Interpreting and conversing about artwork can sometimes feel intimidating. But look more closely and you will find that most artists are giving you lots of clues and hints - all you need to do is find those clues and interpret them. Our simple and handy toolkit should equip you with the right questions to ask, and leave you feeling confident when looking at and buying art:
Toolkit Tip 1: Who exactly is the artist?
Ok - so this one may require a bit of homework. But finding out about the artist is a surefire way of familiarising yourself with their motivation for creating artwork. It is rare to find an artist without a website or social media account - so spend some time reading their bio. What have they lived through? What are their passions? What are their interests? Building up a picture of the person behind the work instantly puts you at an advantage when you enter the gallery or exhibition space.
Step 4: Text and Titles
If you are attending a solo or group show does it have a name? Perhaps the artist has named the series of work? When you enter the space is there any wall text or an accompanying brochure? Starting with a bit of reading can often help contextualise what you are about to see and can make the gallery experience less confusing. Each piece will usually have a title - so spend some time considering the artists’ choices. Even calling a piece Untitled is intended to make us think about why the artist has decided not to name the work. If the artist is present at the show you can always ask them about their title decisions too.
Step 3: The Formal Elements
This refers to what you can actually see and includes things like line, space, texture, shape/form and colour. Try to think about what the artist has placed and where (the composition). What has priority? What takes centre stage? Think of the way your eye moves around the piece and what you notice first. Be sure to consider how the formal elements interact and have been used to help communicate a message to you as the viewer.
Step 4: The Emotional Response
The connection between the formal elements and your emotional response is usually far from a happy accident. Colour for one is a hugely emotive tool so be sure to consider the impact of the formal elements on your response as a viewer. Remember scale and choice of media/materials are also decisions designed to impact on the way you feel. Think back also to your emotional response to the artists’ backstory and their artistic preoccupations. How do these align to your own thoughts, ideas and experiences? If all of these considerations truly resonate with you then you may well be looking at the perfect addition to your art collection.
By Petra Giffard