Before you start painting you must decide on your object in learning to paint.  There are many styles and methods of applying paint to a surface but there are three main reasons for doing so. After you have looked at these reasons and the examples I have provided you should be able to follow your purpose and utilize the tools of drawing, color, texture and design to your best advantage. The categories are not definitive as many paintings encompass more than a single element - nor is any objective better or worse than any other.
None should ever gain from a painting any dividend in excess of what the artist invests - and if he or she does it is a fool's profit. Sadly so many twentieth century artists hold their public in the same regard a con man would a victim. Even Picasso and Dali made some unfortunate comments in this regard. If we train our senses sufficiently they can evolve to the extent they are able to discern great subtlety. Just as a wine taster or gourmet train theirs so can a visual artist and it is truly a joy.' ...

The categories are:

Fig 3

Fig 2

1. Decoration - I want to paint because I love to decorate.

Fig 1.(above) Here color and  proportion are made pleasing to the senses.
Fig 2 Impressionist decoration.
Fig 3 The use of an accent (bright red in a sea of grey) for an eye catching wall decoration
I would have you paint decoration for the appreciation of decoration, paint subtlety for the appreciation of subtlety and paint messages for those looking to pictures for meaning. Why deny people their decoration, why deny the high church their subtlety, why deny the communicators their messages? There is no good reason—still, I would have the artist be all, at the same time. But if you find you cannot, just rejoice in the diversity and do not judge one better than the other.

Fig 4

Fig 5

Fig 6

2. Fine Art - I want to paint to understand and enjoy visual ideas.

Here I will quote a respected food and wine judge, 'In summary less is more. The flavours and fragrances we most enjoy are the ones we only just perceive. More than that, they make us sick. Rose scent is a good example.'
Fig 4 One of the greatest paintings of all time - sublimely subtle. The viewer knows exactly how the artist felt towards the subject. (note the lips slightly apart - a rarity in northern renaissance portraiture)
Fig 5 The mystery, subtlety and the innovation in this painting makes your hair stand on end.
Fig 6 The use of light and landscape in an allegory about painting.

Fig 7

Fig 8

  3. Message - I want to paint because I have a message to communicate.

Fig 7. (above) Never has design, contrast and color been so forcefully used in the cause of humanity. A rare feat: no action photograph could ever compete.
Fig 8 There is little decoration or subtlety in this painting titled "Executions at Portsmouth'.

The examples are selected to best illustrate their category by single-mindedly ignoring the other two(ie. in the decorative category the artist has made no attempt at description nor is there any message to be had. In the second category decoration and message are absent whereas the message in the third category swamps everything else.)
To show I am unbiased the last example in each category is one of my own paintings.

STUDENT ACTIVITY: Make you own list of five paintings nominating their categories. Note - some might have more than one category and if so you must name them.

GO TO ... analysis of a vermeer

.... or lesson list