Miniature Art Statements, Comments and Definitions

Compiled by Wes Siegrist

Trying to adequately define miniature seems to always fall short but the gist of the following quotes certainly presents a clear picture of the genre's uniqueness in the art world.

Comments on Miniature Art from the MASF Exhibition Judges

  • "As a general rule, a miniature should invite, and stand up to, close inspection as well as holding its own from a distance. A painting should contain all the elements of a larger picture - good composition, colour, balance - as well as fine the end, of course, that is what miniatures are all about - the smallest details." Rosalind Pierson, Hilliard Society President and 2008 Judge
  • "I think I can speak with some authority when I say that some of the most talented artists at work in the country today are intrigued with the challenge of working in a miniature scale, and are satisfied with the intimate nature of their artistic expressions." M. Stephen Doherty 1985 Judge
  • "In the final judging, I tried to keep in mind the high standards of the society and its pursuit of fine original art done in small scale. That is the objective of the show." Christine R. Nodine 1986 Judge
  • "The precious tradition of the miniaturist carries a long and respected history that dates to the Renaissance. The contemporary miniaturist of today,..., exhibits the finest quality of that tradition. As I examined each work closely, I was amazed by the minute detail that is achieved...I encourage all attending the exhibition to savor these miniatures with the "eye" of a jeweler as they reveal their treasures to us". Joan Kropf 1990 Judge
  • "The range is impressive, but on closer inspection the winners are always the same...They hold up under the harsh eye of the magnifying glass; they bridge the paradox of being balanced but dynamic; they use size not as a restriction but as an intimate area for experiment...They have spirit....They go beyond the visual facts to show you the significance of the subject." Marty Munson 1992 Judge
  • "These beautiful little jewels must weather the severe scrutiny of magnification as well as that of judges and critics." Frank J. Hopper 1993 Judge
  • "...I was looking for minutiae of detail, care in execution, the ability to produce an object of beauty which can be held in the hand...Composition, color, balance, all are very important but there has to be that indefinable extra something - I don't know - I call it 'soul'." Shelia Sanford 1994 Judge
  • "Although miniature in size the works to be judged assume a monumental stature. These works shone with extraordinary beauty. I came away from the judging experience dazzled by their creative intensity and gem-like quality." John M. Angelini 1995 Judge
  • "...I have been intrigued, enchanted, spellbound and in awe of the diversity and perfection that a miniature artist can create in such a small area." Margi Cochran 1997 Judge
  • "These miniature works of art represent a commitment to excellence that goes beyond the desire to merely create in a small format....The first criteria of miniatures is no different from larger works...I tried to imagine showing the winners' work to an eagle-eyed beginner as examples to emulate if they wished to achieve excellence in this art form. Composition, content, and yes size, all came into it." Sue Burton 1998 Judge
  • "The realm of miniature art and the artists who create them has all the criteria of other 'normal' art forms: line, composition, color and balance; but there is the additional consideration of being able to handle it all in a format that covers just a few square inches." Bill Renc 1999 Judge
  • "The first impression after viewing the pieces in this show is that it is futile to try to pick a winner. The diverse subject matter so deftly executed in the various mediums is a pleasure to see and realize that the traditions of true miniaturism is being fulfilled." Chuck Elley 2000 Judge
  • "It's still amazing for me to see how artists can make such powerful visual statements in so small a space." Kim Barnes 2003 Judge
  • "Having never seen a miniature show, I had no preconceived appraisal for this exhibition. But having judged numerous art exhibitions in the past, I found myself using the same criteria but looking at tiny jewels instead of large palaces. The sheer number of incredibly designed and beautifully painted works kept me at a child's wonderment for a full two days of judging." Susanna Spann 2003 Judge
  • "The degree of talent in the world of miniatures is extraordinary and undeniable. The range of artistic expression in such a small format left me awed and inspired." Octavio Perez 2004 Judge

Comments on Miniature Art from the MASF catalogues

  • WHAT is it? It is easily described as "fine art and sculpture done in a very small scale" - small enough to be held in the palm of one's hand. 1979
  • "It is now incumbent on you...magnifiers in hand ~ to enjoy the delicate beauty of art in the little. In the words of a recent show judge, we will be listening for your exclamation......WOW!" F. Robert Fritz, MASF President 2008
  • "Each miniature contains a world of exquisite serenity, or wonder, or provocation." Laura P. Schofer, MASF President 1982
  • "With their small size they can be carefully preserved and are even now handed down as heirlooms. In medieval times ther were a portable treasure, available for ransom or survival. Whatever the reason, miniatures are the gems of the nineties, as shown by the increase in gallery and competitive shows and their escalation in value. Miniatures are timetaking; they demand rigid control and follow all the principles of art. Their importance is not in size but in quality. Being viewed closely they must be perfect; are usually done under magnification and are painted to last." 1994
  • "When you enter the World of Art "in little" through this Show I hope you share with me the exquisite beauty of fine art in small scale and a sense that we are all a part of the truly global resurgence in miniature art." Carol Curtiss, MASF President 2001
  • "All too often in the commercial world, we are overwhelmed with monumental images, distracting sound bites, and overall visual clutter. This exhibition causes each of us to pause quietly and look closely at the meticulous skill with which the subjects are rendered, as reflected in the patient attention to detail, artistic expression, and the ideal of perfection." Ken Rollins, Executive Director Gulf Coast Museum of Art 2003
  • "An important test for the miniature piece is how well its minute detail withstands scrutiny under magnification. An amazing experience awaits as the art lover becomes immersed in the wondrous world of art 'in little'." Carol Curtiss, MASF President 2001

Comments on Miniature Art from the MPSGS Exhibition Judges

  • "Making art is one of the most demanding and difficult of human pursuits. Not only does it demand imagination and vision and knowledge, it also demands fantastic physical skill. Only surgery comes close to the virtuosity required of the miniature artist. The artists you see today have all taken that and then consciously made the task even more formidable by making the paintings in miniature. One can only marvel at the skill and perseverance shown by the artists in this exhibition." Peter Waddell 2003 Judge
  • "I looked for the specialized techniques of the miniature: first, brush work on the point of the brush without raised strokes; secondly, composition with accurate and fine balance within the parameters of the frame, together with well balanced colors; and most important, fine detail within the size of the frame." Joan Cornish Willies 2004 Judge

Comments on Miniature Art from the MPSGS catalogues

  • "Miniature art has flourished in America and continues to be fine art on a small scale. Today, the portrayal is usually one-sixth or less the actual size. The quality of the work continues to be more important than the charm of being small." 2000
  • "I wish to state our appreciation for your 'thinking small' when observing and collecting these gems of the art world." John A. Thompson, MPSGS President 2001
  • "There is something fascinating about the exquisite art of miniature painting. The skill of the artist, reflected in the detail and delicate quality of the painting, reveals a world often overlooked, except by those who take the time to see." Margaret Turner Hicks 2006

Comments from Wes & Rachelle Siegrist

  • Compared with conventional art shows, there is an added appeal in a miniature art exhibition. It's the sense of wonderment and awe, experienced by everyone present, as they are enchanted by these diminutive jewels of the art world. You cannot casually walk by a miniature show or take it in from across the room. Each work whispers for your intimate inspection and rewards you when you take time to delight in it. - Quoted in American Art Collector Magazine
  • Miniature Painting: Surely no other genre is so enchanting or infectious with regards to the way it captivates, charms and excites us to the degree of wanting to treasure it so close while announcing it to the world from the rooftops!
  • Our paintings are part of a unique genre tracing its history back to the development of the portrait miniature in the mid 16th century. Miniatures are small size and scale works in intricate detail that can withstand magnification but they are not mere miniscule novelties. Done properly, they should be complete reflections of larger fine art rendered without compromise or apology due to the restricted format in dimensions.
  • Trying to capture with what seems like a million marks, what another artist can lay in with a single stroke, is a constant challenge to the miniaturist.
  • Trying to paint objects smaller than the end of our brush involves holding our breath and deftly maneuvering the brush tip while moving our head in an effort to see what we are trying to do with the usual result of not getting it perfect until the third or fourth attempt.
  • Miniature painting, in addition to usual artistic abilities, requires great concentration, patience, a very steady hand, extreme caution when handling the delicate work and of course the desire to subject oneself to these additional burdens solely for the purpose of creating the art on a smaller scale. Artists that embrace the genre will equally find it enchanting and addictive.
  • While all miniatures can be Fine Art not all Fine Art can be miniature. This is important today in distinguishing miniatures from small works or other art forms. Small dimensions and scale, refined technique, and the ability to impress the viewer even under magnification, are all essentially requisite to define miniature.
  • When painting a miniature we rarely perceive it as being small. The composition 'feels' like a normal size to us. Of course when trying to render something as small as our brush tip we do wish it was just a wee bit bigger!
  • Practicing miniaturists and appreciative collectors will persist due to the enchantment of the genre. New artists pursuing miniatures as a career will continue to face the same taunt leveled at miniaturists in the mid 19th century when the movement initially declined - "Why work so hard to achieve what could be done far easier another way?"

Comments from other sources

  • "What gives the miniaturist particular pleasure is the freedom to become intimate and powerful on a small scale. It invites, even encourages, the viewer to come closer into its designs and contents. Its space actually enlarges and becomes more powerful with the viewer's participation. This is the spirit of a miniature show...technical and creative talent in very small spaces." Wendy Zollinger, Judge for Miniatures Bardean 1997
  • "Most artists can paint, draw, or sculpt small. But very few artists have the discipline, ability, or developed skills to work in minute detail. It is this discipline and skill that identifies the traditional miniaturists and sets their work apart from all other types of art." Jane Blake 1987 (Jane was the first miniaturist in the world to be honored with Signature Memberships in both the Miniature Artists of America and the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers. Read more from Jane Blake (PDF 259kb)
  • "Extreme detail is a highly sought after factor to the traditionalist miniature art collector, who considers the 'true miniature' to be an image size that does not exceed 25 square inches and holds up well under a magnifying glass." International Miniature Art Exhibition ~ Papermill Playhouse 1999
  • "Miniature Art demands self discipline. Where large paintings give some latitude in composition, miniatures are unforgiving of the least mistake. A tolerance of even a millimetre is hardly permitted. The physical control to keep absolutely still while at work is very tiring because any unrelated movement will spoil the sensitive stroke. One realises, when painting a miniature, that the brush strokes may run to half a million in number, and each must be of a precise depth and colour, consistency and application."" Suzanne Lucas MBE. President (1980-2004) Royal Society of Miniature Painters. (Quoted from Portrait Miniatures by Bill Mundy RMS)
  • "A more strict definition of a true miniature establishes an image size not to exceed 25 square inches. This image is tightly rendered with close attention to fine detail. If realistic, the image is executed in a scale not to exceed one sixth actual size." Prior Jurors and Members of Parklane Gallery 2007
  • "Creating "in the little" employs exacting craftsmanship using fine lines/brushstrokes, and stippling or hatching. Transparent glazes can capture light and create the delicate, luminous quality of a multilayered painting." Miniatures are "Tightly rendered with fine detail, good composition, perspective and color balance. The picture is further appreciated when enlarged with a magnifying glass, revealing detailed rendering and technique...The artist aims for a smooth and even application of color and medium, thus nothing detracts from the detail." Prior Jurors and Members of Parklane Gallery 2007 (initially from Pamela Mitchell) More from Parklane Gallery (PDF 66kb)
  • "Miniature art is not a 'small painting'. Miniature art is not a novelty art. Miniature art is fine art. Miniature art is a specialty art and through the ages has been considered an art form. Miniature art is extremely detailed work, exquisite in color with a strength of composition. A compositional guide requires a gentle 1/6th scale of the actual subject. Small subjects not lending themselves to portrayal in one-sixth scale may be accepted into various juried shows if the work embodies the spirit of miniaturism. ~ A fine miniature can be magnified to the size of a movie screen and it will hold together as a fine painting. Miniature art is a specialized art that's on a small scale and based on the techniques handed down from the book paintings and illuminations from as far back as the 8th century. There is much debate as to what is the correct technique. Some techniques such as stippling, hatching, and pointillism are usually only discovered under magnification. Whatever technique is used, it should be meticulously rendered and the workmanship flawless. Miniature art sometimes amazes the spectator's belief as to what is possible in such a small space." MASF Juror Guidelines Paper Read the full MASF Juror Guidelines Paper(PDF 14kb)
  • "The only proper definition of miniature painting is in terms of its specialization and minuteness of technique; a technique which is common to no other type of painting and which appears flawless even on the closest observation." Jim Murrell (pg.4 The Way How to Lymne)
  • "I've always been entranced by portrait miniatures. There's something magical about an artist's portrait held in the palm of the hand, a sense of intimacy absent from larger formats. Long may it flourish as a genre." Roy Strong, Former Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (quoted in Bill Mundy's Portrait Miniatures 2)
  • "It is not easy to adopt a definition that will be simple and accurate for what we now call a miniature. Perhaps the easiest way is to speak of a miniature as a portrait that can be held in one hand. It may perhaps be no bigger than the thumb-nail; it may perchance be as large as the palm of the hand, or even larger, but it must be a portable portrait, one that can be easily held and examined closely." The Miniature Collector by Dr. George Williamson (also quoted in Bill Mundy's Portrait Miniatures 2)
  • "Miniature art is not a craftwork, although the craft of miniaturism is important. Miniature Art is fine art of a particular dimension. Its history goes back beyond its golden period of the 13th century." Marilyn Peck, President Emeritus of the Australian Society of Miniature Art (Q1d), Inc. Read more from Marilyn Peck (PDF 73kb)
  • "There exists a kind of magic when I look at a miniature work of art...The instant recognition of subject draws the viewer to a closer inspection, then closer, and closer, until a level of fascination is reached. As if the entire world is shut out while life holds its breath, enveloped in the world of a miniature work of Art." Jim Pounder (quoted in Miniature Art of Australia ~ Past and Present)
  • "The secret about miniature art is the intense sense of intimacy that is experienced when you hold a piece in your hand. When a piece of art is so small that it can rest in the palm of your hand, you are being gently invited to bring it a little closer to your eyes. You bow your head a bit and bring your hand nearer to your face. This is a very intimate pose. At this moment, you have let the piece of art enter into a vulnerable personal area. You would never hold anything dangerous this close to your face. This is the way you would hold a butterfly or a small kitten; very gently and close. Holding a piece of art in this way relaxes you and actually creates a bond between you and the art work. Larger art allows you to walk by and either engage with it or not. Sometimes larger art demands your attention by size alone. Miniature art, though, attracts your attention like a flower or a pretty stone on the ground; in a quiet and personal way. The piece asks you to come closer and reach out to it. Miniature art is a gift, a treasure, a secret and special friend. It's not loud or demanding. It doesn't shout its presence to the world but, instead, waits quietly for you to pick it up and admire it. Keep your miniature art close to you so that you can hold it and let it enter your heart regularly. No other kind of art has the ability to touch you in quite the same way." Carol Rosinski, Artist and Author,
  • "Miniatures are not simply "small paintings". They differ because of the delicate detail skillfully executed by the artist. The techniques of miniature art are meticulously handled and the workmanship flawless. The works sometimes defeat the spectators belief as to what is possible for the artist to create in such a small space. These paintings referred to by the 15th century artist, Nicholas Hilliard, as "jewels of the arts" are best examined not only with a magnifying glass but also with a jeweler's loop, just as one would examine a fine diamond." Jubilee Cultural Alliance, Miniature Artists of America, World Federation of Miniaturists, 1995-96 International Committee Document
  • "Miniature Art eludes an exact definition. Among miniaturists and miniature art societies around the world, arguments persist as to exactly what makes a work of art a true "miniature" instead of just a small painting. Despite the lack of a precise definition, there are aspects that typify miniature art and set it apart from work that is merely small in size. Miniature art is meticulously executed, containing layer upon layer of intricate detail. Instead of a loss of resolution under magnification, details continue to unfold. After the first moment of aesthetic arrest, you are yet again swept away by another layer of detail within the work. When viewed from afar, miniature art must hold to the same artistic virtues of larger work in terms of composition and tonal balance. At the same time the miniature artist strives to achieve such masterful execution of his medium that it stands up to the closest inspection. For this reason, miniature art tends to take as much or more time to produce as a larger painting. The artist achieves the intricate detail of each piece often with the use of extremely fine specialty brushes while working under magnifying equipment." Kira Zielinski, Alabama Miniature Art Society
  • "Art, by definition, is the demonstration of human creativity and is the making of things that have form or beauty. And miniature, by definition, is a copy or model on a very small scale...why miniature art? No, not because of the current vogue for miniaturization since miniature art has been demonstrated as early as the 15th Century. Rather, our purpose is to make art available in a form that can be owned, collected, displayed and enjoyed by the widest possible segment of society. Our artists' creations can be acquired at a relatively nominal cost and thus fufill the needs of so many people, who if nothing else, relish the thought of possessing an original." Pat Longley, President Miniature Art Society of New Jersey, 1985 Exhibition Catalog
  • "The basic principle of miniatures is always clear: it is that time in making commands time in looking. The idea that 'major' art must be big is utterly refuted. What counts is the amount of concentrated imagination and craft." Robert Hughes (Time Art Critic, Jan. 28, 1980)
  • "We use a 1/6th scale from life size. Small work may meet size parameters, but if it isn't proportionate, it isn't miniature." Jo Webber (Past MASF President ca. 2000)
  • "... I have long felt that a message can sometimes be more powerfully communicated when presented on a small scale, using what might be the visual equivalent of whispering. Unlike major works that require the viewer to stand at a distance to be able to appreciate the work in its entirety, small and miniature work is intimate. The viewer is drawn in by virtue of close proximity." Geri Wolff (Art Calendar Magazine, ca. 2000)

Quotes are taken from specific catalogues or books when noted.

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