How to

How to Look at Art – The Aggie

A step-by-step guide to making the most of your art viewing experience

By SARAH HAN — [email protected]

Whether it’s a sculpture or a painting, visual art comes in a variety of forms. Regardless of the medium, many viewers overlook the specific and elusive parts of art; Therefore, a step-by-step guide to viewing art can be a helpful tool for your next museum visit.

Start by picking just a few artworks that you want to look at. Often the museum can be quite overwhelming at first, with sculptures, paintings and canvases scattered throughout. So pick a few pieces that catch your eye—or just look at the ones in front.

Once you’ve picked a few pieces, I suggest leaving your phone behind. While photos are great for preserving memories, if you look at the art first, you might be able to recall details that a mere photo can’t even capture.

When looking at the art, focus on the colors, tone, style, subject, and size. Also, ask yourself what message the artist is trying to convey. But remember that art can have multiple messages; In fact, some artists even leave the message up to the viewer’s interpretation. Therefore, use what catches your eye to create messages that you believe art is trying to convey.

But how exactly should you focus on all of these artistic components? For color, note the use of light and muted tones and the color palette. You don’t need to know much about color theory to see its effect on artwork; for lack of better words, just see the colors speak to you.

Divide the artwork into sections and see how each section’s color palette complements the other. Asking yourself whether the colors are warm (red, orange, and yellow), cool (blue, green, and purple), or neutral (brown, white, black, and gray) can help set the overall tone of the art.

The style may not be the most obvious to viewers. Each painting can be assigned to a specific period of art history, which determines the artistic style. Some may be realistic, baroque, abstract, avant-garde, or something else entirely.

This leads to a step that requires a bit more effort: do some outside research before you visit. If you really want to understand the works as well as possible, doing a little background research on a specific piece, or even just art in general, before heading to the museum can give you an edge.

I personally recommend researching art history as it can help determine the style as well as the different colors and techniques used in each time period. In other words, knowledge of the various art movements throughout history can help you orient yourself in terms of the details of the piece.

Finally, always keep an open mind. Art is undeniably diverse: some pieces can be crowded and complex, while others can be simple and minimalist. Regardless of what the art is like, be open to all types – you might even find a new favorite work.

Aside from these steps, my best advice for truly appreciating a work of art is to look at it in a way that does the artist justice. Artists invest so much time and effort into their works that it is important to fully grasp their intended meaning. Combining the steps outlined above with this respect for the artistic intent is one of the best ways to express your appreciation for the artwork.

Written by: Sarah Han — arts[email protected]

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