“Between the complicated language of ‘artspeak’ and the fact that most gallery staff seem to be better dressed than you, art galleries can be intimidating places to enter,” says Daniel Ord (left), founder of The Art Club Singapore, a gallery that holds educational events. But don’t worry – he offers tips on how to appreciate art and engage in conversation on this seemingly highbrow subject.
How to start
Observe the art at a gallery or museum, before selecting an appealing one. Describe what you see – the subject, size, texture, colours, symmetry (or lack of). Verbalising helps you get better at describing accurately and objectively, so you can talk intelligently and confidently about how a piece makes you feel, or what it makes you think about.
The discovery process
“It’s okay to like only certain things at first, as it’s natural to respond to what feels familiar,” says Daniel. After all, very few people have encyclopaedic knowledge of art and art criticism. Even the tastes of gallerists and artists evolve over time. So attend as many art events as you can, to gain exposure and practise articulating what you see!
A deeper understanding
The process of studying an artwork provokes questions, such as “Why is everyone dressed except the lady in the middle?” or “What’s the meaning of a can of Campbell’s Soup?” Often, you have to first understand the context – factors that include when and where the work was created and the social or economic conditions at the time. It is this context and meaning, rather than superficial aspects, of the work that brings it to life.
Daniel applies his tips, using the masterpiece “the man with two glasses” (oil on belgian canvas) By german realism artist dietmar gross.
Step 1: Identify and describe what you see
This appears to be a scene from this man’s regular daily life.
The artist’s focus is very much on the man’s face, his beautiful soft leather jacket and his hands – both of which hold an empty glass.
The man’s eyes are closed.
The colours used are muted and complementary.
The background is dark and tells us very little about where the man is or what he is doing.
The style is highly realistic with a strong sense of reflected light shining on the man’s face and leather jacket.
Step 2: Analyse what you are thinking and feeling
What do you think the man is thinking about?
Why is he holding two glasses and why are they both empty?
How do you feel when you look at this painting?
Step 3: Cross-examine with the context
Dietmar Gross was directly inspired by Spanish artist Diego Velazquez’s 1620 painting, “The Water Seller Of Seville”. What are the similarities?
Velazquez was fascinated with painting scenes of everyday life in Seville, where he lived. This differed from the more traditional depiction of the aristocracy and religion in art.
In this painting, Velazquez depicts the old man – who is working as a lowly water seller on the streets of Seville – with a majesty and dignity that was not normally given to depictions of the lower class.