Art is for everybody. Life imitates art and art imitates life- it is a curated vehicle of the artist’s vision and the human experience. Whether in a museum, concert, theatre, library or singing around a campfire- humans have always gathered to share in the observation of art. There is nothing more human than sharing art and sharing in the experience of observing it.
How to look at art- well, you’ll figure it out. There is no right or wrong way. In whichever way you observe it is exactly right, you are adding a new interpretation to the mix of infinitely possible ones. Art is a reflection of the artist, but we perceive it as a reflection of ourselves. Your unique perspective will form its own interpretation without you even having to try. The parts your drawn to, symbolisms you may find- the art is a mirror.
How to Observe Art
It doesn’t take an expert, connoisseur or historian to deeply appreciate it. Though it is not uncommon to sometimes feel as though you’re not fully grasping something in the deep methodic way others may. Especially with the somewhat pretentious culture that can form around fine art or various music/book/film fans, it can be easy to think you’re observing it “wrong”. I’ve definitely felt the absence of an “ah-ha!” moment and thought to myself- am I missing something? Is the deepness or intended essence being lost upon me?
Part of what fundamentally makes a piece of art a piece of art is the artists proclaimed aesthetic purpose for it. It is intended to be art. Anything above that- the intricate message, symbolism, why this colour was used and this lady looks so sad, the reason for the faint sample sound in the background, those are all extras to the experience! The level of which you delve into the artists intentions for the meaning of the artwork is entirely up to you and will alter your experience at every level.
I believe it is in our human nature to desire more information about the artist behind the art. We want to form a connection as humans, and we want to know the process behind a work- especially ones that we particularly enjoy. It can make it much more special and completely transform the experience you have while observing it.
If you attend an exhibit or listen to music knowing absolutely nothing about the artist- you are more likely to attach purely your own meaning to the art. It could actually teach you something about yourself and the way you think depending on what symbolisms you draw from it, or what specifically catches your attention. The lens you perceive through will determine the art you see. If you enter that same exhibit with a mild understanding of the artists past, you may be connecting the dots of symbolism along the way. Your interpretation will still be incredibly unique as it now involves the niche combination of things you happen to know about the artist, the art, and once again- the connection you draw from your own life.If the exhibit offers some sort of guidance to recognizing the symbolism within- perhaps there is a museum guide or written aids alongside the displays- your experience will also be swayed from that of a completely blind interpretation to that of a quite curated and intentional one.And of course, if you’ve studied an artist or a piece extensively, if you’ve watched endless interviews of your favourite musician, the experience you have with the art will be viscerally complex. You will be absorbing the art as an observer with your own unique attachments, while also interpreting the artist’s every detailed intention from their lives and experiences. If you take part in a community that also appreciates the art- a fandom or a book club for example- you will open yourself up to endless perspectives and connections that you may have never made yourself.
Separating the Art from the Artist
While on the topic of learning about the artist when consuming their art, and generally “how to look at art”, the infamously complex discussion of whether we should separate art from the artist comes to mind. Some people believe that if an artist has done something truly wrong, it is best to boycott their art as to show no further support towards them both generally or financially. Others believe it is possible to separate art from the artist and still enjoy a piece of art for what it is.
Naturally- we hold celebrities, artists, authors, and musicians on somewhat of a pedestal in our society. (Whether we should or not is a separate but dire conversation in itself), but it is due to the greater influence they have on the public. With this, their negative actions and ideals can be normalized if we as consumers do nothing to demonstrate our disapproval. I personally believe it’s possible to still appreciate the art for what it is while not supporting them as a person. But I also believe it is important to be considerate of where our attention and money goes as consumers. It is a fine line draw and borders a contradictory nature as I genuinely do see both sides of the argument.
Art can be separated from the artist, but whether it should or not is a discussion of morality and the seriousness of the issue at hand- it will vary on case-by-case basis.
We are All Artists
We all create in our lives and create our lives. And our internal catalogue of all of the art that has ever inspired us will unconsciously influence the way we live.
“We make art with our life. Motherhood is art. Friendship is Art. Sisterhood is Art. Marriage is Art. Acts of compassion or mercy are art. If we look closely, we can see art everywhere” (Renee Robinson, 2015).
Life imitates art, and one of the largest influences on a piece of art is ingrained in a deep appreciation or study of humanity, and a closer look at the world around us. Of our collective experiences, the beauty in the mundane, the inspiration in emotion, or mother nature. We crave relatability, and attach ourselves most to art that we can see ourselves or our experiences through.
We are all artists inspiring one another in valuable ways. And this inspiration can be found everywhere, if we look close enough. Some people channel his inspiration in the way that they live their lives. Others channel it into a creative outlet that produces art. But we all use it, one way or another.
I would like to wrap this up by sharing the artwork that inspired this topic and my favourite illustration- “How to Look at Art” by Lynda Barry.
Hello! I’m Chloe and i’m a third year Philosophy and English major. This is my first year writing for WEW. I love painting, writing, and watching my favourite shows. I’m very excited to be part of such an inspiring group!