If art does not provide for you the same kind of powerful emotional experience as a movie or a novel, then check out these tips! And even if it does, you will find much to help you love art more than you thought possible.
Use these tips the next time you go to a museum or gallery, or better yet, use them right now to create for yourself an art experience that will make you fall in love with art!
1. Look at Art Like You Would a Movie
Art depicts scenes that are like a moment in a movie that has been paused. So, like in a movie, an artwork has a story and characters. Whether it’s a portrait, a landscape, a still life, a dramatic moment, imagine the scene in the artwork as being part of a wider story, because it is! That means, you should experience it like a movie and not a history lesson. Hold off on the art historical details, artist's biography, or discussion of the technique until after you've "watched the movie."
2. Create Your Own Title; Ignore the Original
We all want to know what the title of an artwork is. But when you’re looking at an artwork for the first time, avoid the title. Titles often give away the “story” of an artwork, and could spoil the ending for you. Come up with your own instead.
This is especially helpful when you’re looking over a plethora of pieces, like so many movie posters, deciding what you want to "watch." Quickly describe what you see in a couple of words, for example, “Lonely Knight” “Stolen Kiss,” “Mass Hysteria,” " The titles don’t need to be anything eloquent, just whatever words come to mind when you look at the scene and characters. They give you a kind of preview of the scene.
3. Be Selective
There are thousands of great artworks and so little time. Whether you are in a museum or scrolling online, you can’t view everything. So be selective. Pick out artworks to focus on that “speak to you,” that intrigue you, that you want to experience. Try this selection! Which one(s) would you go for?
4. Look with Words, Not Just Eyes!
From one of my favorite plays: "Language is to the mind more than light is to the eyes." The more you can describe, the more you can “see” what’s happening in the story! Describe, describe, describe. No matter how small the detail is, it plays a role in the story. It's also important that the "reading" process be your own. Don’t let a description on a plaque summarize the story for you--that’s like reading the Cliffsnotes version. "Read" the artwork for yourself to fully experience it, don't just merely look at it.
5. Quote Bubbles
The characters you are seeing are part of a story, so they have thoughts and desires about what's happening around them. Push the "un-mute" button on your remote and have them express those thoughts! Imagine what they could plausibly say based on what you’ve “read” about them. Bring the characters to life by having them speak!
6. “Listen,” “Smell,” “Touch”
No, this doesn’t mean to go put your ear up to the marble or take a whiff of the paint! Rather, imagine those sensations that you "see" in the artwork. What do those roses smell like? Do you “hear” the rustle of leaves in the trees? How does that sun feel on your skin? Oh, did I forget taste? :-) Describe the scene with your senses while you "read" the artwork.
Take out your remote control and remember that an artwork is like a movie on "pause." That means there was action before the moment depicted, and there’ll be action afterwards. Look for clues in the painting to suggest both, and animate the scene! Art may look static… it doesn’t have to stay static!
9. Google the Real Title
The story is sometimes incomplete without some helpful back-story. Like hearing a narrator introduce a little bit of the history in a costume-drama you’re watching, so use the power of Google to look up pertinent info to help you see what’s happening in the story, to understand the character in the portrait, or learn more about the setting of the landscape. The artworks real title is a good place to start!
10. Make the moment personal! This is the key to falling in love with art. Experiencing the story and reality in an artwork is an important part of the experience, but it is crucial to make the moment depicted connect to your life--to have the image you're experiencing reflect your self, your life, your values. One of the important techniques is to make the personal connection happen is to empathize with the characters' situation. Empathy is essential to understanding other people, and it is essential to loving art.
Bonus: Art with Friends Describing an artwork with someone else is so much fun! You all notice different details, you all come up with interesting formulations. You share the touching personal moments that you connect to the scene. The visual arts are a wonderful social activity.