What are you looking at?

Have you ever found yourself inside of a museum staring at a painting and had the feeling that you’re just not getting it? Questions like, “What exactly am I looking at?” scroll through your mind while hoping nobody around you notices the slightly confused expression plastered on your face. Sorry to break it to you, but they noticed and chances are they’re just as confused as you.

For many, art can be intimidating and even difficult to understand especially when research has shown that the average person only spends about 8 seconds looking at a piece of art before moving on to the next. It would be impossible to fully digest the meaning and intent behind an artists’ work in such a short amount of time so it’s no surprise that most don’t even attempt.

But what if you could view art like an expert without being an art scholar? What if you had a basic guide on how to look at art and be able walk away with a deeper understanding and richer experience?

Well, you’re in luck because this is exactly that! A simple list of tips to use the next time you find yourself strolling The Broad in Downtown Los Angeles or spending a couple of hours at the recently opened Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) in Costa Mesa. Enjoying art shouldn’t be complicated. You won’t like everything you see which is totally fine, but you’re sure to enjoy the experience more with these 8 simple tips:

1. Identify the basics

When it comes to viewing art, knowing what to look for will help you engage more with the work and the artist. When you first encounter art, it will help to determine some basic information such as its medium, what type of paint is being used whether oil, acrylic, watercolor, etc.

There are many genres of art so try to identify if it falls into Surrealism, Abstract, Pop Art, Impressionism, Renaissance and the list goes on. This can help you build a foundation and a better understanding.

2. Spend a little bit more time with the art

Taking just an extra couple of mins to sit with a piece of art will make a big difference. Some of the most intriguing work requires a little bit more time to be fully appreciated and understood. Look for details!

3. Be mindful of your eye movements

Artists use techniques meant to draw your eyes to where they want them to go. Paying attention to how your vision moves around the artwork will heighten your experience and bring out details you wouldn’t be able to see at a glance.

4. How does it make you feel?

When viewing art, take a moment to recognize your feelings. Does it evoke sadness, anger, happiness, or curiosity? After identifying your feelings the next step would be to ask what about the work makes you feel these things?

5. An open mind is key

When you walk into an art museum, try not to have any preconceived notions about what you’re about to see. Some artworks may surprise you, while others might not tickle your fancy. And you know what? That’s OK. An open mind is all you need.

6. Really look at the art

Get up close and personal. Look at the texture and feel of its surface. Are the brushstrokes unique? Try taking a few steps back to observe what’s happening in the big picture. What’s going on in the artwork? Also, take a look at it from multiple angles. Sometimes you’ll catch something you might not have seen straight on.

7. Try to Figure out the meaning

Determine if the artist is using a specific theme or meaning, or is the artwork conveying a more abstract message. What is the artist trying to communicate? Is it an elaborate idea or simple fun?

8. Choose the right museum

Picking a museum that feels relevant to your interest is a sure way to boost your chances of finding art you connect with. If you’re drawn to a certain style, try researching museums that focus on that particular genre to increase the likelihood of enjoying your visit.

Now that you have these 8 simple tips, It’s worth giving them a try the next time you’re thinking about visiting the museum.

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