“Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life, it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.” – Viktor Shklovsky
What takes place in your body and mind when you look at a painting once quickly? How about a second time when you slowly analyze the intricate details of the brushstrokes, the myriad of colours and juxtaposition of shapes?
The essence of art appreciation is – how does a work of art affect you?
The reality is that I encounter more people who, “don’t get art” than people who are enthralled with the emotional reward art provides. Furthermore, I have met many people who claim to appreciate art, yet spend more time reading about art than they do participating with art. However, when it comes to music I seldom find a lost soul who claims to not understand music or who has made a stance that music is not for them. Most people feel at ease to know that they prefer classical music over rap, or, jazz over pop, without researching its history or be told by a music scholar about the technicalities of music and its merit on society. Yet, why do most of us have a requirement to obtain information about art from someone else’s words in order to reach a level of fulfillment? What has made art so difficult to appreciate in the same way that the masses require music as a crutch for their soul?
Somehow I feel that information has clouded our ability as humans to experience emotion without it. If you attend a major exhibit at a museum you will notice a barrage of script, words, history and detail surrounding an artist, a body of work or a specific piece. Pay attention and see how people behave. The majority of patrons will glance at the selected work and head straight over to the information and read, trying to seize the meaning behind the art. In addition, I noticed lately that more people crowd around the video feed in exhibitions that have some “expert” provide their insight. The unfortunate part is that these patrons miss the purpose of art and perhaps missed the art entirely.
Art is comprehended with our eyes, mind and soul. Just as music is analyzed with our ears, body and heart. The fascinating part is that one does not find it necessary to read essays or blogs about a specific song or band to decipher whether that particular song or band is significant to them. Conversely, in a museum setting it is evident that the majority of guests seem to crave information about a work of art rather than involve themselves with art and take the time to let the art communicate on a personal level.
So, how do we appreciate art? Simple. Relax, enjoy and let the art communicate.
Just as a Led Zeppelin fan will spend over 7 minutes indulging in the sweet sounds and melodies of “Stairway to Heaven,” it is imperative that we must spend time with a work of art to let it soak into our soul and evoke internal emotion. In order to achieve a level of art appreciation where we feel a sense of fulfillment I ask you to visit a local museum or gallery this week. Find a work that grabs your attention, and, rather than look at it for 20 seconds and move on, take some time, I mean real time, say 10 – 20 minutes gazing upon the work. Take a moment to reflect on the specific piece. Try to reach a level of ignorance with yourself and the work.
As a great poet, Wallace Stevens put it, “You must become an ignorant man again/And see the sun again with an ignorant eye/And see it clearly in the idea of it.”
- What do I see?
- What does it look like?
- How do I feel?
- What does it make me think of?
- What color/shape stands out? What is it about that color/shape that I like?
- What state of mind does it put me in? Do I feel anxious, relaxed, confused, joyous, frustrated, dubious, flabbergasted or complete?
Take some time to allow your eyes and mind to decipher the visual information that is being fed. Sometimes the result will be instantaneous and poignant, other works may take an elapsed moment to soak in and grab a hold of your emotions.
This is why we must clear our minds, become a child again and allow the art to work its therapeutic magic.
You know you “got” it when you receive an experience or sensation. A work of art may raise you up, or keep you grounded. You may smile or be brought to tears. It may deliver a punch so strong that you feel sick to your stomach or release a euphoria that makes one feel invisible.
Reaching those sensations result with true appreciation of art. You don’t have to own art to reach this level of fulfillment, simply visit a local gallery or museum and let the art communicate its magic.
Art aficionado, Michael Findlay, puts it best, “Our interest in a work of art can be sparked by information and opinion from others, but total appreciation and enjoyment of it can only come when we concentrate on it in a relaxed but fundamentally attentive manner, surrender your prejudices, and trust your eyes!”
Paul Erik Becker
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