How To Appreciate Art If You Don’t Know The First Thing About It

art world

We’ve all been there – our friends invite us to the latest art exhibition and we start panic-sweating because everyone’s going to find out how much of an uncultured dunce we are.

Well, it turns out all of those litres of panic-sweat have been for nothing. That’s both reassuring and wildly frustrating given how many years I’ve wasted crying in the public toilets of numerous exhibitions because I was scared people would smell my lack of knowledge and blacklist me for life.

As it goes, we don’t need to have a Master’s degree in art to appreciate it or even enjoy it.

PEDESTRIAN.TV spoke to art curator Jane O’Neill to find out how we can spread our wings and become more invested in the world of art.

P.TV: How should you approach an art gallery/museum if you don’t know what you’re interested in?

Jane O’Neill: I had a great conversation with a friend the other day about this very thing. His method is to walk into a museum or gallery knowing that he really only has 30 minutes of concentration time. Then he makes his way through at a reasonable pace and only stops at the works that command his attention. This sounds like a practical approach to me.

P.TV: What advice can you give people who want to know more about art but feel overwhelmed by it all? 

JO: No one knows everything: even seasoned gallery visitors are mystified by much of what they see. Take comfort in the thought that it’s healthy for the mind to come across things that are difficult to make sense of.

P.TV: Is it okay not to understand the deeper meaning of art and just appreciate it at face value? 

JO: This is an interesting point. If you feel obliged to understand lots of details about a work, it really takes the fun out of it, right? A better situation would be to genuinely appreciate a work, and for that feeling to lead you to want to know more.

P.TV: What artist would you recommend checking out for newbies? 

JO: There are so many good artists, if you’re in Melbourne at the moment I would definitely recommend a visit to the Alexander Calder exhibition at the NGV. The exhibition charts an interesting trajectory from early works he made as a child to later works including the Calder Circus and larger sculptures and mobiles.

P.TV: Is there a proper way to navigate art galleries or should you just follow your eyes and what appeals to you? 

JO: There’s a proper way to navigate art galleries in the sense that it’s not very respectful to make a lot of noise or to elbow your way through a blockbuster, and at any rate you need to follow your eyes to navigate your way through the gallery on a practical level…but yes, I’m a big advocate for an intuitive response to works. I like to look at works that are appealing on a sensory level, but I’m also drawn to works that are baffling on some level.

P.TV: Is there a benefit in taking someone who knows more about art with you or, on the flipside, going with someone who knows as little as you? 

JO: It’s not relevant whether people know more or less, but it definitely helps to visit a museum or gallery with someone who is open to new ideas.

If you still feel like you’re too nervy to check out an exhibition to set your sights on some artists’ handiwork (slow and steady, I feel ya), there is a way to cop the whole experience from the comfort of your bed (or at least, a building with beds in it).

Art Series Hotels are running the Art in Micro exhibition in hotels across Oz, and you can check out a bunch of mini artwork just by checking in to the hotel. The concierge will hand you a catalogue and a magnifying glass when you arrive and if you share your tiny discoveries, you can deadset win a trip to the Louvre in Paris with flights, accom and spending moula provided (!!!).

Just book a room at any of the hotels listed below up until July 31, and you’ll be drowning in (mini) art.

The Johnson, Brisbane
The Fantauzzo, Brisbane
The Chen, Melbourne
The Larwill Studio, Melbourne
The Cullen, Melbourne
The Olsen, Melbourne
The Blackman, Melbourne
The Watson, Adelaide

Soon, you’ll be the most cultured one in the room. Have a look at everything that’s going down below: