The element of texture

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Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1889, oil on canvas, <a href="">Musee d'Orsay</a>, Paris.
Texture is the tactile sense we get from the surface of a shape or volume. Smooth, rough, velvety and prickly are examples of texture. Texture comes in two forms:
  • actual, the real surface qualities we perceive by running a hand over on object, and
  • visual, an implied sense of texture created by the artist through the manipulation of their materials.

An artwork can include many different visual textures but still feel smooth to the touch. Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media print Skyway includes rough and smooth visual textures that add layers of perception and animate the work, drawing attention to specific areas within it. A self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh swirls with actual textures created with brushstrokes loaded with paint. The artist fixes his gaze sternly at the viewer, his spiky red beard and flowing hair rendered so texturally you want to reach out and touch them.

Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, Still Life in the Artist’s Studio, 1837
Photographs can hold lots of visual texture. A grainy exposure adds to this effect. Louis Daguerre’s early photograph of his studio shows many objects with texture jumbled across the smooth photographic paper. These, along with the strong contrast in dark and light tones, enrich the photograph with a sense of drama not inherent to the objects themselves.
Senufo peoples, Face Mask (Kpeliye'e), wood, horns, raffia fiber, cotton cloth, feather, metal, sacrificial material, <a href="">The Metropolitan Museum of Art</a>, New York City
Three-dimensional artworks make generous use of actual textures. The face mask from the Ivory Coast of Africa incorporates textures from materials ranging from wood, horns, fibers, cloth, metal and feathers. The complexity of the composition is directly related to the many textures found in the mask. For instance, the relative smoothness of the dark ovoid shape of the face focuses our attention even though it competes with the surrounding ornaments, textures and forms. The masks honor deceased elders of the Senufo tribe from the Ivory Coast.