The Platform for Emerging Artists

How to View Art Like an Expert

20 Jun 2021 | 0 Comments

When it comes to knowing how to view art, it can feel like there are an intimidating number of things to consider...


Experts spend years building up their knowledge to relate this artist to that one and make value judgements about this painting over the other... So how are we supposed to have the faintest idea where to even begin?


“Should I look at the little description at the side? Should I know what it’s all about? Am I supposed to feel like this? Am I even supposed to like it? Why is this even here? It’s all rubbish!”


We’ve all been there – trust us.


Sometimes, though, the best thing to do is get right back to basics.


Ignore everything else.


Forget what others are saying about it, what has been written about it, and even ignore the context in which you’re looking at it – whether you’re in a museum, gallery, online, or anywhere else.


Just stand in front of the artwork and go through these 7 simple questions to begin to really unpack it.


Soon enough, you’ll be starting to look at and analyse art like a pro!


1. What Are Your First Impressions?


So, you’re stood in front of the picture hanging on the wall. 99% of the time, you’ll have an immediate reaction of either, “Yes... this is for me!” or “Meh – what’s next?”.


You probably won’t know why you feel that way – at least not yet... that’s what the rest of the questions are for. But remember how you felt when you first looked at it because that will form an important part of how you should go on to think about it.


2. What Can You See - Literally?


Your gut reaction will most likely be in large part because of what is most obviously visible in the artwork.


Maybe you simply like the colour red, or maybe you can see a portrait and there’s something interesting about how this particular guy or gal looks.


Scan whatever’s before you and see how many things you can immediately pick out. What colours are there? Can you tell what materials have been used? Who or what is displayed?


You don’t have to think too deeply but do your best to absorb as much of the artwork as you can.


3. Where Do Your Eyes Settle?


At this stage, you’ll probably find that your eyes have settled on a certain element.


In a small artwork, it might be a very particular detail – or even just an area of colour that you find particularly mesmerising.


Meanwhile, in a larger piece, you might find your eye keeps drifting back to a certain section where there are some especially interesting things happening.


It doesn’t matter if it’s abstract or figurative... or even somewhere in between! Clocking that moment when your eyes return over and over again to a certain spot is a good indication of what may or may not be doing it for you with this given artwork.


4. Does It Remind You of Anything?


The reason your eyes will find a point to focus on is because you probably have some sort of subconscious connection that your brain is trying to make.


If there’s a character in a big historical Renaissance painting, who you can’t take your eyes off – it might be because the emotions on their face remind you of something you yourself have felt.


Or if you’re attracted to a particular area of colour, it might be because the mood that colour evokes in your mind reminds you of a time and place which holds significance to you for one reason or another.


You can even start to think about whether it reminds you of other artworks you’ve seen before.


If it does, maybe it’s like something you’ve seen elsewhere that you really liked... or vice versa! If you can start to make connections between different artworks, artists and even periods of art – then you know you’re really starting heading towards that expert level!


5. How Does it Make You Feel?


At the end of the day, though, one of the most important questions is, how does this make me feel?


It really doesn’t have to anything profound. You don’t have to look at the Sistine Chapel ceiling and feel the presence of God shoot a beam of light into your heart and immediately burst into a chorus of ‘Hallelujah’.


It can genuinely be as straight-forward as, ‘that makes me feel happy’.


Sometimes, you might feel pretty negative when looking at an artwork too.


But that’s not always a bad thing. In fact, some art will make you feel pretty darn repulsed... and that’s kind of the point!  


6. Do You Like It?


At this point, you’ve probably spent enough time looking at the piece and thinking about it to come to a solid conclusion as to whether or not this is something that really does float your boat or not.


Think back to your immediate response and see if your opinion has changed.


You’ll sometimes find that an artwork which at first seemed dull and boring can actually be filled with loads of little details that have actually made you think quite deeply about stuff.


You don’t have to necessarily think, ‘Ah Yes, I’d love to have this hanging above the sofa in the lounge’. Because, after all, it’s possible to like an artwork conceptually – even if you don’t really like how it looks.


And remember, you might like something that someone else doesn’t – and that’s totally fine! Just like with music, we all have our personal favourites... but sometimes what you’re into isn’t exactly going to light up the room when you stick it on at the end of a party.

7. Why Do You Like It (Or not)?


Finally, think back through the series of questions above and unpick why you’ve come to the conclusions you have about the artwork.


You’ll start to see patterns about why you dislike certain types of art, and why you love some others.


At this stage, you’ll probably start to uncover some more of the meaning in whatever piece you’re looking at.


As you assess all these different questions again, you’ll be able to think about what the artist is trying to get you to think about.


Is there a story being told? Is there a feeling they’re trying to make you experience? Is there a question they’re trying to make you mull over?


The more questions you ask yourself about the artwork, the more you’ll feel like you’re able to make a judgement on it.


Whether it’s good or bad, whether you like it or not – so long as you can justify why you think that then you’re definitely operating at 'expert level'.


You can then begin to add in the more complex layers of meaning and interpretation, such as where am I seeing this? And what does this mean in relation to the rest of this artist’s work, or the exhibition that I’m seeing it in?


Don’t let these sorts of questions bog you down, though. If you like something, you like it – so enjoy it!


And if not, move on... there’s always plenty more art out there that you will enjoy.