Despite what some unseasoned art critics have been saying lately, “painterly” is quite a different thing from simply painted. In earlier times when almost all artworks were painted, art makers knew that some paintings were “painterly” and some were not. At certain periods, painterly painting was “out” (most of the renaissance) while at other episodes, very much “in” (German Expressionism).
The way to look at it is easy: in a painterly painting, the paint handling is something you will really notice. The artist’s interest in the paint is fore-fronted, and the handling reflects that artists mood and personality; indeed paint handling becomes a notable element of that artist’s style.
Artful Circle’s most famous vocabulary word! “Painterly” means that the artist has applied pigments expressively: the brushstrokes are usually visible and there is a texture showing where the paint is evident in notable quantity (usual in this approach) and contrasting with more thinly painted areas. There is no attempt to make the flow of paint exactly even or conceal the stop and start of given brushstroke. Whether the paint is glossy and thick, or thin and matte, are possible variations, among many others, that might coexist in the same painting. Splatters, and smears, if desired, are embraced within this approach along with the stray drip. The opposite approach is where brushwork is smoothed down, individual strokes “licked” together until they disappear into a unified whole. (think of Photorealist Richard Estes- painted indeed, but not painterly!)