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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Idioms in the World of Art

A Picture Says a Thousand Words

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Seareally grabs me.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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