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Dogs Playing Poker Essay

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Updated: May 16th, 2019


Visual rhetoric can be defined as how or why an art work in terms of a painting, sculpture, architecture or symbol communicates a certain meaning. Visual images bring out hidden meaning in images and paintings which requires of as an in depth analysis to identify this hidden meaning.

A given art work is one of the series of many paintings done by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. The artist was born on 18th Sept 1844 in Antwerp, New York. He did not receive a formal education as an artist like his fellow friends, but he had a natural ability, gift and talent for visual art. He used to draw a lot and he would earn a lot of money from his ability to draw using his natural talent (Coolidge, 2006). The following essay is an analysis of a painting called “Dogs Playing Poker” by Coolidge.


The art work depicts seven dogs playing poker in a light blue room. The writer used seven dogs as a symbol of men in the society, especially the middle class and working men.

It is a painting that shows a lot of leisure as the dogs play poker. The writer is satirical in that he has used dogs to represent men in his paintings. The use of dogs in the painting is humorous in that the writer showed them doing human things and it was used to attract the attention of the viewer to the picture. Humor has also been used by the writer to criticize and ridicule men who play games in the society.

The painting also shows two of the seven dogs smoking pipes. A third dog is seen with a stick of cigar in its mouth. Coolidge painted the dogs smoking in order to improve the appeal of viewers to the pictures. The writer may have painted the dogs smoking for commercial purposes. It can be used to advertise a brand of cigarettes or a brand of pipe from a well known company given that the picture is in the modern world.

The idea of using the dogs smoking can also be used to have the product remain at the back of the men’s mind for long, thus increasing sales. In addition to smoking, the dogs are seen drinking from clear glasses with three bottles of a drink in between the two dogs at the back. These can be used to show that the dogs represent people of the middle class who have money to spend on a drink or two after a working day (Andrew, 2007).

A closer look at the picture shows that the dogs are having conversation as they play poker. The dog to the right is seen leaning on the wall and it is smiling which brings a lively mood in the entire room. Also of interest is the fact that the dogs are of different breeds. The dogs seating in the front are smaller in size unlike the dogs seating at the back.

The brown and grey dog seating in the front seem to be having a conversation as the grey dog is looking at the brown dog. The writer may have used different breeds of dogs to show the inequality that exists in the society as all of us cannot be equal. The picture was painted at time when America was faced with a lot of segregation.

Therefore, by using different breeds of dogs, the painter successfully showed the end of segregation and that all people have the same basic rights. Also it can be seen that the grey dog is showing the brown dog its cards. This reveals that there is a conspiracy to cheating and steal from the rest since it is not allowed to show one’s playing cards during the game. As the grey dog is busy showing his cards to the brown dog at the back, it is looking whether the other dogs see his actions.

A closer look at the dogs shows that five out of the seven dogs have chains around their necks. This is symbolic in that it shows restraint. The small dogs at the front have wider chains than the other dogs. This shows that one should be restrained from whatever he is doing, especially where money is involved.

From the above analysis of the paining of the dogs playing poker, I put myself in Coolidge view point of the painting. As time and event passes and technology evolves, our perception of the painting changes. The painting by Coolidge affected many other painters. The research I did on my painting showed that it was used as an advertising tool for cigars by a company. It was also used to advertise a beer brand, as it shows the dogs enjoying beer from the three brown bottles (Schummer, 2008).

This showed that a painting can elicit a conversation between people as they try to figure out its meaning. Those looking at the painting are forced to figure out what the artist really meant. The painting is a subject to speculation. In as much as the painting is used as an advertising tool, my analysis shows that it depicted a class of wealthy men who joined together by the high profile game of poker.

The painting is used to advertise one of the most controversial goods in the society, that is, the cigar and the beer. Therefore, it shows the level of moral decay in the society, and by the look at the clock, it seems it is some time past two in the morning. This shows that, in addition to advertising beer and cigarets, it should not be seen by under age people who are deemed to be asleep at two.

Elements of the Painting

The artist has successfully used various elements of painting such as color, texture line, technique and size.

Use of Color

The artist used primary and secondary colors to convey his painting. The artist successfully used dark strokes to color the shadows especially at the roof of the building. The lamp is shaded in dark red color while the table has dark green color. The red color brings a warm and lively atmosphere in the room. The light blue color as used on the walls, produces cool shadows. At the background, there is a framed picture that has a yellow frame that shows the artist has successfully saturated his colors between the yellow and blue (Wagner, 2004).

The scheme of colors compliments each other as there is a wide usage of red in the lamp and green in the table, and blown versus light blue which adds contrast to the painting. For lightness, the artist drew the dogs with white chests, and there is lighting from the lamp. Therefore, there is a lot of light in the picture. The tones of the painting are medium in nature as far as light is concerned. The background wall is blue with a yellow frame pinned on the wall. Therefore, this presents a clear contrast of hue as opposed to light.

Use of line

“In painting, the term “line” can refer to the “contour lines” surrounding and defining figures and shapes, to the visible lines of the artist’s brushstrokes, or to the linear orientation of shapes and figures within a composition (Coolidge, 2006).

There is a vertical line that the artist used to show the corner of the building. He used line to show where the door of the room is. It was used to bring the strength of the wall, and it moves us from one wall to the other. Line has also been used to come up with the edges of the lamp stern.

The artist also painted the chairs using straight lines and curved lines. The curved lines show transition from one element to the other. The straight lines on the seat show gentleness and smoothness as the dogs seem very comfortable when seated on them. The curved lines also are used to improve the viewer’s attention on the whole painting. The table has a circle line. This is used to show endlessness.

Use of texture

The artist has used a rough texture to come up with his painting especially the walls. These show roughness and it is also seen in the floor of the room. There seems to be rough structure and there is little shinny texture in the drawing on the wall. The green table looks to have a soft structure which makes it look good to play at. The artist has also shown the dog’s texture in terms of the fur (Wagner, 2004). The small breed of dogs seems to have a very smooth texture while the other breeds of dogs have rough structure. The door also has a rough texture while the lamp has a smooth structure.

Use of Size

The painting is of small size. The room is small as shown by the fact that the dogs seem squeezed in the room as opposed to the fact they should be in a large room having fun. The small size is evident by the dog leaning on the wall to create enough space to hide his playing cards from other players.

There seems to be very little space in the building which makes it look crowded. The room space is too small for seven dogs to be in the same place (Schummer, 2008). The artist’s use of small space in the painting is symbolic of the state of affairs in the different states. The painting is a mirror image of the society we live in and it shows the harsh conditions some of us go through in terms of housing.

The picture is three dimensional in appearance as we are able to view it from all angles. This shows a lot of skill that was used by the artist. The playing cards take their rightful position at the center of the table where they are easily accessible by all the players.

Use of symbolism

The painting is a symbol of the modern day society. The artist has shown that there exists a class in the modern society that is deep rooted in drug and substance abuse as depicted by the dogs smoking pipes and cigars and drinking beer.

It is a symbol of how major companies use their influence to manipulate and entice people into the habit of smoking and drinking. They make it lively by depicting the dogs as being happy as they enjoy their time. The painting is also a symbol of affluence in the society and how the rich use their money at the expense of helping the poor in the society (Rampley, 2005).

Use of Portrait

The artist painted the artwork in form of a portrait. He has successfully shown the dogs’ faces, especially the dogs at the background while he has shown the entire body of the dogs seated in the front. The artist has used the central space of the room to locate his painting which gives it a strong balance.

The space occupied by the dogs at the background may show their superiority in the group which can be used to explain that they are wealthier (Andrew, 2007). The painting also portrays a social life among equals. The portrait of the dog leaning on the wall is inviting and welcoming as the dog is seen smiling. The painting is as shown below;

Dogs Playing Poker Picture.

Works Cited

Andrew, Karl. An Art of Emergent Visual Rhetoric. New York: ProQuest, 2007. Print.

Coolidge., Cassius . Dogs Playing Poker: 24 Cards. New York: Dover Publications, Incorporated, 2006. Print.

Rampley, Matthew. Exploring visual culture: definitions, concepts, contexts. London: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. Print.

Schummer, Paul. “Humanities.” 21 September 2008. Web.

Wagner, Richard. The Art Work of the Future. Chicago: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. Print.

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