Art Appreciation

  • 2 May 2016
  • Sarah Holden

Michael Smither’s 'Otama Beach'Last Thursday we had a very insightful and informative talk around art appreciation and how to read a painting.  One of the main points was around the ability to appreciate a piece of art, even if you don’t like it.  You don’t have to like all the art available to you – the world would be a boring place if we all liked the same thing – but you can appreciate the work that has gone into it.

Reading a painting can be like reading a book – you have to use your imagination and place yourself in the story.  You create your own impressions.  A painting is a flat impression open for your interpretation.  That interpretation can be built through your emotional response, your experiences and memories, your knowledge and if you like the painting or not.  

Step back and give the work a moment and allow your eye to travel through the painting. Some works need a bit of time to show you how they are intriguing and mysterious in subtle ways.  Initially, try not to focus on trying to figure out ‘what the artists meant’, instead focus on what the work is saying to you. It may seem obvious at first, due to the subject and symbolism, but style can also convey meaning to the viewer.

The process of painting can be broken down into three areas:

  • Literal – what the painting is of i.e. the subject
  • Design – how the painting has been created, its medium, composition, framing, brushwork, use of light and colour.
  • Expressive – why the painting has been created.  What the artists is trying to communicate.  It’s message?  The painting’s message can be specific or it could be expressive of a time/place that the artist relates to. They may also have formed a conceptual image to express a mood or subject.

During our talk we looked Michael Smither’s new work Otama Beach – a large painting with a simple subject, depicting where the artists swims most mornings. We discussed:

  • how the balance of colour moves your eye through the painting from the shore to the horizon
  • how the branch creates a focal point in it’s cross section and allows you to move past the branch to the sea
  • how the brush strokes create mood and depict the movement of waves
  • how the branches create a series of triangles, directing you out to see
  • how the slanted horizon accentuates the openness of the water

We then looked at Sally Samin’s work Dreamtime II and we talked about the layering and depth created in the work.  Each person taking the time to reflect on what they saw in the painting and how they interpreted it from a dream movie reel, to people moving through the work, to DNA strands, to brainwaves.  Each interpretation is valid when you consider the expressive nature of this abstract work.  It is designed to be open to interpretation.

As a completely different example we used one of Liz Hart’s works to highlight that the same principals applied to her impressionist work. Morning Walk II still showed a cross point directing you to a focal point and taking your eyes on a journey through the painting. You place yourself as one of the people at the bottom of the painting and walk through. The colours are tonally balanced ensuring that you are not distracted from the journey and you can relax and enjoy the atmosphere that the painting creates.

All in all the people who attended our talk all felt that they gleamed some insight into appreciating art and are looking forward to our next talk which will be held on Sunday 29 May at 4pm in The Little Gallery. This time we will be discussing the creative process giving insight from an artists’ perspective.








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