A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Idioms in the World of Art
Recently, upon working on a German-English translation, I realized that the language of art is not that simple. The artists among us probably wonder how I could possibly think that discussing art could be simple, right? My only answer to that question is that, in the past, I had mostly translated business texts which I had falsely perceived as somehow being more challenging. Besides that, I had always loved art and, at times, thought that I was good at it. An art translation was going to be a piece of cake, I thought. My false illusions quickly disappeared when I had to translate German words like ❛Grundklang❜ and ❛Klang❜ into English, for which there are, quite interestingly, no direct English translations within the context of visual art in the dictionary (any suggestions from German native speakers?). I soon realized that talking about art, although very interesting, was not going to be as easy as I had thought. And how about trying to do it in a foreign language? Since a picture is worth a thousand words, would it not be nice to have the vocabulary to express what you want to say? The following is a short list of 16 English idioms that could all be used to discuss art:
1. Well begun is half done.
Do you think that there is a reason why I put this English proverb at the top of my list of art idioms? Well begun is half done means that ❛when you begin a project or task properly, it will be easier to successfully complete the rest.❜
Example: The art teacher reminded his students of how important it is to plan a composition. He told them that well begun is half done.
2. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
This English proverb means that ❛every person has a different idea of what beauty is and whether something is beautiful or not depends on who is looking, i.e. who the beholder is❜.
Example: No one could understand why Carmen loved Eduardo’s boring abstract compositions. Beauty, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.
This expression refers to ❛tasteless creations that are not worthy of being called art❜. The following example will help clarify what kitsch is.
Example: My mother-in-law gave us a picture as a gift. It was a portrait of Elvis on a hot pink velvet background. Needless to say, I refused to hang it on the wall because I felt that it was kitsch.
4. to be striking
A work of art that is striking is one that is very ❛noticeable❜ or ❛outstanding❜.
Example: Rich in contrast and color, Picasso’s ❛Weeping Woman❜ is striking.
5. to bear fruit
Something that bears fruit ❛produces positive or successful results❜.
Example: After spending months in his studio, Pierre’s hard work finally bore fruit.
6. to break with convention
An artist who breaks with convention ❛is one who does not do things in the traditional or expected way❜.
Example: The avant-garde artists of the time broke with convention.
7. to bring something to life
When an artists brings something to life, he makes his subject ❛come to life❜.
Example: Through his realistic and very detailed sculptures, the artist brought local historical figures to life.
8. to each his / her own
The idiom to each his own means that ❛people have different tastes❜.
Example: The artist chose very dark colors for his composition. To each his own, I guess.
9. to be eye-catching
When a work of art is eye-catching, ❛it attracts your interest or attention❜.
Example: Van Gogh’s use of bright colors makes his sunflower pictures very eye-catching.
10. to grab someone
If a work of art grabs you, ❛it captures your attention❜ or ❛appeals to you very much❜.
Example: Caspar David Friedrich’s ❛Moonrise by the Sea❜ really grabs me.
11. to move someone
When a work of art moves you, ❛it makes you react emotionally❜.
Example: The artist’s mother-daughter portraits really moved the young mother and she began to cry.
12. to put the finishing touches on something
If you put the finishing touches on a work of art, you are ❛adding the final improvements to make it complete❜.
Example: She needed another hour to put the final touches on her mural.
13. to resonate with someone
When a work of art resonates with its audience, ❛it causes them experience a feeling of shared emotion or belief❜.
Example: The Fukushima photographer’s compositions really resonated with the audience, most of whom were tsunami survivors.
14. to speak to someone / so something
If a work of art speaks to you or to your heart, ❛it is something that you can relate to and something that appeals to you❜.
Example: The Iranian film ❛A Separation❜ really spoke to the audience.
15. to stand the test of time
If a work of art can stand the test of time, ❛it will regarded as good for a long time❜.
Example: It is fair to say that the work of Leonardo da Vinci has stood the test of time.
16. to strike a chord
When a work of art strikes a chord, ❛it causes an emotional reaction or response❜.
Example: The student’s black and white photographs struck a chord with her fellow students.
Do you have some more suggestions for this list?