5 Heartfelt Ways to Appreciate Art

This is what I know: Art can touch your soul.

I remember the first art I ever admired. It was in kindergarten, and Todd Kupferman could draw the best darn mice I’d ever seen. He’d draw mice everywhere. I remember one little mouse cut out of a piece of old cardboard – my entree into the world of art appreciation.Since then I’ve seen lots of drawings, paintings and sculptures. I love seeing art. Whether it’s new-to-me art in a gallery; or older, many-times-seen art in the Metropolitan, there’s invariably something that makes my heart sing.

I’m a lover of art that spans the ages. I love old art, new art, abstract-expressionist art, hard-edged art, landscapes, minimalism, and much more. I love art that’s technically amazing and art that’s pure expression. I have to say, though, that more than once I’ve had the jarring experience of being at the Met and hearing someone dismissively assert, “my kid could do that”. Ummm, actually… No. Probably not. Though your kid can and probably does make some awesome art.

Some art needs to be understood in the context in which it was made; some art asks you to be open and put judgment aside. And some art is like discordant jazz – you have to develop a taste for it.

The painter Mark Rothko said, “Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks.” I think that goes for the viewers as well as the art makers. So, in that spirit of adventure and risk taking, I offer you:

5 Heartfelt Ways to Appreciate Art:

1. Through your eyes. Look at art to comprehend and learn. Notice subject matter. Look closely at detail, how a sculpture is put together. Look at how brushstrokes convey feeling. Notice which pieces pull you in. Look with awe at a stone figure seven feet high. Look at the choices the artist makes – to cover a painting or leave empty space. Pay attention to symbols and scale; look to understand public art. How do they make those huge murals? There are tons of things to see. And, finally, read the title – but only after absorbing the piece with your own eyes!

I’m not so big on judging – that’s not as important to me as absorbing and understanding what it means to me, and how it reflects our world. If I don’t like something at first, I try to reserve judgment so I remain open. Art is so subjective. I know that some people worry about being duped – especially when it comes to minimalist art. But I don’t. Most artists don’t spend their lives struggling to create art just to trick you.

You know, you can visit the same museum every day, walk by the same sculpture, think nothing of it, until one day it suddenly beckons and becomes meaningful to you. Because, while the art might seem to be the same, we change, and, magically, the art does too. 

2. Through your heart. This is a hard one to explain but I’ll give it a whirl. Some pieces just move you to the core. It might be because of its incredible beauty; or the subject matter; or it might just be inexplicable.

Try this: instead of looking at or for something, stand in front of the piece and just let it come to you. Stand with your heart open and allow the piece to flow into you. Sometimes it happens slowly, and sometimes it takes your breath away like it did for me in Cincinnati recently.

The photo below is from a show at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. There were really gorgeous photos in the show, some by the phenomenal Robert Mapplethorpe. But this photo, by Anna Wu, just about brought me to my knees, and it did bring me to tears, right then and there.

This is the power of art.

Twenty-Three Years by Anna Wu (photo used by permission)
3. Through feel. One time, I had a piece in a juried show in California. It was a stone sculpture I’d carved out of alabaster. A man had his friend by the hand, excitedly leading him to what he told him was his favorite piece in the show. It was my piece. Of course this warmed my heart, but as I watched, he softly ran his fingers over the piece. It was then that I realized he was blind. He had used his hands, his sense of touch, to perceive and find his way to loving my stone. There are lots of ways to see art.
Birth by Lauren Rader   Photo: M. Lee Fatheree

4. Through history. Art is always a reflection of the time in which it’s created. I clearly remember Art History 101 from college. Three-hundred of us viewing huge projections of art as our professor explained them within the context of the time they were created. Fascinating. You see how art is kind of generational – artists responding to or challenging the art that came before theirs. And you see how art is a reflection of life at that specific time, in that particular place.Remember when the camera was invented? Artists were freed from the need to replicate the world. Abstraction, expression and experimentation became fodder for art.  The time reflects the art. The art reflects the time.

5. Through your soul. Have you ever sat in a room of Mark Rothko paintings? To me, it’s like being in a chapel.

The Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection

If you stand before the artwork and allow it to envelope you, you will be rewarded with a deep and quiet connection to his work. Feel the soft edges of color enter your heart and soul, bypassing your brain. No thinking necessary. Allow the art to be in you. Allow yourself to be in the art. No need to imagine what the artist wants you to see – the artist wants you to feel.

I hope you get to spend some time this summer taking in art. It adds to our understanding of other cultures, other people, and ourselves. Food for thought and riches for the soul. Just remember not to overstay – it’s always good to leave art wanting more.

What art do you love to see? Do you have a favorite place to see art? How have you been moved by a particular piece or body of work? Share in the comments below – I’d love to hear.

As always, if you’d like me to discuss about anything in particular, post it in the comments or shoot me an email. Thanks very much.

To all you are,

The top photo is from the beautiful grounds of The Rockefeller Estate, Pocantico.

All art/photos copyright Lauren Rader unless otherwise specified. All rights apply.

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