On Viewing Art

2, April 2014 § Leave a comment


Aegean Center studenti viewing Bronzino’s Descent of Christ into Limbo (1552) in the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence

by Liz Carson

Because of my husband’s work, I get requests for a method for viewing art by friends and students. It does not matter if it is a painting or a photograph as they may be viewed with the same criteria.

First, stand far enough away to see the whole image and evaluate what components it’s made of: size, shape and tonality. This is part of the artist’s intent and not only the content of the image; if it is constructed with large blocks of dark it will affect your response long before you examine the details of the work.

Usually artists put the largest and darker elements at the bottom for weight and gravity; if they are high in the picture plane it can create a depressing atmosphere. Light, large blocks at the bottom can create instability but at the top they give openness and exhilaration.

After you have assessed the work  at a distance walk half way toward the piece and evaluate the contents. The content and the composition combine to deliver the meaning of the piece.

The overall atmosphere of a piece is as important as the details. Look where the light is falling on the objects. The artist wants you to notice this same pattern.

In a museum, don’t read labels until after you have perused all of the images in the room and decided what pleases you. Then move into position to look at the work from a distance first before you look at it close up. Read the label only afterwards as the work will communicate without words.

Liz Carson has taught photography at the Aegean Center for more than thirty years. She has shown her work internationally and published a photographic essay on the historical Church of One Hundred Doors located in Paros, Greece. Her husband is a poet and the art historian for the Aegean Center.


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