((Essay from: "Art In King Size Beds: A Collector's Journal.))
Art historians and curators certainly have their ways of looking at art. So do collectors.
Is there a particular way to look at a painting? What should you look for? How do you know that you're getting the point?
As I'm writing, I'm sitting in my den looking around at all of the paintings surrounding me. Each one means something different. There are abstract and figurative pieces hanging on every wall.
I believe when looking at a painting, the first thing you should do is just look. Really LOOK. Try to do this free of distractions, though. Getting observations from other people is fine, but you really need to experience it for yourself. Notice the color, lines and composition, among other things. You're seeking a connection. The connection can be intellectual, emotional or spiritual. What is this piece? What is the artist trying to say? What is it saying to ME?
Most art museums and some galleries offer tours given by people called "docents" who are often quite knowledgeable about art. Take the tour. I've done this and haven't been sorry. It's always great to get insight into what inspired the artist. They also put art in its proper historical perspective. However, I still believe that when it comes to collecting, art remains a very personal matter. You must be able to interpret what it means for YOU. Fortunately, we live in a nation where it's okay to have your own thoughts and opinions.
I happen to be attracted to figurative paintings that are dark, rich and moody. I love to see works by artists that use lighting and shadowing to full effect. Deep, non-primary colors are always appealing to me.
On the other hand, two artists who often used bright primary colors are Roy Lichtenstein and Contemporary artist James Rosenquist. Their work always leaves me spellbound. Their compositions are very BOLD and vivid. They're awash in primary colors, but they speak to me.
Color is always a draw, but obviously, it depends on how the artist uses it. What appeals to me may not appeal to you.
I think it's also good to be aware of how a piece is affecting you while you're looking at it. Does it make you smile? Make you sad? Confused? Uncomfortable? Does it remind you of that great summer you spent in Tuscany? Be sure to have a pad and pen with you on your visit. Jot down your reactions. This will help you determine what consistently appeals to you. You'll learn your style by doing this over time.
Works should also challenge you. Decorative considerations are good enough reasons to buy art, but why settle for a pond when you can have the ocean? Art goes way beyond mere decoration. Try to find things that really stretch you and make you wonder while you view them. Does this piece have inner life or is it just a "pretty picture"? Art should inspire, challenge and even disturb you. While looking at art, it should remind you that you are alive.
I have seen many works of art that I don't particularly like, but they challenge me somehow. I have a large geometric abstract piece by Texas artist Katherine Kobleycka. The colors are brown, olive and mustard yellow! The piece spoke to me and I had to have it. It makes me think about time and nature and how they both always march on. It almost puts me into a meditative state.
It's also important to note that our perceptions change. I have a couple of paintings that I can't believe I actually purchased. What was I thinking? The connection is no longer there when I look at the piece. My point of view has changed.
Oh well, I guess that's why people get divorces. When they look at each other they just don't see what they once saw. The same can apply to art.
However you look at it, the eyes have it.