Monday, May 3, 2010

“My five year old could have done that!”

Art. It’s complicated. We all have our views on what is art and what’s not. And we all have our views about what’s good art and what’s not.

A lot of people don’t give art a chance, but here are some ways to give it a chance, to allow it to speak to us, some ways we can open our eyes and hearts and minds to all kinds of art.

Art can be simple, powerful, baffling, dumb, beautiful, complex, silly, funny, mystifying and serene. Just like the people around us.

And just like people – if we give art a chance we can gain a lot.

And just like people, we can’t help having an instant first impression – that’s ok. Don’t worry. That’s normal.

Go with that, and then use these three ways to give art a chance: Description, Analysis and Interpretation.

But first – here is one incredibly important handy hint that helps with understanding art ... Sneak up on it! – look at it sideways – surprise it from behind, if you can.

A surprised artwork will give up its secrets more easily than one that is approached head on with a swagger.


You’ve already snuck up on the art – it has shown you its face and you have had your first impression.

Take that first impression, give it a grin and pop it in your back pocket. Ask yourself some describing questions.

What do you see?

Has the artist used colour? What kind of colour? How many colours?

How has the medium been used? Roughly? Smoothly? Thoughtfully? Angrily?

Is the work textured? Hard? Soft? Does it make you want to touch it?

Are there lines? Shapes? Is it 2-dimensional? 3-dimensional?

Hold the answers to the description questions in the palm of your hand gently, lightly, as if you were holding a baby bird. Try not to drop them, you’ll need them later.

Next it’s time to do a bit of analysis. You’ll need to do a bit of fancy footwork while you’re asking these questions... step close to the art, shuffle away from it, nod your head knowingly, purse your lips.


Is your eye drawn to any particular area of the artwork?

Is there anything that stands out?

Is the composition balanced? Or unbalanced?

Does the work make you think of movement?

How does the artist show movement?

Is it flat or does it have a feeling of depth or space?

Where was the artist while the art was being made? Outside? In a studio? Stuck inside her head? Off his rocker?

You’ll be able to tell - the answers to these questions are more complex, they have demanded more of you, but they are certainly not the hardest questions you’ll have to ask this piece of art! That comes in the next section; interpretation....

But before you do that – stack the answers to your questions of analysis in a pyramid at your feet. They stand alone, and don’t need to feel your heartbeat.

So... Interpretation.

What kind of mood or feeling do you get from the painting?

If you could imagine yourself within the piece of art, how would you feel?

What sounds would you hear?

Why do you think the artist made this piece of art?

Does the title of the artwork give you any insight?

What part of the artwork do you think interested the artist most? Why?

Does the work have energy, wairua?

Does it resonate with you? Or repel you?

Is there a message in the art? Is it political?

Keep looking – stare even. Look through the art, meditate with it.

Take your time to come back to now. The answers to these questions are as light as feathers, and delicate – keep them out of the wind, keep them out of the rain.

Tuck them into your handbag, pick up the answers from the floor. Take the whole lot to the gallery cafe. Order a chai latte.

Lay your answers on the table – the descriptions, the analysis, the interpretation. Take your first impression out of your back pocket – put it on the table too.

With a studied pass of your hand, meld them together – contemplate, sip, mull.

That’s how you feel about this piece of art.

It’s become a friend. Perhaps...

Art. It’s complicated – but so are you, and in your complexity you have allowed this art to speak to you.

You have opened your eyes and heart and mind to art.

It’s unlikely your five year old could have done it.