Part I: The Elements of ArtIf you are someone who approaches art museums or galleries with some trepidation, not because of your fear of echoing hallways and rough security guards, but rather because of your fear of not knowing what's going on and not being able to keep up with artsy-fartsy people who know about art, then fear no more! I shall rescue you from social discomfort in this small way and impart on you some simple ways to approach and not be intimidated by visual art.
Here are my qualifications: I have my bachelor's degree in History of Art and Visual Culture (we call it HAVC at UCSC), and my master's degree in Art Administration and Museum Studies. I've worked in Science and Art Museums for about 5 years, always in education or programming departments. I'm also currently an art teacher for Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade at a private school.
There are many theories of art - the branch of philosophy that deals with art primarily is aesthetics. You can research this as easily as you can go to wiki to look up Snooki's baby's due date. But if you're really in a bind or just don't want to read articles on aesthetics and art theories, here is a quick and dirty guide for approaching art on the most basic level. This approach is based on Formalism, a philosophy that basically says there is nothing more to anything than what it is made of or what you can observe. Of course, many people will disagree with that statement on a general level, but approaching art on its formal qualities can help create access to something that is really obtuse or alien... like this:
|Sketch for Composition VII, Wassily Kandinsky (1913)|
|This adorable guy will help you understand art!|
- Value - the brightness or darkness (as in light) of something
- Color - you know: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet
- Space - often, consider how much room is around something in a painting, or how large something looks
- Line - as in: horizontal, vertical, diagonal, zigzag, wavy, curvy, dotted, etc. also try to see invisible lines, lines that are made up by different things put next to each other
- Texture - how something looks like it might feel or actually does feel (although most museums WILL NOT allow you to touch art, and I'm on their side on this one)
- Form - 3D shapes like cubes, cylinders, blocks, etc. Things that look like you could reach out and hold them (even if you can't because it's a painting)
- Shape - 2D, squares, stars, triangles, circles, etc. They are flat and don't look like you can pick them up.
- Are there areas of the painting that are lighter or darker than others?
- What colors are used (or is there color at all)?
- Is the person or fruit or building, whatever, very big in the painting, or is it surrounded by a lot of empty space?
- What kinds of lines are used (zigzaggy, curvy, lines that look like teeth or the horizon on a calm beach day)?
- How does one spot look like it might feel if you could touch it?
- Does it seem like you could pick up an item in the image, or is it all just flat?
|Portrait of Mona Lisa (La Gioconda), Leonardo da Vinci (1503-1506)|