How To Look At Art in 8 Steps

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“Art” can feel intimidating

When you look at a painting, a sculpture, or an installation, there’s an unspoken understanding that the piece itself is much bigger than what sits there before you. You know that there is some root reason, thought, feeling, or whatever that propelled a piece into existence. But if you haven’t had the chance to sink your teeth into the Art world, once you get to that point, you’re only left with a vast sense of, “…Okay. Now what do I do?”

Granted, there isn’t a “correct” way to deal with Art. But there are things you can do to open your mind a little, and allow yourself to take in as much as you can! Here are some things you can ask yourself the next time you take a trip to a museum or an art gallery. If you want, you can write your experience down, but you don’t have to!

[line]David Hockney - A Bigger Picture

Step 1: Go Find Art

Take a look at the calendar and pick a day that is open. Tell yourself that this is The Day you’re going to go “look at art.” Don’t think about it beyond that. When the day comes, walk into the museum or gallery of your choice, pop in your earbuds, put on your favorite music, and just walk around the space freely. Keep going, and don’t stop until a piece stops you. Art isn’t homework, so why dive into something if it doesn’t call out to you on it’s own?

[line]Turner - The Slave Ship

Step 2: What is the Title?

Now that you have been struck by a piece, and you’ve had some time to take it in, it’s time to ask a few questions. First of all, what is the name of this piece? Sure, this sounds a little obvious, but think about this: How many works of art can you list by name? If your list ends on one hand, don’t feel bad. The truth is, while most of us can recognize famous works of art when we are presented with them, the names names of these great pieces aren’t exactly on the tip of our tongue. Taking a few seconds to note the name will help you begin the process of contextualizing the piece. (Side Note: Some pieces of Art are “Untitled,” but even that is an interesting start!)

[line]Banksy - Follow Your Dreams

Step 3: Who Created It?

Knowing who created a work of art is important for two reasons. The first reason is 100% trivial. Knowing who made a piece of work is always good to know, just for the sake of knowing. Honestly, that is the best way to look at this step at first anyway. However, as you continue your exploration in the world of Art, you might find that one artist truly jumps out at you, speaks to you consistently. When this happens, it’s a wonderful feeling. Don’t worry about the artist being famous or well-known. Just enjoy, and if you want, find more ways to track down that artist and their work!

[line]Manfred Kielnhofer - Guardians of Time

Step 4: What is the Medium?

 Acrylic? Oil? Pen & Ink? A stack of newspapers? Take a moment to note what the piece was made out of. Is it an oil painting? A big installation? Remember, this information isn’t going to end up on a quiz, but after a while, you might just discover that you have a favorite you never knew you had! You might be a Ink and Pen person, waiting to be spoken to!

[line]Jan Van Eyck

Step 5: What is going On?

This is where things begin to get a little more subjective. Some pieces depict something very specific, like a myth, landscape, an intimate moment, etc. But other pieces are not that…straight forward. Some art doesn’t have a “story” or anything remotely human at all. You’ll find that this will be just about the moment when the title of the piece begins to carry some helpful meaning for you…or maybe not at all. Just go with it!

[line]Enrique Simonet - Anatomy of the Heart

Step 6: What is the Mood?

 You chose this work for a reason. It stopped you. Was that because of how it made you feel? Think about that primary reaction, and now consider the mood of the work itself. Is it made of cooler colors? Warm colors? Psychedelic colors? If it is an installation, do you feel like it is “coming together” or “falling apart?” Finally, do any words come to mind? Are you reminded of any specific people, places or experiences in your life? You can ask all of these questions, or some entirely on your own.

[line]Edward Hopper - Sunday

Step 7: Name the Piece

Okay, so this might seem like a very weird step, and you don’t have to do it. You may be asking, “But you said to make note of the name?” Yes! This is still important. But after you have had a few moments to consider how this work of art impacts you, and what you feel is happening, you should give the work a personal name. If you had created this piece based on all the emotions and information on hand, what would you have called it?

[line]Jackson Pollock - One

Step 8: Do it Again!

Yeah, do it again! Turn and walk around for a while again. This last step is important. You may be very surprised by what jumps out at you next. When we experience Art, we are also experiencing different parts of ourselves. The fun begins when we realize that there are a number of works and artists that speak to us, and some may be very different than others. Why? Because you are truly unique, and work of art as well!


Top 10 Art Books for 2015

The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay
100 Painters of Tomorrow by Kurt Beers
Banksy in New York by Ray Mock
Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius by Leonard Schlain
The Art of Pin-up by Diane Hanson, Sarahjane Blum, Louis Meisel
American Grotesque by Larry Lytle & Michael Moynihan
Kurt Vonnegut Drawings intro by Nanette Vonnegut
Plush by Marilyn Minter
Typographic Universe by Steven Heller & Gail Anderson
Ruven Afanador: Angel Gitano: The Men of Flamenco by Ruven Afandor

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About the Author

Caitlin Cutt

Caitlin Cutt has been a writer and producer of successful online digital content since 2009, creating content for small businesses. She gained her spot in the world of YouTube as the voice of the successful, teen self-help web series, WellCast. A standup comedian herself, Caitlin is our director of programming, and will soon be heading up our Comedy division!