We all know we should appreciate the great works of art, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Art doesn’t have to be difficult or esoteric; a few simple mental exercises can easily increase understanding an appreciation of any work.
The best way to begin is simply to talk yourself through the piece. What do you see? What grabs your attention? If the work tells a story, what is the story?
Squint at it (or, if you wear glasses, take them off.) It sounds silly, but looking at a work of art when it seems blurry is a good way to see large areas of light, shadow, and color. You may notice things you didn’t see before. Pay special attention to how the light and dark areas of a work are composed.
Think about the emotion of the piece, and how it connects to the subject. Does the emotion of the subject match the piece, or are the two at odds? Is the artist using the emotion to comment on the subject of the painting? For instance, weddings are generally regarded as a happy occasion, but if an artist created a painting of a wedding that made you feel sad, he or she might be expressing an opinion about the marriage, or the people who are getting married.
Change your perspective. Get up close to the piece. Stand far back from it. For sculptures and other three-dimensional art, move around it and look at it from all angles.
If there are people in the painting, are they relating or reacting to each other in any way? What does this tell you about the story of the piece?
Sit with it awhile. Many museums and galleries offer seating in their exhibits; sit in front of a piece that catches your attention for at least 20 minutes. Keep your eye on the piece, and go through the steps mentioned above. One of the best ways to learn to appreciate art is to just be still for a while and experience it.
Do your research. Take note of which pieces and artists you like, and research them online or at your public library. Many museums offer guided tours or audio tours that have great information.
Don’t stress about it. While it’s good to appreciate all kinds of art, there’s nothing wrong with simply liking what you like. Don’t spend so much time fretting about understanding a piece you don’t care for that you miss out on enjoying pieces you do enjoy.
I hope you’re having a great day – let me know if you need anything.