- Arts and Design
Art Appreciation 101
Art comes in many forms
From the Deep Mists of Prehistory to Contemporary Expression
Art of all kinds surrounds us in all forms. In the modern world we are surrounded by art on all sides and in all forms. We are so inundated that most of it is taken for granted, but for the struggling artist, it is often the center of life itself. It has expressed itself in religious iconography, in calligraphy, weaving, sculpture, painting, sketching, drafting, printing, architecture and even on the human body itself. Art in all forms with the exception of photography, has been around for a long time. Photography in its own way coupled with the computer, has been also turned into art. And then there is film and video. But all art has elements that make some of it exceptional, that stands out from the rest. The use of these elements by the skilled practitioner makes masterpieces and these are found throughout history. Among these elements are spontaneity, gesture, perspective, symbolism, colour, form and a thorough going knowledge of the subject and rules involved. Art can be both decorative and functional. All these elements work in greater or lessor combination to make great art out of what is merely good or commonplace. It is the difference between craft and masterpiece. With training and practice, a person can become a good artist, but they must learn on their own to become great.
Art is more ancient than the current cycle of civilization and has served as a potent form of communication and helped to link humanity with the world around them and to one another. We see this in European cave paintings, which date to the Aurignacian period some 32,000 years ago . There is plenty of speculation as to the meaning of this surprisingly sophisticated art, but it probably represented the wishes of the cave painters for the success of the continued hunt. Much of the art is accurate depictions of animal life for the period of the art. Some of it is painted on natural curves in the rock to give the pictures a third dimension. Among the art are palm prints  placed there by some spray method to outline the hands of the artist. This might have symbolized the “hands on” desires for the continued success of the hunt. It might have also served as a creature comfort for the ancient hunters who called the caves home. Art as we know it can be very comforting in all of its manifestations. Art of one form or another is found the world over in all places where people have lived and continue to live.
No matter where we look, we find art by painting or in massive sculptures including impossible (to us) architecture. Archeological digs have uncovered mysteries that have driven much modern speculation. We marvel at the massive Egyptian architecture  that incorporates massive sculptures and obelisks. We are in awe of the delicate wall frescoes of the perished Minoan civilization . The golden age of Greece produced amazing sculpture and architecture [4a]. We scratch our heads even now, perplexed about the massive humanoid sculptures of Easter Island . In more recent times, we marvel at the architecture of the Gothic cathedrals, which were deliberately designed to create awe and inspire fear in the beholders and congregations. . The forms developed in all fields by the Muslim world are of great beauty and sophistication . The last several centuries has seen the flowering of European art and a plethora of styles from the pre-renaisance or Medieval , Renaissance , Expressionist , Impressionist  and the rise of modern art  styles. The modern era has seen the advent of surrealism [12a] and the abstract [12b].
All art attempts to captivate the viewer and engage them in the expression of the artist. To do this, the artist uses colour, design, gesture, form, perspective, light and shadow. All of this in various combinations is used by the artist throughout their practice to elicit a wide range of responses from the viewer and participant. Good art accomplishes this, but the aspiring artist is often ahead of his time and often is not acknowledged until after their death.
Except for sculptures, the artist uses colour  in order to draw in the viewer. A good use of a colour scheme can serve to inspire curiosity and pull a person into a painting where they become completely absorbed. You will know this feeling upon encountering a painting that causes you to study it for a long period of time. For most art today, it is more background to day to day life than something that engages. Today, the engaging art is in the form of video games, movies and video, especially those that use colour well in presenting a message from the artist to the viewer. Colours can range from monotone shades to bright and garish. A great artist seeks to balance colours so that a theme predominates but not at the cost of others. Basic colour theory tells us that various colours evoke responses in people that are unconscious or conscious. This has been used in psychology  as well in order to determine a persons state of mind. The psychologist attempts to make the unconscious conscious whereas the artist motivates a person through unconscious response to colours that the artist uses as their own expression.
Design is always a very important element in any artistic expression. It either works for or against the artist. The structure of the artists piece by way of design either makes a painting, a building or a sculpture work in drawing the interest and curiosity of the viewer or alienating them. Some artists will deliberately manipulate design to elicit a desired response. Design must seek a balance, but not in the obvious side to side or top to bottom rigid approach, nor dead center. It is up to the artist to define that in the creation of their masterpiece or opus magnum. For Michelangelo, the carving of the various monumental pieces such as David  have that balance, but in the context of gesture, a hard thing for artists to accomplish in something like stone or metal. Part of the success in achieving balance is to use the idea of asymmetry that exists in nature. This differentiates the merely technically good from the master work. The master work includes the principle of balance, asymmetry and gesture.
Gesture is best developed by the artist in the context of practising technique in the studies of nature in motion. Of all of this, static pictures of landscapes and architecture are the least challenging, though to make an effective landscape or building is no small challenge in itself. The really challenging gesture paintings and sculpture embody convincing motion in the piece as if it were a frozen moment in real time. For this we can look to battle scenes of Renaissance artists to see gesture in full action in the frozen moment. Again we can look to the master Michelangelo to capture these frozen moments of gesture and motion. This is found in his works of the Pieta and the the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel .
Form is also important to the artist, especially the painter, who must convince that viewer that he is making a three dimensional representation on a flat, two dimensional canvas. For this, the devices of shadow, light and dark and perspective are put to use. These have gone through an evolution, though some of the more ancient art has used curved surfaces to effect a three dimensional illusion. The practised artist and viewer can appreciate the use of light and shadow in combination with effective perspective to create a three dimensional image on a flat surface. No one can appreciate art in any form unless the stop to have a look. In a way, we are constantly surrounded by art, but in its commercialized form, which is geared to engage the viewer in such a way as to get them to purchase products being advertized. Today's art is also highly present in the video, gaming and movie industries where it is becoming increasingly pervasive. No matter what you appreciate in art, whether in a grand tour of the Louvre in Paris, or in an art gallery just about anywhere, or in the incessant bombardment of advertising, art appreciation can be beneficial in a number of ways.