I Don’t Get It. Or Do I?

In arenas of artistic expression such as film or literature, we’re easily able to grasp plots and character development, and follow along from scene to scene. In music, we have learned to allow the verse, chorus, reprise and hook to relate a story we understand.

But, a piece of art paints a more baffling and challenging picture for some of us.

For centuries, art was dominated by Realism, which attempted to represent its subject matter truthfully. That was easy. But, over the last 150 years or so, reality has been forced to share the stage with wildly diverse Art Styles and Movements. Each drawing inspiration from the artist’s emotions, perceptions and aberrations. Some opting to express abstract ideas over still life or a portrait.

A group of art historians were once asked the question, “What Is Art?” One intriguing answer was simply “The presence of a second person.” The rationale being that when an artist created a work of art, it remained dormant, in a vacuum. And only when presented to a second person was the art “set into motion,” allowing it to be observed, questioned, critiqued, praised, loved, hated.

In essence, we (the viewer, the audience, the critic) often become as integral a part of the creative process as the artists themselves.

If you’re visiting a gallery or museum and want to get better at appreciating and discussing fine art, consider taking a moment to notice and discuss these and you might find yourself as the next Charles Baudelaire:

  • Impact/Meaning: How does it make you feel? Art is literally designed to express something to you – do you hear it? This is no Rorschach test – don’t be afraid to express yourself.
  • Subject: What is represented by the piece of art – both the theme and the figures.
  • Composition: What the artist chose to include and what they left out. The perspective, the use of white space.
  • Technique: The brushes, chisels, or other implements that created the piece and how they were used. Long or short strokes, dot patterns, ways of blending the colors, anything related to seeing the process that the artist used to create the piece.
  • Color: Note the choices of color, vibrancy, usage.
  • Symbolism: Imagine what the artist could be saying indirectly. Are there symbols hidden in the piece or right in plain sight that express something other than “wow, that’s a pretty flower.”


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