THREE SIMPLE STEPS TO UNDERSTANDING ART
Updated: Aug 12
This is an article “Three Simple Steps to Understanding Art” by Marc Primo Warren
No matter how you think you’re artistically challenged and can’t interpret art the way you’re supposed to, there’s always that innate sense of viewing and understanding what we see in artworks. You might have come across some forms of art which you have found to be confusing, or simply can’t really tell why they are considered artistic, but understanding art simply comprises three easy steps that anyone can accomplish.
What do you need? A good pair of eyes are essential and that doesn’t even mean having a heightened attention to detail, although having a little of that at least is necessary. As long as you can see you’re all set. You also need to have a clear and open mind to break down and take in what you see and process how you feel about the piece. That’s easy because you’re only going to have to draw from what you already know and don’t have to worry about other people’s thoughts.
Ready for the step-by-step? Follow these three tips and you’ll soon discover the beauty and profoundness of art in no time.
The first thing you should do is use your eyes and describe what is in front of you. What details do you see? Take your time to appreciate the effort that went behind every stroke of a painting or element on a design and really look at it. The most important questions that should go to your mind are what medium is it on (e.g. photograph, painting, industrial art), and the materials used for it. How does it make you feel? Is it neat or crude? These visual elements can give you a sense of empathy for the artists that created them, letting you in on his thoughts as he executed his piece and give you a glimpse of his style, approach and technique. From there you’ll be able to get a good grasp of what the artwork means and the message it intends to convey.
Give them meaning
After having a good look at the artwork, try detecting some symbols that the artist deliberately incorporated in his work so you can get its meaning. “Iconography”, a term coined by German-Jewish art historian Erwin Panofsky, is part of the arts wherein symbols and visual cues are integrated into the piece and subject to the audience’s interpretation. This works well for surrealist artworks and abstract paintings as symbols and subliminal elements produce meaning and messaging. Once you’ve mastered this step, you are now ready to take the next which will give you the overall meaning of an artwork and you can truly appreciate it without flaw.
Summarize and interpret
Taking what you have observed from the first two steps, the last one entails a more profound interpretation of what you are seeing. This involves an internal examination of your thoughts and feelings so that you can come up with a summary of what the art is all about. The main key in this step is always the context. Part of this is knowing the artist’s background, the title of the piece and even the year it was created. Having all this information plus the details of the artwork itself will enable you to interpret its message by breaking down everything you know and connecting the dots that paint the real picture behind the artwork. Consult your pop culture knowledge, conversations about the art piece, and even the latest trends during the year the artwork was created and you’ll soon find yourself making sense of the art in front of you.