How to Look at Modern Art
There are many who look at the highly creative world of modern art with confusion and maybe a little bit of distain. Because so much modern art is nonrepresentational, it isn’t easy to understand what the artist is trying to say. But even if there are figures and images in the artwork, so often it resembles a dream where relationships and juxtapositions of images can be confusing and hard to interpret.
The artists who work in modern art sometimes make that interpretation just as difficult by adding illogical names to the art work or even no names at all. Who hasn’t looked at a Jackson Pollack piece that is simply titled the date the artist finished the work and thought, “Well, that doesn’t help understand it at all.”
The key to modern art however, is to let go of the need for representational images. The artist is communicating through a completely different approach to the act of creating art. Modern art is almost entirely intuitive. While we view representational art both with our minds and our souls, the modern artwork is best viewed almost entirely though that side of your personality that is spiritual, emotional, intuitive and with the artistic instincts of the soul.
This means that you approach viewing a piece of modern art differently than you would a representational piece. Here is a method for absorbing and appreciating what the artist is trying to say to you.
· Suspend your judgment of the piece until the entire viewing is over. Don’t “try to figure it out”. Simply allow the piece to speak to you intuitively as it comes off of the canvas or pedestal.
· Start out standing far enough back from the piece that you can see the entire image in one view. Some modern art pieces are exceptionally large so you may have to stand quite far away to be able to see the entire work without turning your head. Again, don’t think about what it means. Simply allow the piece to exist in front of you. Allow your eyes to rove over the piece, traveling side routes and then returning to the total view.
· Slowly walk toward the piece. If there are others there, wait until they are not nearby to distract your view. As you move in, try not to move your head a great deal. The effect will be you will be drawn into the artwork.
· Slowly get close to the artwork, even within a few inches. As with all art, never touch the artwork. But you can get close enough to see the intricacies of the paint or other materials used in the art work. Study these and see if you can detect the movement of the artist.
· Turn one direction and walk looking sideways at the artwork. You may have to look up and down to gather as much about every aspect of the work as you can. If you need to, crouch to see the lower parts of the work. If it is a sculpture, walk around the piece, observing every detail of its construction.
· Take all the time you need for this detailed observation of the art work. Be patient.
· Turn and walk back to your original spot without looking at the artwork. Wait looking away until when you turn, you will have a clear, unobstructed view of the artwork.
· Turn and view the entire piece again in its entirety.
By giving the art work a patient inspection such as this, you will slowly develop an intuitive interpretation of what is being communicated by the artist. You may have to come back many times and each time the work may speak differently to you. But let it get inside you and change you because that is the deeper value of truly great modern art.
Art by Bill Westheimer
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