For a few, this word is the simplest psychological test to see if you are a dedicated fan of Jim Morrison. This is not a post about the Doors, guys.

For most, doors are about keeping pets inside and thieves outside.

In arts, doors function differently.

In fiction, doors are a conventional plot device.

A simple door can trigger an engaging plot by transferring the protagonist to a miraculous new world. A door creaks at the height of a passionate moment, and – bang! – Prince Charming now needs to make a formal proposal to the blushing daughter of Evil Queen who just stepped in. Andy McNab, an ex-SAS commando, has made a career in crime fiction by explaining that not only you don’t smash doors when infiltrating a building with terrorists inside (you open ’em doors very carefully), you have to close the door just as carefully after you entered the room, because you don’t want anyone to spring up on you from behind. I am sorry that you won’t enjoy reading Andy McNab now that I’ve revealed his plot structure.

In literature, doors offer endless possibilities with plot development, much more so than windows.

In visual arts windows dominate over doors. Windows create stories by establishing a conflict between the inside and the outside of a room. Painting a window is an easy way to make the painting interesting. Doors, and especially closed doors, are more complicated and less obvious devices to weave a plot, because the observers can’t see what’s behind them, and have to imagine it.

Woman of Cairo at her Door (Girl in Oriental Costume) 1897 - Jean-Leon Gerome
Woman of Cairo at her Door (Girl in Oriental Costume) 1897 – Jean-Leon Gerome

In this painting of a hopelessly classic French painter the door makes you imagine the world this Woman of Cairo represents. Your imagination is, of course, carefully guided by the artist. The caged bird, the contrast between live flowers and the design of the carpet that hangs over the entrance, the seductive pose and look of the girl: everything makes you think of the magic Oriental world into which you get teleported if you step through this door. Again, you don’t know for certain what you are going to find there. Perhaps, you’d get tea and a relaxing massage? Or you’d get caged as the bird above the door?

Doors raise questions, and instead of giving answers they make promises. That’s why, unlike windows, doors are ambiguous (you don’t always know what’s behind).

This is also why doors are employed by modern and contemporary painters, sculptors, and critics, who love to compensate their lack of ideas by complexity and ambiguity.

Paintings by Barnett Newman, one of the biggest names in American abstract expressionism are often described as “portals to the sublime”. A portal rolls in the mouth better than a door if you decide to go metaphysical, and “the sublime” (or its sister, “transcendence”) is a wildcard kind of word that critics use whenever they don’t really know what the heck they are talking about.


I am sure if Newman’s work is watched for an hour, some of the lines start pulsating, and their lights suddenly flicker, giving you the feeling of a door creaking open for you. That is, if your legs don’t kill you first. I, like most people, prefer other ways to achieve the same kind of nirvana,

I am sure many of my readers have remembered Rothko by now. A lot of people believe that Rothko’s doors are the best in class in terms of teleporting the viewer in a sour or cheerful mood (depending on the colour scheme, of course), but Rothko would probably strangle anyone who would compare his colour fields to a door with his bare hands, so I skip Rothko and go directly to Matisse.

His door of 1914 was one of the biggest door-related surprises this year (besides the time when I didn’t have keys to my own home and no one was there). In 1914, he stepped aside from his Fauvist cheerfulness into pessimistic dark blends, and I am sure you can feel it even in this photograph. The reflection in the glass is me. It gives a scale to the painting, and also jabs an accusing finger at Centre Pompidou who can’t be bothered to frame a modern masterpiece in museum-quality non-reflective glass.

IMG_2172 - копия

Imagine yourself standing in front of it. Imagine you need to decide on whether you step through or walk past. Imagine what is waiting for you inside.

Once you’ve done the imaginings, you’d understand that Abstract Expressionism was not a revolutionary American invention but a concept that a Frenchman had once played with for a couple of years before dumping it as a waste of time and effort, and going back to his optimistically pure colours.

Life’s too short to make art that makes it gloomier than it already is.

Perhaps, contemporary artists have come up with new approaches to doors and the related metaphysics? (I am asking it with my tongue so deep in my cheek I appear to have a serious dental problem to an outside observer) 

Let’s take the work of Steven Claydon, a contemporary British artist who is famous for both his sculptural work and playing pipes as a member of the Weird Sisters band in a Harry Potter movie:

DSC_0310 DSC_0311

He puts different doors on uniform metal fences hoping, as I understand, to create different meaning about the physically empty spaces that exist behind. Well, yes, it works, but I am not sure I am excited about this. Magritte said it all about closed doors opening up into different spaces, leaving us with so many doors one can spend a lifetime opening them all.

Magritte, 1935
Magritite, 1935

Are you aware of a contemporary artist who has produced a new plot using the door device? I mean, really new, and not a repetition of a century-old idea.  Please let me know!

Also, please share with me anything recent and interesting you know about doors in paintings or sculpture! Or just the doors you love for some reason. 


  1. I could not for the life of me find it, and perhaps it’s not as novel as demanded, but a particularly striking piece of art I saw last year (it won a contest!) showed the line of light created by a slightly open door shining right on the malevolent eye of the inhabitant. It was new to me, at least.

    ……. nope, looked and looked and looked, could not find it. Coulda sworn I saved that email.

    1. Hi, I am thoroughly enjoying reading your fascinating posts and am into my third hour and now running short on time. I know this particular article isn’t about ‘BRICKS’ but I would love to hear your views on the significance of bricks when depicted in art (preferably a painting and not an Installation). How, for example, can an opening that once was a doorway, even though bricked, still symbolize a door?

      1. Thank you )
        This is a big topic, actually. A brick is a man-made object shaped from earth by fire and water and thus is filled up with symbolism. So, anything made of bricks or with bricks is instinctively interesting. Interesting topic, let me think more about it )

      1. It’s from The Mighty Boosh Show, a phycodelic grotesque and fantasmagoric TV show by BBC. Thy character there has reached a certain level of enlightment.

  2. There is no doubt that doors open one’s imagination to all sorts of possibilities. Some doors are like prisons, others could lead to intrigue and romance. I used the subject of doors in many of my paintings because they excite the imagination. The doors of Uruguay are particularly nice. They have a touch of old Europe in the New World – customs & traditions. Some of the North African doors are also incredibly enticing, with their peaked arches and artistic intricacies. I also like windows because they a like a sampler of life. To get to the real thing you have to go through the door.

    1. Thank you very much for the link! I went through the images, trying to imagine standing in front of the exhibits.

      I am not sure I would be getting the idea without the explanation. I didn’t experience the feeling of loss, or empathy towards people who lost their homes, at least from these artworks. My feelings were mostly shaped by the explanatory text. For me, these artworks are too formal, too man-made, like an overly sentimental Hollywood movie. Perhaps, there’s too much cynicism in me, but I think the drama of people who had to leave their homes is an issue that’s much broader and deeper than what the artist has represented.

  3. I have an old piece which includes a door among other things. I can tell you what I thought when I painted it, but I would like to see what you make of it first. Here is a link to the piece:
    It is titled Fado and is broadly inspired by the type of music with the same name.

    1. OK, first, a few observations, and then I will try to link them up together into a story.


      – Fado is about loss.
      – The whirlwind in the centre of the room is imaginary (or spiritual) because the curtains are still.
      – The doll seems to be hanging in the air, with the distance from the doll to its shadow growing
      – The reality is maintained by shadows under the chair, the table, and the guitar. The shadows are real (unlike the whirlwind) and are of the same colour as the shadow behind the door.


      The reality exists outside the room and still lingers inside it in the form of shadows under objects.

      The doll must be a symbol of something that has been lost (childhood, memories of good time in Portugal?) and this grief of feeling of loss becomes all-consuming once you enter this room, but it is not the dark kind of grief but something…bright and promising, like a distant memory of a beautiful sun or sunny days.

      So a door here is a link to reality from which the artist enters this Fado-infused room.

      Am I any close?

      1. You certainly are, and it is fascinating to see what you add to the story, which, by the way was not a linear narrative in my head when I painted the piece. Fado translates as fate, something predestined (by God who observes the scene from above?) In my mind this piece was about the inevitable clash of innocence with reality – with a lot of open ends left for the viewer to interpret on his/her own. Thank you for your insight – you showed me more about my piece than I knew myself.

  4. I like this post and I like the idea of imagining what is behind a closed door or upon entering a room. Which is I can’t get excited about Steven Calydon’s door. I’m really not sure what he is trying to express but if it’s ambiguity and complexity, then I would say that his art is a bit too transparent.I liked the French artist’s painting.You can imagine the house inside, a fairly regular house of ancient Cairo with a kitchen on one side containing pottery of that time and a small bedroom at some other far end, etc.Looking at the girl, she looks like she was told to maybe fetch something or other, and while in the process her attention was diverted by someone she fancied. She looks like she’s imagining something pleasant, like what life with someone she fancies might be like.

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