Ok so imagine this: you and your friends feel like satisfying a cultural craving so naturally, you decide to go to an art gallery for an exhibition that is supposedly “ground-breaking” and “life changing”. When you get there, you find yourselves in a state of confusion because you have no idea what you’re looking at and, quite frankly, you’ve got no idea where to even start. We’ve all been there and there’s nothing wrong with it because honestly, art is incredibly complex and trying to figure it out with minimal knowledge is practically impossible. Luckily for us, it’s highly subjective and, more often than not artists present works in their chosen medium – be it painting, sculpture or architecture – and want us the viewer to come up with our individual interpretations. However, it is important to have some background information on the work that can help in decoding it. So, here are my 3 tips to understanding art and thereby appreciating it.
1. Read the gallery panel Often, you’ll find that there is a short paragraph written on the wall next to the work of art that you’re looking at, and I have found that reading it can be helpful. They are short and easy to understand, and practically perfect for anyone who is not well informed on art and is looking for a quick and simple explanation. If various works of art have been curated as part of a group exhibition, the panels are meant to be read in the order in which the exhibition is to be seen. The panels will usually start with some background information on the artist and perhaps the style in which he or she is working which is vital in understanding their work as they are often motivated by personal experiences. It might also give you some details about the work itself and perhaps some historical facts. What’s great about these panels is, being so short, they make sure not to give too much away so that you can not only come to your own conclusion but also decide to do some personal research after your interest has been sparked.
2. Examine/analyse the work
After having read a short explanation written by a curator, it’s now your turn to try and come up with your own interpretation of the work in front of you. As much as art gives you the freedom to come to a personal conclusion, there IS indeed a wrong answer, so do not try to think up some overly complex crap; it ain’t cute. Work with what has been given to you in the panel and use it almost as a stepping stone or a base for your interpretation. One thing that irritates me is when people look at a work of art for 3 seconds and complain about how they don’t understand it, or say things like “I just don’t get how this is art.” First of all honey, how do you expect to understand something you barely looked at?? Make sure to spend AT LEAST 5-10 minutes in front of a work and take in all aspects: colour, shapes, composition and figures (if there are any.) By examining as much of the work as possible, it is not only easier for you to come up with an interpretation but you also start to admire it more. Remember, someone put in countless hours to create something and the least you can do is give them a fraction of that time and effort and appreciate their work!
3. Find what works for you and learn more about it
When trying to develop an interest in art, it’s important to remember that you won’t like everything. It’s almost like trial and error because you have to explore different movements and find which ones work for you. For example, I am a big fan of the High Renaissance and Impressionism and they are probably my two favourite art movements. On the other hand, I HATE the Pre-Raphaelites and I’m not a huge fan of the Baroque movement (Obviously, I have my reasons for this and will probably go into greater detail in later posts). After finding a movement that you think you might like, look closely at individual artists because the movement as a whole may be appealing, but your feeling towards the artists themselves may differ. Again, I really enjoy Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art but I despise (and I mean really DESPISE) Andy Warhol and his work. Also, do not be scared to go against the norm, as just because something is generally well received does not mean it is for you. As I said, I am not a fan of Andy Warhol and other mainstream artists like Damien Hirst – sometimes, even Pablo Picasso.
Gaining knowledge on the art world is not something that’ll happen overnight. It goes without saying that there are crazy amounts of artwork that are out there and it is impossible to learn about all of them, but you can try your best! It takes time and dedication and if it’s really something you’re interested in, it won’t even feel like work!