Making the most out of your art exhibition visit
By Kiara Ventura
I know what you are thinking. You just set your eyeballs on the work of art and voila, you have looked at art. This article is not about the simple act of putting your eyes on a work of art but rather about how you can make the best out of your experience with a piece and take in some understanding of what the artist was trying to convey (whether it be an image and/or an idea). My goal is to try to make you spend at least 5 minutes in front of a work of art rather than a few seconds.
Keep in mind...
Firstly, let me just put this out there; I believe that we will never fully understand a work of art. A work of art will never be fully understood unless you were the one who created it yourself. Each work of art was made by a certain person, in a certain place in the world, in a certain culture, and in a certain time period. Therefore, we as art observers will never know every thought and intention that was going through the mind of an artist when they created their work. There are many artworks from ancient worlds that are not fully understood simply because we can only get glimpses of what their societies were like through the literature and/or artifacts they have left behind. We will never know why an artist chose to give his canvas a rough spiky texture rather than a smooth flat texture or choose crayon as his medium rather than acrylic paint, etc. We can only be certain of the artist's choices and views only if they revealed their exact thought process behind their work.
Tip: When you are looking at a piece you should not comment, “The artist felt happy because...” or “The artist chose this color because...” Instead, keep an open mind and try saying, “The artist may have felt happy...” or “Maybe the artist chose this color because…” Keep an open mind when trying to understand art. When your interpretation comes out as a fact, you are more likely to not think about other possible interpretations. Remember that you are not in the artist`s shoes. But also remember that most artists produce art for others to see and interpret on their own.
How to look at art:
1. You walk into a exhibition. In front of you stands a wall with the title of the exhibition and under it are paragraphs of information that are as long as the Great Wall of China. I know what you are thinking. You're planning to read the first paragraph and rush right into the exhibition. Slow your roll there buddy! Read the wall text! It is there for a reason. Wall texts are meant to serve as a foundation for your thinking process while observing the works.
Tip: If you are one of those people who have a habit of rushing right into the exhibition, try visiting the exhibition website before your visit (usually the exact intro wall text is posted on the site) and read up on the exhibition.
2. Hopefully by now you have read the introduction and you are walking into the exhibition. There is usually a work that stands in the front and center, and that is meant to be the first work you see. Do not just spend three seconds looking at it and pass by, because these are usually the gems of the show. Curators carefully pick which work or works they place at the opening of the show to attract visitors inside. Usually the first work visitors see are meant to represent and connect to the other works following it. So while viewing this piece ask yourself, “Why did the curator chose to place this piece here?” You can bring up this question with the following pieces too.
3.You’re walking. You’re walking. Now, you are getting to the meat of the show. It is time to spend some one on one time with each work of art in the exhibition. Even if a work is initially confusing or uncomfortable to look at, give it a chance. If you skip it, you might be a missing a cool new learning experience.
4. You are in front of a work and you do not know what to think or look for. You may have the urge to look at its label information but lets not read about the work just yet. While your eyes are set on the piece, try to answer all the questions you have in mind. To start off, simply identify what you see in the art work. Bring up the basic 5Ws: Who created the work? What is the work made out of? Where was it made? How was it made? You can create more questions based on its features such as color, shade, pattern, symmetry, texture, style, and more. Try to identify the work`s foreground, middle ground, and background. Ask yourself if the work has a sense of flow or movement. My personal favorite question to ask is what feeling am I sensing as I am viewing this work? Or what mood do I think the artist was trying to convey?
Tip: If you are with friends, take some time to ponder on your own and have a discussion. If you have a question you did not answer yourself, ask your friend(s). See if you can find evidence in the work to support a potential answer. Remember that art is a very open field, do not be afraid to get imaginative and say what you think. Have fun while you explore your thoughts and the exhibition.
5. Go ahead and look at the work`s label! See if your thoughts were somewhat correct. If not, try to revise your thoughts and connect them to what you just found out. Some labels provide more information than others, so not all of your questions will be answered. But this is okay, the art world revolves around unanswered questions.
6. Try this questioning process with works of art throughout the whole exhibition. You can even have a curatorial approach to your questions by asking yourself why you think the curator choose to group certain works together? Why is the space set up in this way? How does the lighting of the exhibition affect the mood of the space? Did the curator do a good job in providing enough information and guiding the visitors through the show?
7. You have finally reached the end and maybe all the thoughts you gathered made you have a new outlook on life. Connect every piece of information you gained and try to come up with an overall theme or message of the show. One main purpose of art is to communicate. So ask yourself, “What message did this exhibition communicate to me?”
Viewing art in this manner is a process that I learned through time while visiting art galleries. There is no “right” way in understanding art but I do find this way to be effective. If you agree, feel free to share your experience by commenting below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.