If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Texture

by Dr. Asa Mittman
Texture is the feeling of a surface, real or represented. This might refer to the roughness or smoothness of actual objects and art media, or to the illusion of these properties.
Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 1994-2001, transparent color coating, stainless steel, 320 x 380 x 120 cm (photo: Kim, © Jeff Koons)
Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 1994-2001, transparent color coating, stainless steel, 320 x 380 x 120 cm (photo: Kim, © Jeff Koons)

Surface texture

Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog has a perfectly smooth, mirrored surface it is difficult to resist touching (though we must). It is this surface texture that turns these replicas of commonplace, short-lived and disposable items (balloon animals) into precious objects.
In contrast, the coarse, bristly surface of an ancient Shang Dynasty Fang-Ding — a ritual vessel used in worshipping dead ancestors — grants the work a vibrant energy, but does not invite our touch.
Fangding Ritual Food Vessel with Abstract Decor, 14th-11th century B.C.E., China, Shang dynasty, cast bronze, 21.7 x 17.1 x 15.2 cm (Harvard Art Museums)
Fangding Ritual Food Vessel with Abstract Decor, 14th-11th century B.C.E., China, Shang dynasty, cast bronze, 21.7 x 17.1 x 15.2 cm (Harvard Art Museums)

The illusion of texture

The illusion of texture is no less important to our experience of works of art.
Dutch still life paintings are justly famous for their careful, illusionistic replication of objects. The smooth silver plates and glass goblet of Pieter Claesz’s Still Life seem to tease us, as do the rougher cookies and breads, and the crumbly pie. The knife handle, pointing out of the image toward us, seems just beyond our grasp, and therefore makes this magnificent spread all the more tantalizing.
Pieter Claesz, Still Life, c. 1625, oil on panel, 48 × 76.9 cm (Art Institute of Chicago)
Pieter Claesz, Still Life, c. 1625, oil on panel, 48 × 76.9 cm (Art Institute of Chicago)

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user maartje arnold
    This reminds me of three paintings/sculptures of Anish Kapoor. He made them with a texture that everybody immediately associates with flesh (of course he meant to do that). But then, is this a texture or the illusion of a texture? (by googeling Anish Kapoor flesh you see the work)
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user kaithesurfer808
    how is the texture so realistic
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
    So, a sculputre has an actual texture, but if it's a work of art, whether that texture beckons or repulses our touch, we should deal with it as "you can look but you'd better not touch." And a painting or photograph has an illusion of touch, though it, too, is not to actually BE touched. Does that sum it up?
    (6 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user utuk
      Figurative subjects are frequently touched - this is apparent by the smoother texture, polished looking or brighter lustre of a stone of metal sculpture. Naked figures might be groped and in contrast religious sculptural figures are touched in reverence.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user 4054176
    whether that texture beckons or repulses our touch, we should deal with it as "you can look but you'd better not touch." And a painting or photograph has an illusion of touch, though it, too, is not to actually BE touched. Does that sum it up?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user James Sforza
    Can it be fair to say that the texture in the still life painting above is a combination of well-executed line, shape, form, color, and space working together? Otherwise, the gelatinous nature of the lemons, the wetness of the olives, and even the bending of the light at the surface of the glass of water would not be quite as believable.
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user yalani pagan
    Is texture a important part of a peice??
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • male robot donald style avatar for user Brighton Thomas
    Hello, how is everyone?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user