of humankind. Meanwhile we’ll just keep painting.


[1] Cave Paintings on Wikipedia.

[2] Learning styles on Wikipedia.