Why Look at Art


Well, why indeed? A good question and one certainly worth asking at the start of a year-long blog project about learning to look at art. Why bother? Why commit? I’m not into preaching or pushing my passion onto others. All I’m going on is my belief that a bit of art can brighten your day.

For what it’s worth, these are my own three time-tested reasons for why looking at art matters:

1. Train Your Gaze

At base art history is about learning to see what you’re looking at. Humans make art to communicate meaning to other humans so looking with focus can get you closer to that meaning. Art is an excellent place to sharpen your eyes for life in general: visual literacy is the key to so much these days. Train your gaze and you may never be bored on the bus again.


2. Travel Through Time

Art is made by humans for human across hundreds and hundreds of years. An art object is like a time capsule containing the beliefs, dreams, habits and ideas of a person, a people, a place, a time period. That’s magic to me. Because art is a portal to another time and place it can offer insights into human behaviour and culture. Plus: who doesn’t love a bit of escapism now and then?

3. Take Five

Art can help us get into the habit of taking a breath, taking a moment. That’s bliss. It can be hard to stop and stand still but if you take a minute to be in the presence of an art object it can start to speak to you and become more approachable. At best five minutes can be quite revealing. At the very least you’ll have stepped back from your mental to do list.


I’m still learning to look myself (there’s always more to see) and what I’ve found to be the case is that one look leads to another. In a perfect reflection of my relationship with a box of chocolates, once I go in for one, I’ll most likely be back for more.


The other thing I’ve learned about art especially through teaching is that everyone’s experience of an art object is unique. That’s irresistible. Meaning is made in each encounter between a human being and a work of art and the nature of that encounter depends on two things: the qualities of the person looking (their likes, dislikes, sensitivities and values) and the qualities of the work of art being looked at.


The idea behind the Learning to Look blog is to take the fear out and put the fun into looking at art. Not boring or laborious, just a delicious bite-sized bit of art each week. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.