Texture


Texture is the feeling of a surface, real or represented. This might refer to the roughness or smoothness of actual objects and art media, or to the illusion of these properties.

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog: installation view with silver balloon, 1994-2001, transparent color coating, stainless steel, 320 x 380 x 120 cm (photo: Kim, © Jeff Koons)

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 1994-2001, transparent color coating, stainless steel, 320 x 380 x 120 cm (photo: Kim, © Jeff Koons)

Surface texture

Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog has a perfectly smooth, mirrored surface it is difficult to resist touching (though we must). It is this surface texture that turns these replicas of commonplace, short-lived and disposable items (balloon animals) into precious objects.

In contrast, the coarse, bristly surface of an ancient Shang Dynasty Fang-Ding — a ritual vessel used in worshipping dead ancestors — grants the work a vibrant energy, but does not invite our touch.

'Fangding' Ritual Food Vessel with Abstract Decor, 14th-11th century B.C.E., China, Shang dynasty, cast bronze, 21.7 x 17.1 x 15.2 cm (Harvard Art Museums)

Fangding Ritual Food Vessel with Abstract Decor, 14th-11th century B.C.E., China, Shang dynasty, cast bronze, 21.7 x 17.1 x 15.2 cm (Harvard Art Museums)

The illusion of texture

The illusion of texture is no less important to our experience of works of art.

Dutch still life paintings are justly famous for their careful, illusionistic replication of objects. The smooth silver plates and glass goblet of Pieter Claesz’s Still Life seem to tease us, as do the rougher cookies and breads, and the crumbly pie. The knife handle, pointing out of the image toward us, seems just beyond our grasp, and therefore makes this magnificent spread all the more tantalizing.

Pieter Claesz, Still Life, c. 1625, oil on panel, 48 × 76.9 cm (Art Institute of Chicago)

Pieter Claesz, Still Life, c. 1625, oil on panel, 48 × 76.9 cm (Art Institute of Chicago)

Cite this page as: Dr. Asa Simon Mittman, "Texture," in Smarthistory, July 10, 2019, accessed December 5, 2019, https://smarthistory.org/texture/.