Interpreting Artwork for Gallery Newbies
The world of galleries and museums can often seem very daunting. A person inexperienced in the art world may struggle to grasp what galleries are trying to convey. In light of the Summer of Literature’s August theme of ‘The Arts’, this article sets out to make artwork decodable to the inexperienced eye, helping us all to appreciate artwork a little better.
State the Obvious: What’s there and what’s not?
Establish what images you can make out in the painting. While this may be harder for more abstract pieces; think creatively and try to decipher even simple shapes that you can see in the image. Look at the title, and see how you could relate it to the overall image. Also, take into account colour and how this affects the overall mood of the image.
It’s also important to notice what’s not present in an image, consider the use of blank space or the exclusion of certain elements in the painting, analysing why the artist may have made this choice.
Methods and Materials
Look at how detailed the piece is, is it hyper-realistic? Try to think about what steps the artist took to achieve the overall effect. See how these techniques impact the overall effect of the image. For example, if the artist has used blended oil paints, perhaps the painting has a more dreamy, ethereal quality to it, while if an artist has taken a more precise approach, it might have a sterner more industrial impact.
Do you like it?
Your opinion as the audience is the bread and butter of art criticism. If you are able to interpret the mood the artist is trying to evoke and identify with it, you can appreciate the artwork as holding value.
However, It is important to note that most artwork isn’t made for everyone. Different artists make work for different people, perhaps the genre is not geared towards your sensibilities and that’s okay. That’s why art hosts such variability of genres, as humans greatly differentiate on what they appreciate.
It’s okay if you ‘don’t like it, but it is important to keep an open mind and critically evaluate how another person could view a piece as meaningful art.
Why did the Artist Make It?
It is important to recognise that art is greatly impacted by historical contexts. You don’t have to know iconography and colour theory to appreciate art. Put yourself into the artists’ shoes and think about how they may have been experiencing the world when they produced this piece. An artist creating in revolutionary Russia versus a contemporary artist in modern-day London will have very different world views which will present themselves adversely to each other.
When approaching art, it’s easy to get lost in the seeming exclusivity of the art world. However, art is meant to be enjoyed and seen by the masses. Everyone’s opinions and interpretations are valid, and by applying a few critical thinking strategies even the most inexperienced gallery visitor can appreciate and evaluate art.
Written by Anna Craig, our Digital Development intern