Driven by my art-inspired soul, find below a list of things, I personally think are essential when looking at art. Apart from stating some undoubtable art-historical principles, I have mixed in a few personal favorites.
- When, What, Who, How. First things first – read the label. This most banal thing most of us overlook and just don’t read it. These details are the most important, as they situate a work of art into a specific time period, already creating a sense of what it might relate to, look similar to, explain or even criticize. When – DATE, What – TITLE, Who – ARTIST, How – MEDIUM.
- Subject Matter. What is the work of art about? Is it a portrait? A battle scene? An abstract piece? An icon?
- Composition. How do parts of the piece relate to each other? Is there a perspective?
- Color. One of the most important way to feel the work of art. What artist felt, what the traditions were, what paint was available, what compliments one color and another. Is there chiaroscuro?*
- Shapes. Are the shapes rounded, triangular, squared, rectangular etc? Symmetric or asymmetric? Regular or irregular? Fat or thin? Concave (turned in) or convex (turned out)?
- Lines. Are the lines horizontal, vertical or tilted? Short or long? Straight or curved? Smooth or sharp?
- Size. What is the size of the work of art? Is it small or large? Though not always a fact, small objects could have been created for private use, private houses, whereas large ones, for public entertainment.
- Texture. Is it smooth or uneven? Is it a painting, sculpture, performance piece?
- Personal response. What do you THINK about it? What ATTRACTS you to the piece? What does it make you FEEL? Does it REMIND you of anything? (A place, person, memory, story or another work of art?)
- Talk. It is essential to speak about your thoughts and ideas with whoever is with you at a gallery, park, museum or theater. Getting cultured in your own company? Talk to people around you! Not only will you help them understand art better, but will also compare your impressions.
These are just a little of much more to consider while looking at art. Professionals in the field say that one should spend at least 15-20 minutes looking at one single work of art in order to get a truthful first impression of it. Even if you don’t have that time on your hands (and let’s be real, not many of us do), try singling out just a few works of art that catch your eye instantaneously and go look at them. Trust me, it is worth it. After all, you may always use this knowledge later on.
*Chiaroscuro – (from Italian “chiaro” – light, “scuro” – dark) an art historical term, meaning the strong contrast between light and dark, usually affecting the whole composition.