I’m going to offer some opinions in this post that some may disagree with. I am an artist myself, and I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts but I am in no way an expert, and my knowledge is primarily in painting, sculpture, drawing and photography. I hope this will encourage those that don’t ‘get’ art, or those that are interested but intimidated or overwhelmed by art, to look at art in a new way.
What is Art? and How do you Appreciate It?
First or all, what is Art?
I think this passage from Marilina Maraviglia’s article ‘About Art - What do we really mean’ where she explores this question in depth says it well.
“ Art is often considered the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations and ways of expression, including music, literature, film, sculpture and paintings.”
Ultimately though, does it matter? If someone believes a piece, isn’t art, does it change
anything? Artist’s will make ‘art’ and those that appreciate it, will appreciate it.
Art is in the eye of the beholder.
But how do we ‘appreciate’ art? I feel that the word ‘appreciate’ can be intimidating to those that haven’t studied art because ‘appreciate’ encompasses a lot more than just ‘I like it’. In fact there are multiple artists and artworks that I would say I appreciate but I don’t particularly like.
So what does go into appreciating art. So firstly, the elements of the work, line, shape, form, colour, space, texture, and value, which is mostly a fancy way of saying what it looks like, and how it’s made. This is probably the easiest part because you are mostly just looking at how its made, however then comes the trickier part and the most interesting, how does all this work with context.
Context is where the appreciation really comes in, this is the who, why, when, what and where. So… Who is the artist? Even gender and age can change the context. Why has the artist used this particular colour? Why does this form work better than another would? Why is the thick texture important to the work? And then… where was the work completed? If it was created in rural Australia or urban Berlin can change the reading. What is the political and cultural significance of where it was created? And also… when was it created? Was it before electricity? Before photography? Before the Internet? So many things can change the reading of a piece of art depending on its context.
For example, the below painting, is just a portrait of a woman, until you discover it is actually the recreation of a 1965 mug shot of Myra Hindley convicted child murderer. This was a widely circulated image and very recognisable in Britain. What is more interesting is that the artist used a mould of an infants hand to create the painting using the said handprints. It's hard not to appreciate this work, knowing the thought and context put into it.
Does this mean you can’t enjoy art without ‘appreciating’ it? Hell no!
Art doesn’t have to be about all of that, you can just ‘like it’ or even better, ‘love it’. In fact I would recommend surrounding yourself with art you ‘like’ or ‘love’ not art that you ‘appreciate’. The two aren’t mutually exclusive though.
I love Van Gogh's, 'A pair of shoes'(below). I love the colour and the texture and the way he painted them. I also love the idea of a pair of shoes telling so much about a person as to be considered a portrait. For me, the added context in this work is knowing how Van Gogh struggled with mental illness but still painted, that he is probably better known for landscape works and flowers, but he also painted multiple pairs of shoes.
Artist’s usually have an intent with their work, however, the viewer is 100% correct in their own interpretation. It’s up to you. Here are a couple of questions you could ask yourself when looking at art?
Does it catch my eye? Why?
Does it make me smile? Why?
Does it remind me of a great memory/ or person?
Does it make me uncomfortable? good or bad?
Do I want to look at it everyday?
I love Jeff Koons Ballon Dogs(below), they are enormous sculptures and they just make me smile. I don't need context, in fact his own interpretation can be a little depressing, so I'm ignoring it and just enjoying a big ass balloon dog.
If you are interested in knowing more about the art or artist, read the artist’s notes that often accompanies the work. Sometimes they will offer some insights into the context of the work which will make you appreciate it more. There is always Google too, if your interest is piqued.
And in case you're wondering, I love it if my art makes you smile.