I am going to suggest ways to appreciate art and experience it n a way that is honest and fair to the viewer visiting art galleries, art exhibitions, and art museums and other art displays. Being an art viewer can be very fulfilling and enjoying but it also causes causes unease among those who don’t really know how to approach art because of all the uncertainty.
It’s important to acknowledge that I’m not providing a check-list of ways of looking at art but providing a guide for more engaging art viewing. I would like to change the attitude some people have which is giving a two second glance at an artwork (although if you can’t grasp the viewer’s interest this is simply being selective) or trying to find meaning in the exhibition label rather than looking at the art face to face.
First of all I will start with a quote by Robert Henri taken from “The Art Spirit” who has a sharp observation on what consists a good viewer:
“The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an art education; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order.”
Scanning an artspace is perfectly normal, there is no way that anyone can view every piece for several minutes nor are they interested in everything exhibited. Scan the place to see what you are most attracted to and go to that artwork.
Then, try to understand what it is that attracted you to this piece (although beauty attracts many people and many artworks are beautiful, all art isn’t beautiful so this might not be your primary reason for liking a particular piece.)
Look up close and take steps back (circle around it if it’s an installation or sculpture that allows for engagement at more than one special perspective.) Try to understand why a certain medium was used, how it feels like physically and how that relates to the visual product. If a painting look at the brush strokes, the edges between foreground, object and background, the color transitions, where does light come from, and how do you react emotionally to the way the piece presents itself.
If a sculpture or installation walk around it, think about the material, how it was made, how it interacts with the space it’s in, what do the shapes look like, what effect does it have on you the viewer.
After personal interaction with the piece on an emotional and raw level where only you interact according to your primary feelings, it can be helpful to contextualize. This means looking at the exhibition label, does its title reflect, change, or support the way you initially reacted to this art piece? The curators of this exhibit put a lot of care and time in creating the labels or wall panel supporting the artwork through words so it can be helpful to read what their thoughts are as well as your own. Sometimes contextualizing and knowing how the art fits in historically can understand why it was special for its time, why people thought it was so original, and you may learn a bit of art history and ideas also occurring at the time this artwork was produced.
If this is an artwork you have really been connected to and appreciate, it can be useful to keep a personal log of artists or artworks for future reference and personal expansion. For example, to keep in touch with upcoming exhibitions from this artist or to know more about a time period or their art, you can read up on articles for better understanding about the artistic process. You can gain a better understanding of what attracted you to the artwork in the first place, it spoke to you more than the others in your vicinity, and this way you can learn about yourself as well. Resources like MutualArt.com are marvelous for this type of personal artistic expansion. It can be useful for all kinds of art lovers such as students (everyone is a student), teachers, collectors, dealers, and consultants in the arts.
In conclusion, once you’ve fully enjoyed a work of art move on to the next one that attracts your interest and you will be surprised to find you may be attracted to it for completely different reasons than the last one. It’s a journey of self-discovery and visual pleasure so enjoyment is key. It’s more important to appreciate a new pieces because it will be more memorable than to give 2 seconds to every artwork in a museum simply because you feel the need to step foot on every floor.