(Reading time two minutes)
“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”. Have you ever heard yourself, or someone you know, say that? It’s a common statement made by many people when deciding what art they would like to purchase. They don’t need to read art books, or go to museums, or research the artists, because “they know what they like”. It does beg the question “what if what you like is crap?”
Art, like wine, has criteria that can be learned and applied to the subject at hand. And if wine is something you enjoy, learning about it will be fun. The spectrum of art, like wine, is so wide that the thought of trying to dissect it can be absolutely daunting. The trick is simple. When you visit New York City, you don’t need to learn every street to get around; you simply need to learn how to get to where you are going.
Like anything new, you start with the basics. The very best way to learn anything is to submit to the process and say to yourself “I am here to learn. There are no stupid questions.” Put aside the ego and open up the mind. There is no greater impediment to learning than to think you already know the answers.
The easiest way to begin the process is to start simply. Take paintings. They can be high realism, abstract, impressionist. They can be painted with oil, acrylic or watercolour. The subject matter can be wildlife, still life, figurative, landscape or seascape. The artist can be amateur, professional, male, female, famous, infamous, or dead! So where do we start? We start at the beginning.
The measuring stick for art is world art. The greatest art by the greatest artists is what everything else is measured against. That is the peak of the pyramid; everything else descends from there. Pick any book that contains the masters and go through it. You don’t need to worry yourself with the text (yet) and what the eggheads are saying, just let the images pass by your eyes. Even with the least amount of experience, great art is self-evident. A ten year old can look at the Sistine Chapel and realize something special is going on.
Do not preconceive what you are looking at. Do not say “that not for me”. Do not gloss over things because they “aren’t your style”. Tell yourself that these are the masters, and these are their masterpieces. Resist the temptation of saying “that does nothing for me”. It is not supposed to do something for you; you are supposed to do something for it. It is your task to understand who the artist is and what they were trying to do and say.
You have now taken the first step in knowing why you like what you like. And to understand that you must participate in the process.
In part II we continue with the idea that learning some basics will help us choose wisely.