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5 Ways to Appreciate Visual Art

Updated on March 9, 2015

Appreciating visual arts can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve had an encounter or two with college professors or others who insist there are only certain stories and themes to be found in a work of art. The sheer hubris of insisting there is only one way to see artwork can be off-putting and can leave us wondering why it is we don’t “get” the artist’s intention behind a specific piece of work. Maybe your encounters with the professionals have left you with an aversion for art in general.

Never fear: if you keep these options in mind, you might discover that you can, in fact, develop an appreciation for the visual arts regardless of whether they were created by the masters from days of old or by modern day artists.

Death Comes to the Banquet Table by Giovanni Martinelli
Death Comes to the Banquet Table by Giovanni Martinelli | Source

1, Ask yourself what you see in the work of art

Appreciating art is, many times, a solo endeavor and will create a specific emotional reaction for the viewer. This is exactly what a piece of art is supposed to do, and it will vary wildly from person to person. What the artist’s intention was when creating the work of art is irrelevant because your view of it is inherently personal. Everyone comes with a different background and way of looking at the world, and your personal viewpoint will color how and what you see in a painting or sculpture.

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt
The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt | Source

2. Study the history behind the piece of work

Sometimes studying the history of how and why a work of art was created can give you a better overall impression of a particular piece of work, especially if you haven’t developed an initial emotional reaction to it. The stories behind the work can be just as interesting, if not more so, than the actual work itself.

Vincent Van Gogh, self portrait, painted winter 1887-1888
Vincent Van Gogh, self portrait, painted winter 1887-1888 | Source

3. Explore information about the artist and his or her life

Like studying the story behind the piece of work, examining the life of the artist who created a work can give you a different perspective on the work itself. That doesn’t mean you have to see the themes the artist put in, but it can jumpstart your own thought processes about the work and what you get out of it.

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4. Learn about different art methods and techniques

Familiarizing yourself with the different methods and techniques of how paintings or sculptures are created can be fascinating. And knowing how long it sometimes took to create a masterpiece can be awe-inspiring. Did you know it took Michelangelo about 4 years to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling? Can you imagine working on one piece of work for that long? It’s an amazing thought given that our society has morphed into one of instant gratification.

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5. Take a course in art appreciation

Taking an art appreciation course can help quell any insecurities when it comes to appreciating art because it can give you a good basis to start from. By getting your feet wet, so to speak, in the world of art, you can learn to trust your own judgment when it comes to looking at art from your own perspective.

Even though learning to appreciate visual arts can be intimidating, especially if you don’t have a background in art, there are things you can do in order to facilitate the process of learning to enjoy them. It doesn’t take any special skills beyond what you already possess, just a willingness to make the effort. So, jump right in, pick a painting or sculpture and tell the world what you see.

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    • kjpiercetrc profile image
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      K.J. Pierce 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Thanks, G. :-)

    • G Clinton Styles profile image

      G Clinton Styles 3 years ago from West Melbourne, Fl.

      Good article. Very informative.