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How Do We Look At Art When We Look At Art?

Jose Alvarado
Ulrich Museum of Art


When was the last time you saw an art show? I mean really saw. 

Beyond the opening, did you return to the gallery? If you did, then how long do you spend in front of each piece? A 2001 survey conducted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art found that the median time in front of an artwork was 17 seconds. In considering how many hours - if not days, weeks, months, or years – it took to make this artwork, 17 seconds seems grossly unfair. 

The typical art viewing goes something like this: look just long enough to get a sense of the work, read the label, check the veracity of the label with the artwork, and then make a binary judgment such as, good/bad or like/dislike, and move on to the next. Going to an exhibition shouldn’t be like art speed dating--a quick once over followed by a hasty conclusion. There is so much more being offered. 

I love to look at art till it unravels. My method is Socratic. Why did the artist chose this subject matter? Is there subject matter? What is the artist giving us? What are they withholding? Why? Did the paint come out of the tube that color? How visible are the brushstrokes? What layer of paint went first? What medium is it?

And no cheating by looking at the label! Look at the label last. Do all of your looking first. And always follow your questions because they lay out a natural path into the art work for only you to explore.