For the longest time I had 6 principles of art worked out. I believe these are the fundamentals of how to make a painting. But the more I taught workshops & classes, and discussed these principles with artist friends, I realized I was missing an important principle. Probably the most important one. It is the why we are painting what we paint. It's the idea behind it all.
This idea can be anything, but you must have it to paint. It can be based on color, on light, or on value. It can be a story to tell, a political or religious ideal, or a social commentary. Whatever it is, this idea dictates how the other 6 principles are applied. Below are two examples.
Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, c.1658-1661
Much of Vermeer's work is about dignifying the common, everyday life. "The Milkmaid" is no different. And while it seems to have many other possible themes, the how of it seems to be about color, with its dominance of Ultramarine Blue, Yellow and White/Grey in the piece.
Alberto Pasini "Circassian Calvary Awaiting their Commanding Officer at the Door of a Byszantine Monument: Memory of the Orient", 1880.
While the title of Alberto Pasini's piece tells you what is happening, I'm uncertain if that is what the piece is truly about. I think it's about pattern. Not an abstract underlying pattern (though it has that), but about ornamentation and pattern, which is incredibly rendered throughout the building and stones of the plaza. The beauty of Pasini's work, beyond his draftsmanship, is his portrayal of a complete scene. That the buildings and background are given as much weight as his people, if not more. The people become part of the landscape itself.
Vermeer image courtesy ofwww.essentialvermeer.com.
Pasini image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/111736