How many times have you looked at a piece of art on display in a museum or gallery and wondered to yourself, “what exactly am I looking at and why is it so special?” As architects and designers, we understand this sentiment well thanks to the natural overlap between art and our field.
After all, many architectural forms are works of art or even some of the great Wonders of the World (Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon…and so on).
But we also believe in the ability and need for art (and architecture) to be accessible to all. By offering something to everyone, it presents a certain inclusivity that enables it to transcend time and culture.
Sometimes it helps to have a guide to interpreting and learning to appreciate a new form of art when you first encounter it. By following these steps, you can take a complex concept or art form and make it approachable–and maybe even something you love.
- Keep an open mind and don’t let it intimidate you.
It is natural to feel intimidated when you encounter a work of art or design that you do not automatically understand. Try to abandon any preconceived notions and let yourself feel however it makes you feel, even if it seems absurd. Studies have actually shown that viewing art has a tangible impact on our health and can lower stress levels (SOURCE). So, let the experience wash over you and enjoy the possibility of a mental health boost.
- Visit museums and galleries that match your interests.
When you are just beginning a journey to learn to appreciate art, you probably don’t want to hyper fixate on a niche you don’t have any enthusiasm for. There are museums and galleries that cover all kinds of things (hello, Pez Memorabilia Museum in San Francisco), but picking something you know you won’t enjoy isn’t an easy way to start.
Find a museum or gallery that features things you know you already enjoy, like modern art or furniture. And remember, wanting to simply see beautiful things is a perfectly valid reason for entering a museum or gallery.
- Keep your visits short and directed
One reason why people tend to report a disdain for museums or galleries is because they stayed entirely too long, overwhelming their senses or simply getting too tired. You really do not need more than an hour or two to enjoy the benefits of the experience.
To help yourself focus, do a little research before and make a plan for a few key exhibits you want to go see. Don’t feel the pressure of “seeing it all” but think of it as you would a wedding cake–you don’t need to eat the whole thing to know what it tastes like.
- Look with intention
When you stop to examine a piece of art, really look at it–take different angles, move your body to consider what it must have felt like to create the piece, and consider the subject and time period captured.
Ask yourself questions like, “How are the pieces arranged? How are the items related and is there a relationship between them?”
After you have taken the work in through your senses, read or listen to associated materials provided by the museum or gallery. Were you able to notice anything different now that you have more context?
If you take any of these steps, you have appreciated the work of art and allowed the positive effects on your brain to take shape.
- Reflect and appreciate
The beauty of this entire experience of engaging with art is we learn how artists have made sense of the world around them through their craft. It is a living example of emotional expression and the capturing of complex concepts.
By experiencing this example, we are able to conceptualize how we might be able to also make meaning out of our own lives.
Keep these steps in mind for your next trip to an art gallery, museum, or when viewing an architectural rendering–you never know what kind of experience might be in store.