How many of you appreciate art but when forced to share your opinion about art have a huge desire to crawl under a nearby desk or chair and hide? I know countless people actually afraid to talk about art. They are afraid they will say the “wrong thing,” or that they don’t actually know what they are talking about! Today I hope to begin to dispel this fear.
Step One: RELAX! If you are at a gallery or museum to enjoy art, STOP worrying how long you should look at a work or what to say. Quiet your mind and observe a work that draws your attention.
Step Two: Glance over the artwork. With a quick once-over, is there anything you notice that stands out? If something jumps out at you that is probably important to the artist’s message.
In contrast, the exact opposite can be telling: is there little or nothing that stands out?
Example: Yves Klein’s Blue Monochrome. What is immediately obvious to you when you look at this work?
Step Three: Think about different elements of art. Select one at a time and go through as many of them as you like. Elements include: Line, Texture, Color, Shape (square is an example), Form (box is an example), Space, and Value (shading). Start with color and ask yourself, for example, is the blue in the artwork moody or bright and happy?
Step Four: Connect artistic choices to meaning. Does that bright blue sky seem as happy if the ground is filled with skeletons below it? (Yes, I can be a little morbid but this example conveys the point.) How would you say that color supports or enhances the meaning of such a work? Is it unsettling to see such a contrast?
Step Five (optional): Pass judgment. Knowing a bit more about the artist’s toolkit, do you feel s/he was effective in conveying a message or idea? Why or why not?
If you still feel uncomfortable read through the gallery guide or rent out a museum audio guide to learn more about the work and its history and context. Remember, art is to appreciate and create dialogue, don’t feel intimidated just because you never learned how to talk about it! There is always a place to start and hopefully this can begin to build your confidence. 🙂
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Want more? Consider buying my ebook ArtSPEAK, which gives you practical guidance and examples of analyzing and interpreting art. 🙂
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I appreciate that you mentioned how you shouldn’t worry about how long you look at a certain piece and that you should patiently look at art that catches your attention. My wife is interested in becoming an artist and would like to teach me how to better understand and appreciate artistic choices so that I can help critique her in the future. Maybe going to an exhibit would help me understand how to observe art.
Darrien, I’m so glad this resource has helped you. When critiquing a partner, sometimes it’s more delicate. I would focus on the way you see or interpret and read an artwork. If she specifically asks if something looks like an image then it would be a good time to talk about what looks different. It can be really hard, even when artists ask for it, to receive feedback from friends and family.
I also sandwich negative critique between two positives. For example: I really am drawn to your use of color here in the work. Do you think it needs to be more incorporated into the entire piece? I can’t wait to see it finished.
Looking at art online, or in person and talking about other people’s art together first could be a great step towards appreciating art together! 🙂
Thank a lot. Would that be a great idea for taverneums ?
When you have a Inn or pub with art on the walls,
and guests can learn how to critique it?
People say that taverneum visitors wont take time for art,
whereas museum visitors are. But I think that is not so,
they just need a hint sometimes.
Why not? You could always ask some local artists to show work and come offer small talks at your venue about their art as well.
The “Slow Looking” plays a major part of viewing any artwork to begin to appreciate it. Slow Looking is even more needed when looking at abstract artwork to be able to make a connection with it. It really works if you just allow yourself to look at the artwork a little longer.
Thanks Suhail for sharing!