How to Look at Art:

A friend recently loaned me an excellent book on teaching art appreciation: Getting It: A guide to understanding and appreciating art by Becky Hendrick. Below is a simple outline of the book’s main points.


Art Appreciation=Life Appreciation

2 Requirements for Appreciating Art:

1. Look at it objectively without prejudice

2. Know enough information about its relationship to history and culture

Fine Art: 

-Not created for external demands (like graphic design or advertisements, it’s internally motivated)

-Non-verbal language, looking at art is like hearing a foreign language for the first time

-Content rather than subject matter (not an one sentence “answer”)

-“That’s terrible” really means “I don’t like it” Learn to be aware of personal preference

-If you bring the wrong set of expectations to a work of art you won’t be able to “get it”

-Most people spend an average of 10 seconds looking at a work of art

How to Look at Art:

-Describe it objectively without interpretation (a skill that needs to be practiced)

-Make subjective connections (this makes me think of_______)

-Analyze the content of the work

-Interpret and judge

Visual Vocabulary:

-Artists communicate in a different language they learn through making art

-Line, shape, space, value, color, texture, etc.

-Artists make a series of decisions based on their knowledge of their visual vocabulary


-If it’s in a book or on a screen it’s not actually the work of art

-Pictures can’t communicate scale or subtleties

“Art may not ‘mean’ anything in the literal sense, but like the atmosphere preceding a storm, it puts us into a frame of mind for pondering the timeless questions of existences and meaning.”


Filed under Art, Book Reviews

2 responses to “How to Look at Art:

  1. Looking at art could help to understand words associated with that art. Interestingly, textual allusions seem to be less controversial than pictorial allusions. Look an Henry Holiday’s illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark”: The guessing what Carroll’s “nonsense” poem could mean goes on since around 140 years. But only few look carefully at the illustrations:

    Regards from Munich

  2. That’s true. It seems easier to quickly glance at a picture and feel that we “get it” and then move on. It’s interesting to me that the more representational the art the harder I have to work to concentrate on contemplation.

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