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Mural Painting

Updated on October 8, 2010

Mural Painting is that branch of painting and design which is concerned with the enrichment of the walls and ceilings of buildings. Other techniques of architectural decoration used for the same purposes include mosaic, stone, or wood inlay, sgraffito, and bas-relief sculpture. Tapestry is woven material hung with similar intent.

A mural painting must always be related in design to the building of which it is a part. Its function in some instances may be only ornamental, but a fine work of mural art transcends the purposes of mere decorative embellishment: it may record the past, glorify the present, or symbolize aspirations of the future as well as playing its part in a geometric architectural unity.

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Principles of Mural Painting

The general principles of good architectural design must govern the construction of a mural painting in its abstract, or design, elements. Architecture is concerned with the creation of hollow volumes or complexes of volumes, in materials which are suitable to the time, place, and uses of each structure. Mural decoration is only a further development, in terms of meaningful ornament, of the expression of the architectural idea in space and volume. Good ornament contributes to making the building seem psychologically suitable to its uses; the ornament may be called functional because people work and play better in appropriately decorated rooms; but a mural painting may also educate, remind, uplift, entertain, inspire fear or hope or any feeling which can be expressed in visual symbols.

Since the functions of buildings and rooms are various, it follows that many different kinds of mural painting exist. A bank, a factory, a gymnasium, a hospital, or a nursery, each has its own requirements. Mural painting may vary from the intimate to the monumental.

One of the qualities of good architecture is its relative permanence, and this affects the attitude of the mural painter as to technique, style, and subject matter. The muralist is always more concerned than is the easel painter with the lasting values of his work. He is slower to experiment with novelties, while being intensely interested in new methods which may add durability to his painting. He is the philosopher and historian among painters, and also the scientist and engineer. He is usually a deliberate, steady, and craftsmanlike worker, because a large mural demands sustained effort combined with consistency in style. A successful work must reflect calmness, co-operativeness, sympathy, and understanding for the feelings and viewpoints of many different people: the mural painter is a "public" artist, in his way a public servant

For these reasons it is considered that a mural work using illustrative content should confine itself to truly epic subject matter. Passing or trivial events do not deserve presentation in monumental, enduring form. Perhaps the journalistic cartoon might be thought of as the proper antithesis to true mural painting. Murals whose painters have attempted to express current political fervor have seldom stood the tests of time. In dealing with history in the making, the mural painter must be something of a prophet and seer to distinguish the enduring from the temporary.

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