16 votes

How do I get "good" at art?

So this is the dumb post of the day. Bear with me.

All I can say about art (like paintings and sculpture) is "is cool", "I like it", "it makes me sad" and look like a complete idiot totally out of place. (On the other hand, I can deliver a nuanced analysis of graffiti and hip hop so yeah it's all about the background.) I want to take my partner to a museum and start saying fancy shit like "oh you see the lines here these remind me of Donatello's style of light and shadow". Like I know it's possibly the dumbest thing to want but I really would like to learn more about it and be able to give informed opinions on art pieces.

Anyway, any recommendations? Maybe some youtube videos or some books? Or should I just say that everything past 1400 is derivative?

13 comments

  1. [3]
    39hp (edited ) Link
    Museums will occasionally give guided tours (sometimes these are even free!). My advice is take those tours and listen to how someone who spends all of their time around art thinks about that art....

    Museums will occasionally give guided tours (sometimes these are even free!). My advice is take those tours and listen to how someone who spends all of their time around art thinks about that art.

    Some of the things I’ve learned on those tours are to think of the historical context of the art, think of the art in a contemporary context, are those the same? What does that mean if they’re the same? What does it mean if they’re different? This is, of course, much easier with realistic paintings that are essentially photographs. E.g. I’ve been trying to find the name of this painting, maybe one of our Torontonians knows the one in AGO, it’s a Victorian era shopkeeper in a lace store standing in a doorway while a man outside leers at her coworker. The in context interpretation is that it shows women outside of their natural place, the home, and as a result they are filled with “barely contained” lust for the presumably male audience; this was read to us from an article written by an art historian in the early 2000’s. Having worked in retail, what I saw in the painting was a tired woman, holding the door open for a patron who bought nothing but left a mess for her to clean.

    For impressionists I think about what the art would have looked at in real life (e.g. I think about an actual sun flower) and then I try to think about how the artist was trying to capture aspects of that thing that could not be captured by a photograph. E.g. I love pointillism. It is easily my favorite form of impressionist art. I love the idea that you can break any image into a series of colored dots and the dots that make the color are not always what you would expect.

    For abstract art I try to focus solely on the feeling I have when looking at it. Does that feeling change the longer I look. I try to look at it from different angles to see if that feeling changes. Admittedly, I struggle the most with abstract art.

    Edit: My favorite museum in the world is the Art Gallery of Ontario. I feel like it’s big enough to have some truly stunning pieces, but small enough that it doesn’t treat itself like a temple of fine art. Even though it’s a few hours away, I’ll sometimes go just to take one of their free tours because their guides have been extremely knowledgeable about their selected pieces and have really encouraged me to think about art in ways I hadn’t before. I’ve been hoping to luck out and take one of those tours before anyone else gets there so I can spend that time talking one on one with someone about art they they love.

    8 votes
    1. [2]
      wise Link Parent
      That is a really cool suggestion. I like museums and sometimes asking a guide about something they love gives me lots of info. But on the other hand, I wonder if there'd be a more standardized way...

      That is a really cool suggestion. I like museums and sometimes asking a guide about something they love gives me lots of info. But on the other hand, I wonder if there'd be a more standardized way to learn, like for example if you want to learn Galois Theory I'd give you 2-3 books (depending on your current level) to progress instead of just dumping all the theory you know? And I feel like in Art there is so much stuff at the same time that it's overwhelming.

      1. 39hp Link Parent
        In that case I might start with era or one specific style(?) of art. Impressionism, neo-classical, etc. etc. There is just too much art that I don’t think a survey will accomplish what it sounds...

        In that case I might start with era or one specific style(?) of art. Impressionism, neo-classical, etc. etc. There is just too much art that I don’t think a survey will accomplish what it sounds like you’re trying to achieve.

        As you’re learning it, actually try it and see what that teaches you about the techniques being used. Part of why I love and appreciate pointillism as much as I do is that part of my humanities curriculum was to actually do pointillism. It gave a degree of appreciation for the technique that I don’t think I would have achieved by just reading about it.

  2. najodleglejszy Link
    why don't you ask your partner for recommendations? I'm sure they'd love to help you get into something they're passionate about. the easiest (or should I say, most accessible) way would be to...

    why don't you ask your partner for recommendations? I'm sure they'd love to help you get into something they're passionate about.

    the easiest (or should I say, most accessible) way would be to read about different art periods on Wikipedia, and then read more about most prominent artists of the era and look up their works. wiki articles will probably list out what makes for a signature style of each one of them and you'll look for those in their works.

    perhaps some art museums have some brief descriptions of their exhibits on their websites, so you'd know what to look for. "so it says that this painting was made using pointillism? what is that? ah, it's something impressionists used to do. oh I like this one, I wonder who Such-and-Such was, let's read more about him", and so on.

    3 votes
  3. ProfessorRiffs Link
    Take in as much art as possible. Make as much art as possible. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you die. Source: have been a musician for almost 30 years.
    1. Take in as much art as possible.
    2. Make as much art as possible.
    3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you die.

    Source: have been a musician for almost 30 years.

    3 votes
  4. Krael Link
    Study art history. Beyond the emotional aspect of art (and not all art pieces are intended to convey a feeling), your understanding of art is limited almost solely by your understanding of the...

    Study art history.

    Beyond the emotional aspect of art (and not all art pieces are intended to convey a feeling), your understanding of art is limited almost solely by your understanding of the time period and region said art comes from. Techniques, symbolism, and "attitude" of an art piece are all products of the zeitgeist when that piece was created.

    Where historical texts primarily (but not exclusively) tell us about events that happened in the past, historical art tells us how people thought and viewed the world around them in the past. Understanding the art "language" of the time is essential to understanding the intent of the art.

    The best example I can think of at the moment is art depicting dinosaurs. As our understanding of what dinosaurs were like changed over the years, so too did paintings and drawings of them. As a result of that, we have wonderful little snapshots of how people viewed dinosaurs over the years. This video is a pretty damn stellar breakdown of the progression of dino art over the years.

     

    In short, look at a lot of art and be aware of when/where the art you're viewing was made. Notice the trends over the years, and how those trends differed from region to region. @39hp's recommendation regarding museum tours is a great way to accomplish this. Silly as it may sound, meme subreddits like /r/trippingthroughtime are also a good way to get exposure to art from different periods.

    2 votes
  5. [3]
    thisonemakesyouthink Link
    Practice. That's the only way. There's no crazy life hack that can make you instantly better at art, doctors don't hate some art life hacker. You just have to try and try and try.

    Practice. That's the only way. There's no crazy life hack that can make you instantly better at art, doctors don't hate some art life hacker. You just have to try and try and try.

    1 vote
    1. [2]
      Barskie Link Parent
      OP is referring to understanding art, which is slightly different than doing art himself. Of course, practice still helps to raise overall art awareness, but one does not expect to become an art...

      OP is referring to understanding art, which is slightly different than doing art himself. Of course, practice still helps to raise overall art awareness, but one does not expect to become an art critic just by practicing art.

      5 votes
      1. demifiend Link Parent
        The only ways to get better at anything are study and deliberate practice. Doesn't matter if it's art or art criticism. OP needs to either read about at history on their own or take some classes,...

        one does not expect to become an art critic just by practicing art.

        The only ways to get better at anything are study and deliberate practice. Doesn't matter if it's art or art criticism. OP needs to either read about at history on their own or take some classes, and they need to spend some time in museums studying paintings that interest them and dig into why those particular works grab them.

        3 votes
  6. Litmus2336 Link
    To me, art is just history. Once you understand why the reaction to Rococo lead to Neoclassicism, then you start really understanding the significance of the stylistic choices. So, ultimately I'd...

    To me, art is just history. Once you understand why the reaction to Rococo lead to Neoclassicism, then you start really understanding the significance of the stylistic choices.

    So, ultimately I'd recommend learning both art and history at the same time - to understand the intrinsic link between a society and it's art. Otherwise it'll just be looking at a bunch of pictures.

    1 vote
  7. nsz Link
    Honestly just looking at art I don't think will help. Listen/read what and how others discuss Art- it should help give you familiarity with the language used and how to discuss it.

    Honestly just looking at art I don't think will help.

    Listen/read what and how others discuss Art- it should help give you familiarity with the language used and how to discuss it.

  8. [2]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. wise Link Parent
      Thanks a lot for pointing out Khan Academy! I had no idea they did non-math stuff. Yes, I'm talking about Fine Art. I'd love to be able to say something about the technique as well. Like what...

      Thanks a lot for pointing out Khan Academy! I had no idea they did non-math stuff. Yes, I'm talking about Fine Art. I'd love to be able to say something about the technique as well. Like what makes a good artist good? Or what makes Van Gogh Van Gogh? Is it a mixture of aesthetics, context, technique? In which "percentage"?

      For example, I can listen to a piece by Stravinski and a piece by Beethoven and I'll be pretty good at distinguishing them, even saying which is which sometimes (I'm definitely not an expert, but I've listened to a lot of music). But I still won't be able to pinpoint what makes them different. I know that there's a whole subject called musical analysis, which explains these things (like which chords did X composer prefer, etc.). Is there something similar in Art?

      I'm reading a book on aesthetics now: "In other shoes", by Kendall Walton. Would you recommend something else?

  9. mrbig Link
    Lots of good answers, so I'll give you a bad one: why do you want that? You seem to enjoy listening to people talk about art, and that is pleasurable in itself. Do you have an inner need to...

    Lots of good answers, so I'll give you a bad one: why do you want that? You seem to enjoy listening to people talk about art, and that is pleasurable in itself. Do you have an inner need to understand paint and sculpture in a precise and technical way? Cause it takes time and effort to achieve what you want. If all you want is to sound knowledgeable, is it really worth it?