What makes an excellent mosaic art piece
(5 min read) Mosaic art is an image or design constructed from small colored pieces of glass, stone, or other materials on a bed of cement, plaster, or adhesive. Mosaic designs can be made with pretty much anything, including old, recycled, or found materials such as beads, buttons, and mirrors. The dazzling colors and distinctive aesthetic of mosaics offer an eye-catching approach to art.
Mosaics are mesmerizing to look at. They have an exotic vibe that takes viewers on a faraway journey. Colors and patterns come together like a kaleidoscope. And because of the time and effort that goes into each design, mosaic artwork could be considered a hybrid of painting and sculpture, a blend of decorative, functional, and fine art. Mosaics are surprisingly easy to make, but challenging to master — a reason the art form deserves more attention and better appreciation.
But how does one view mosaic art? What makes a mosaic good or even great?
For this article, we will apply Celine Borromeo’s Linking Word and Image as a foundation for looking at mosaic artworks in greater detail. Many of the guide questions Borromeo raises in her book can be a starting point for appreciating other art forms. We will also share a few insider tips on what to look out for in contemporary mosaic pieces.
Identifying the mosaic artwork
Even if you’re unfamiliar with making mosaics, identifying basic information on the piece can go a long way in appreciating its beauty. First, what is the title of the mosaic artwork? A title referring to history and world culture is often a clue into the artist’s mosaic means. Second, who created the mosaic? Is it a male, female, or someone who identifies themselves with a less binary gender? Where are they from, and in what part of the world do they live? Third, when and where was the mosaic made? Was the piece made early in, at the peak of, or later in the artist’s career?
Studying subject matter
The next set of questions revolve around what is shown in front of you. Does the subject come from literature, myths, everyday life, or even fantasy? Or is there a religious reference? Is the subject novel, or is the artist’s treatment of an already familiar subject unique? How does the mosaic’s style compare with other contemporary works?
Just like in painting or sculpture, mosaic artworks come in a variety of forms. What kind of mosaic piece are you looking at? Is it classified as a still-life, a portrait, a religious work, a historical piece, or something abstract? What kind of forms or shapes do you see to support this?
The mosaic above is a tiled version of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, a fresco painting that forms part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The mosaic shows God — an elderly, white-bearded figure — giving life to young Adam, the first man.
Examining medium, materials, and techniques
Mosaic artists use a variety of tools and materials to make their opus. These include basics like tesserae (the tiles used to create the design), adhesives (used to help the tesserae adhere to the base), grout (used to fill the spaces between the tesserae), and sealer (used to protect the mosaic from the elements). Also, mosaicists use special tools for their craft, such as tile nippers and safety gear like goggles, gloves, and dust masks.
What makes mosaics intriguing is that artists use all sorts of materials to make a piece. The tesserae can be different types of glass, stone, and found objects. Mosaic artists who create designs from broken crockery or china apply what is known as the picasiette or pique assiette technique. Mosaics are installed either directly onto the final location or indirectly onto paper, mesh, or panels later transferred to the actual site.
What should one lookout for in a well-executed mosaic? The gaps between tesserae are typically 1/8 inch or less. The grout is neat, clean, and does not have any fine cracks. The grout’s color contrasts the hue of the tiles so that the mosaic design is highlighted. Functional pieces like tabletops lay flat and feel smooth to the touch.
Observing the composition
Examine the many elements or parts of the mosaic. Is the organization simple or complex? Geometrically ordered or seemingly accidental? Do some figures dominate? Are certain forms emphasized to define space? Is there symmetry? Is the mosaic design crowded, or are there empty spaces? Is there a pattern of shapes? Is the mosaic confined to its borders, or do the tesserae seem to spill out of the edges?
The mosaic above is based on a traditional Chinese painting of the Great Wall. The wall winds up and down the misty mountain range and seems to go on for miles. In the foreground are lush trees that provide a natural contrast to the man-made structure depicted in the mosaic. The white foggy mist encircling the walls implies that the scene is at wintertime or perhaps early in the morning.
Looking at form and line
Let’s look at this sunny mosaic of blooming yellow flowers. Are the lines clear or obscure? Is there a strong outline of figures? Are the lines angular or curved? Are there any lines at all?
This massive wall mosaic of golden flowers features organic lines. The white curls behind the buttery petals break the monotony of color. The brightly rendered stamens in the center of each flower breathe life into the charming blossoms.
How about you, what kind of forms do you see? How are they organized? Does the mosaic compel you to see it from many angles? Remember, there is no right or wrong approach to looking at mosaic artwork. Artists are happy to hear that viewers see something the mosaicist hadn’t intended.
Diving into color
When exploring the world of color, there many questions to answer. Are the colors bright or subdued? Are there many colors? Are the colors pure hues? While the mosaic above has a broad color palette, the tones are as cool, calm, and restrained as the rest of the bathroom. Many of the colors on the mosaic have a grayish tint rather than a pure hue.
Here are more guide questions to think about when looking at this mosaic: Is the mosaic artwork dominated by warm or cool colors? Are the color contrasts subtle or extreme? Did the artist use metallic-toned tiles? In summary, how important is color in this mosaic art piece?
Feeling the mood and lighting
Do the different elements or parts of the example above suggest a specific mood? How do you feel when you look at the piece? How do the details build up the mood of the mosaic?
This modern mosaic combines geometric patterns (in the background) and fluid shapes (with the subject), giving off a playful mood. And yet, the subject, sitting on what appears to be on a brown armchair, drifts off to sleep. Not what you’d expect from such a funky piece.
From afar, mosaic art glistens with an impressive array of colors and patterns. Has the mosaic artist considered the effect of light upon their work? Is this mosaic better viewed in daylight or artificial light? How would artificial light sources affect your view of this mosaic? Let us know in the comments.
Analyzing the context
It’s essential to think about how a mosaic would be used. Is it a backsplash? A floor mosaic design? A wall piece? Is the mosaic meant for public viewing, or was it created for a private audience? Does the immediate environment influence the qualities of the mosaic?
Let’s examine this wall mosaic of a heron hanging between a living and dining space. The subject, inspired by nature, is a stark contrast from the industrial interiors of the home. However, the neutral color palette of gray, sand, black, and white ensures that the mosaic complements the area’s décor.
Learning the history
Each mosaic artwork is part of a handmade tradition that dates back to thousands of years. What does this mosaic tell you about the era, culture, or time it was made? Does it bring associations to traditions or raise particular issues or social concerns? How does the artist’s body of work compare with works of other contemporary mosaicists?
The wall mosaic above is a more contemporary piece. A figure with a stylized face holds in its hands what seems to be a large orchid on the left. The predominant use of the colors black and white are reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s paintings. The splashes of red perhaps refer to fiery passion.
Interpreting the mosaic artwork
On a final note, examine the muted yet abundant burst of florals above. Do you like or dislike the mosaic? Why? How are you reacting to the artwork? Does anything in the mosaic remind you of yourself or your past? Do the elements present or suggest symbols you can connect with?
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers when viewing mosaics or any other form of art. It’s not a contest to see whose answer is close to what the artist, critics, curators, or art historians say. What’s most exciting about appreciating art is that everyone has their own take, their own interpretation.
Intrigued by the world of mosaic artwork? We have a wide array of design options for your home or space. We specialize in authentic and handmade mosaic art pieces brought to life by master artisans.
For more information, get in touch with us at [email protected] or visit our custom mosaic design section and order your own mosaic. We are more than happy to help bring your custom mosaic ideas to life.