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  • Jennifer Gillen

The Size of Art


This little painting is only 6"x6". That's almost the same size as the actual tulip. Is small work only for sketches like this? Or is there more to explore within tiny spaces?

Have you ever noticed the different sizes of museum paintings? Maybe, if you're like me, when you leave a museum, you think about all of the giant paintings you saw. It's so impressive to see a painting that covers an entire gallery wall. There is a super cool factor about life-sized portraits of standing ladies in full regalia. Big paintings are immersive. Almost like installation art, they draw you inside.


But there is a drawback to these massive pieces of art. If you believe that art only belongs in museums, then I guess it's fine. If, however, you would like art in your home, museum scaled art just doesn't cut it. Most people don't have 12-20 feet of continuous wall space to hang a massive painting. Additionally, it's expensive to create giant art. And for collectors, it's expensive to buy. The materials, framing and time involved add up significantly.


Here's a personal example about the sizes of art. I was recently at the opening of a local exhibition. It included art of all media--sculpture, photography, all types of painting, collage and printmaking, in all sizes. As I walked through the exhibit, I approached it as a collector. It wasn't long before I noticed that my preferred pieces were small. My budget was also pretty small. That got me thinking about how unfortunate it is that many people may not be able to find a place for large pieces of art and that they may not be able to afford them.


When I left the exhibition, I thought about small works made by famous artists. Many of Van Gogh's paintings were on the small side. Rembrandt also painted many small portraits. The examples are actually countless. Small art pieces are like fine jewels. It takes a certain type of thoughtful elegance to design something small. In a very small area, the art must pack in a lot of powerful beauty. That requires careful use of all of the art elements.


This small painting of a canna required careful planning to fit all of the color and shape into an 8"x10" space. (Painting by Jennifer Gillen 2019)

As a fun way of looking at art, I've become obsessed with small pieces. I love the way they can light up the space above a desk or a little nook in a hallway. They are also perfect starter pieces for beginning collectors. Collecting small works of art also allows the possibility of including art in one's home from multiple artists.


So that leads to my next project. I think it's time to fit my flowers into smaller pieces. What if the paintings were small, but the flowers filled the frame? It could be like a beautiful cameo. Small to me is about ten inches in any direction. There are a lot of contemporary artists working even smaller and producing beautiful, accessible work. Maybe art should actually be affordable and fit on smaller walls. What do you think about the sizes of art pieces? What sizes do you gravitate toward?




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