Do you prefer tranquil or vivid paintings?

March 22, 2018
  • Tranquil
  • Vivid

In the vibrant world of art, the preference for tranquil versus vivid paintings becomes a fascinating study of human emotion and perception. This article delves into the reasons why individuals might lean towards either type of painting, exploring psychological, aesthetic, and cultural influences that shape our preferences.

Lake George (circa 1865) John Frederick Kensett (American, 1816-1872)
Lake George (circa 1865) John Frederick Kensett (American, 1816-1872)

The Appeal of Tranquility in Paintings

Tranquil paintings are often associated with serenity, calmness, and a gentle invitation to introspection. These artworks typically feature soft color palettes, smooth lines, and depict scenes of nature, peaceful landscapes, or quiet still lifes. For many, these paintings serve as an escape from the bustling pace of everyday life.

The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau

One reason people might prefer tranquil paintings is their ability to lower stress. According to a study, viewing art that evokes a sense of calm can significantly reduce the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body. This biological response is not just a fleeting effect; it can translate into a deeper, more sustained sense of well-being.

Philosophically, tranquil art often aligns with the principles of Zen and mindfulness, promoting a moment of presence and peace. As renowned philosopher Alan Watts once suggested, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” For those who lead a hectic lifestyle, tranquil paintings might not just be a preference but a necessary respite for mental health.

Winter im Wald Walter Moras (German, 1856-1925)
Winter im Wald Walter Moras (German, 1856-1925)

Culturally, tranquil art has a storied history in America, harking back to the Hudson River School whose artists like Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church emphasized the sublime beauty of the American landscape, fostering a sense of national pride and tranquility.

The kiss (lovers) (1908) Gustav Klimt (Austrian, 1862-1918)
The kiss (lovers) (1908) Gustav Klimt (Austrian, 1862-1918)

The Vibrancy of Vivid Paintings

On the flip side, vivid paintings are all about energy, emotion, and the power of vibrant colors and dynamic compositions. These artworks are often bold, using saturated colors and expressive techniques that grab attention and provoke thought.

People might be drawn to vivid paintings because they stimulate the mind and evoke stronger emotional reactions. A survey showed that vibrant artworks are more likely to be remembered and have a lasting impact on viewers, possibly due to their ability to activate multiple areas of the brain associated with emotional and memory processing.

The Scream (1895) Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863 - 1944)
The Scream (1895) Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863 – 1944)

From a psychological viewpoint, vivid paintings can serve as a catalyst for emotional expression. For individuals who may find it difficult to express their feelings verbally, these paintings provide a visceral, almost primal mode of communication. As Pablo Picasso famously stated, “Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.”

In terms of popular culture, vivid paintings often find their echoes in media. Films like “What Dreams May Come” or animated features like “Coco” utilize vivid, almost surreal palettes to convey otherworldly experiences and the richness of the depicted cultures, highlighting how color can be a powerful storytelling tool.

Why the Choice Matters

Composition (1921)
Georges Valmier (French, 1885 – 1937)
Composition (1921)
Georges Valmier (French, 1885 – 1937)

The preference for tranquil versus vivid paintings is more than just a matter of taste; it reflects deeper psychological needs and cultural resonances. For some, a tranquil painting might represent a sanctuary, a visual relief from the chaos of modern life. For others, a vivid painting could be an essential expression of their innermost feelings and a celebration of life’s vibrancy.

Interestingly, a survey indicated that during times of societal stress or upheaval, people might gravitate more towards tranquil art as a form of psychological comfort. Conversely, periods of economic boom and optimism often see a rise in the popularity of vivid and abstract artworks, suggesting a correlation between societal mood and artistic preference.


Whether one prefers the soothing whispers of tranquil landscapes or the loud celebration of vivid expressionism, paintings continue to offer a unique window into our inner lives and societal trends. While each style serves different emotional and cognitive functions, they both enrich our lives, offering diverse pathways to understanding beauty, emotion, and the human experience. The choice between tranquil and vivid ultimately provides insight into our personal journeys and the values we hold dear in our visual and emotional landscapes.

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