You were probably told in high school that there is a particular way to look at art: you were probably told that paintings lead the eye with careful use of geometric shapes. You were probably told to look for complimentary colors, and the use of lighting to create drama. If you took art classes in college, you were probably told that most paintings are really vehicles for sexual innuendo, and your professors probably talked about how art helps people find a voice and expel their personal demons.
Your teachers lied. You don’t need to look at a painting as though it’s a problem that needs to be solved; and you don’t have to look at art to make yourself or the world better. You can look at art this way, and for these reasons, but those aren’t the rules.
Here is the best way to look at art: look at it. Look at it the way you look at a blossoming dog wood tree, or two people arguing at a gas station.
And here is the best reason to look at art: it is interesting to look at things.
You don’t have to be a part of a special club to enjoy a painting, and you don’t need to have some advanced degree. It makes me sad that most people are embarrassed to talk about art. You wouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about a movie, would you? Talking about movies is half the fun of going to see them. The same is true for art.
Here’s one of my favorite paintings:
It’s called “Still Life With Fish” and it’s by Edouard Manet, and it was painted in 1864. I like it because I like how the Manet’s brush strokes are thick and full of gestures; look at the fin on the fish’s side. It looks like a solid fin, but really it’s just a series of quick strokes: gray line, darker gray line, yellow-gray line. I say “full of gestures” because I can imagine Manet making those lines with a flick of his hand. That makes the painting seem full of personality to me, as though Manet left his thumb print in the paint.
On this blog I’m going to post pictures of works of art, and I’ll talk about them with you as though we were standing together in a museum. Art is special because somebody made it – it didn’t just happen, like mountains, or trees. It was created by a person especially so somebody would look at it and think about it and talk about it.
I don’t have a degree in art history. I don’t work in a museum. I’m twenty-one years old, and really my only claims to authority are that my dad’s an artist, and that I’ve spent a lot of time looking at paintings and talking about them. Looking at art is one of the chief pleasures of my life. I hope I can help you enjoy it as well.