How to look at art professionally

27. June 2019

A very long time ago, the magazine of the Süddeutsche Zeitung in its series Say Nothing Now – An Interview Without Words portrayed the former daily news presenter Ulrich Wickert. Among other things, he was asked: “How do you look at the Mona Lisa without being considered an art philistine? As a non-verbal answer, Wickert put on reading glasses and a face that was a perfect mixture of connoisseurship, insight, arrogance, and respect. Unfortunately, I could not locate the photo, but, as you can see, it remained in my memory.

In fact, I repeatedly experience in conversations that there is a peculiar inhibition towards art, a shyness, which seems to be moved by the fact that interested “laymen” think that they really have to know a lot about it in order to be able to look at it properly. In order to free you from this oppressive feeling, here, exclusively, the unique 9-step method developed by me, with which you quickly and efficiently become a professional art viewer:

1. Be curious

If you are interested in art zero, if you find it superfluous or absurd, don’t waste your time with it. But since you are reading this blog, I assume that you want to know more about art.

2. Use your advantage

People like me (so-called experts) immediately panic when they see a work of art. Uncertainties about the stylistic classification, the meaning of its symbolism, etc. lead to fears of failure with typical symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, general malaise, etc.

3. Stay relaxed

I am not aware of any case in which a work of art has been damaged by being viewed. Because there is no right or wrong when looking at art. Even if you don’t know anything about the work, the painter or the temporal classification, it will somehow have an effect on you.

4. As you like it

It’s perfectly legitimate to find a picture ugly. Or boring. Or deterrent. Fortunately, art does not claim to please everyone. Train your perception: Look for a picture you like and one you don’t like at all. Try to figure out why you find one picture beautiful, another terrible. Is it the colours, the theme? Does it remind you of anything?

These four gentlemen have already developed their very own eye for art…

5. Stay fair

Be aware that your gaze is subjective. Accept if a picture has an unpleasant effect on you – or none at all. This has nothing to do with your lack of knowledge or with the quality of the work.

6. Remain value-free

Do not value your feelings or those of others. Come into conversation. What do you see that I do not see? What do you like, what does the picture remind you of?

7. Keep your eyes open

We encounter art much more often than we consciously perceive it: on posters for a new exhibition, in sculptures in the park. In addition, there are good programs about art on television and in the media libraries of the broadcasting stations (my current favorite: pictures at home alone on Arte) and – quite simply – on the Internet. Take a look every now and then, your eye will train you. With time you will get a good look; not only for WHAT you like, but also WHY you like it.

8. Have fun

Works of art deserve our respect, even those we don’t like, because someone has taken the time and effort to create something unique. Nevertheless, we don’t have to freeze in awe (TWO people gave each of you time and effort :-)). Keep the fun of it. Sometimes art – intentional or unintentional – is also simply funny (you remember the miniature with the 12 apostles…).

9. Do not force yourselves

Of course I hope to arouse your enthusiasm for art with my blog. So that it doesn’t remain a flash in the pan, dose your enjoyment of art. You had planned to go to an exhibition at the weekend and then you don’t feel like it? Let it stay. You are in a much-praised “Muss man gesehen haben” exhibition and have no access to the works? Don’t get angry – go and enjoy the rest of the day.