Like a child! Open. Non-judgmental.
Then ask – does it please you? That’s an almost immediate thing. If it pleases you, you can probably say why.
Maybe the colors speed up your pulse. Maybe the shapes lure you in, make you want to melt into them, fondle them, wrestle with them.
Does it please you because there is symmetry or grace in it? Or because the artist was clearly skilled at her craft? Or because you see an immense amount of care devoted to it?
Or maybe the artwork makes you laugh, or exclaim “Whaaaat?”. Maybe it pleases you because it looks like nothing else you’ve ever seen and yet it somehow seems familiar.
Maybe it doesn’t please you but it intrigues you, makes you ask questions and hunt for answers. Maybe it provokes you; maybe you find it ugly or hideous even. Can you still find value in it? And if you can’t, can you see how others might? And if not, are you motivated to find out who the artist is and imagine why they made such a work?
If sometimes an artist’s work feels more like a middle school Social Studies presentation, what gives? If a work’s apparent intention feels strictly political or polemical do you ask yourself “But is this Art (with a capital A)?” Do you then wonder what the hell that even means?
These are all positive outcomes of looking at a work of art. Because what art is and what art was, morphs radically from one generation to the next. Ideals of beauty become hackneyed, stale, and must be demolished to create anew. The demolition can be liberating for the artist, healthy for the progress of the enterprise of art, but leave a viewer disconnected, or disinterested. Process versus product. Have you ever felt this way while contemplating a work of art?
What do you make of an artwork that is so tall or so sprawling or so impermanent or, whatever its size, only gains meaning as part of a whole?
Does that make you wonder about the difference between art that is meant to be owned by an individual and kept in their home, versus work that could only wind up in a collector’s collection? Do you then wonder why artists create work like that? Is that a marketing ploy? Like a famous fashion designer creating impossibly complex gowns that only the wealthiest can afford, while hoping to gain a following for their slightly less expensive garments?
Can you see art as commerce? Can you understand or have compassion for the life of an artist? A superbly successful one as well as one who doesn’t make a living with their work yet continues year after year to create it? How do you feel about well-financed artists who in effect subcontract to actual laborers to complete their work, often employing gifted art students? Can you look at the gallery and museum system and see how their choices impact how value is established, which has both positive and negative ramifications?
If you were to buy a work of art, what would impel you to do so? What kind of work would you like to live with for years? Have you ever thought of creating an artwork yourself? If not, why not? Fear of messing it up, of having nothing to say? Do you realize that this is what every artist encounters at some point in their career, and often every day?
Perhaps add all this into your thinking next time you confront a work of art…