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See the World Through Different Eyes: A guide to art appreciation

Updated: Mar 16, 2020

There are so many different styles of art, from the Baroque to Neoclassical and even pop art or graffiti. How does one decide what art is? It’s all a matter of personal preference and perspective. Each artist has had their own struggles deciding for themselves what real art is so why should the viewer feel any different.

The world of art can be so peaceful and inspiring. It can also be wild, impulsive and take your breath away. The way you see art is different than the way you view the everyday world. When you view art do you think of only the classics? Or do you feel that simple everyday things can be beautiful like the can of soup on the grocery store shelf?

Cambell's Tomato Soup cans stacked artistically in a crate

Children tend to have little to no problem feeding their imaginations. To a child, the world can be anything they can dream up. Purple elephants, men made from sticks, or even three-eyed monsters that are friendly, the possibilities are endless. As you grow older your ideas of how things work and the rules that govern your world change your perspective. The way you think will have been molded and shaped by the influences in your life and now elephants are grey, the human form has many dimensions and monsters are not real.

The Evolution of Art

The way that the public views art and the popularity of different styles evolves and changes as time marches on. The artistic renderings of animals and hunting scenes hidden in darkened caves gave way to the painted tombs of pharaohs. Then came the statues of the gods and the murals on temple walls, then there were embroidered tapestries and the Limbourg brother’s carefully decorated pages of manuscripts. After a tragic period of time when the arts and creation took a back seat to the Dark Ages, the world began to see the light once more. Thanks to artists like Da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo paving the way with their art, new styles were created and different ways to create were inspired. Some of these evolutionary artists were immediately embraced, their use of new techniques and innovative colors captured their audiences and made them quite popular with their patrons and the public alike.

Other artists that came soon after seemed to struggle with the popular opinion, Henri Rousseau created more whimsical paintings of tropical jungles. Rousseau and many other innovators like him were criticized for their lack of restraint and their imaginative imagery. The world was not quite ready for their work and yet they paved the way for other innovators. Van Gogh was another artist who struggled in his pursuit of the arts. His works pushed the boundaries of how the public viewed the world and made people stop and think. Many people were uncomfortable with the way he challenged their perspective. Thankfully he was bold enough to continue to create his works and we now have treasures like Starry Night to stir up the dreamer in us. These beautiful dreamers paved the way for even bolder artists like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock.

It Doesn’t Have to be Weird to be Innovative

Pushing the boundaries of art isn’t just about being out there and imaginative, though it helps a great deal. It’s seeing the world through your own lense. Once an artist has discovered their unique perspective it is then their job to reach their audience. The artists whose names have become familiar and famous didn’t just create because they thought their work would sell. Their purpose was to create art that would touch a person the way that it touched them. Not every innovator in the art world created with splashes of color or ears where a person's nose should be.

Mary Blair

The artist Mary Blair was known for her colorful and imaginative style. She was one of the first female artists to work at Disney Studios. Her work was largely ignored by the men she worked with because it was too colorful. Her tendency to think outside the box made her artwork too modern for the squares she was working with. Her co-workers couldn’t see the world beyond the black and white images they had grown accustomed to. Much of her work never made it to the silver screen unless it had gone through a committee who had a habit of changing things from vibrant blues, pinks, and greens to muddy ordinary brown.

Walt Disney, however, was very impressed with Blair’s flair for color and contrast and asked her to create the artwork for the “It’s a Small World” ride for the world fair in 1964. Much of Mary’s success came from her commitment to her vision. She quit her job with Disney studios and worked as a commercial artist in New York and created on her own terms. She fought the boring stuck in the mud thinking of the men at Disney and was rewarded for her efforts by a budding friendship with Walt Disney. Her art, like many of the innovators before, her never really got a lot of fame and public acclaim until after she was gone.

Tile mosaic depicting scene from Disney's "It's a Small World"

Mary Blair "Mosaic", Contemporary Resort, Disney

Andy Warhol

Warhol had a vivid imagination and saw beauty in everyday objects. He worked with many different mediums and loved to think outside the box. Art for Warhol wasn’t just paint on canvas or a carved statue. He created art with photographs and ink; he pushed the boundaries of color and people craved his work. He taught the world that there is a simple pleasure in the clean crisp lines of a soup can label and that a portrait of a famous person can make a greater statement in lime green, hot pink or even orange. Warhol was one of the fortunate innovators who gained popularity and acceptance during his career. His works were sought after by the rich and famous and helped to pave the way for many other artists to come.

Portrait of Marion Bloch by Andy Warhol, 1975

Photo Credit: Thad Zajdowicz

Think outside the box or don’t

It’s always fun and interesting to see the world in a different light. But if that’s not what stirs your soul then maybe it’s not for you. Art should have the ability to move you in ways that you enjoy. When you see a work of art ask yourself; how does this make you feel? What do you see? Why does this piece make you feel this way? What is the story here or is there a story? What colors and shapes can you see? Do you like the piece, or not? Why do you like it or not? Would you hang this in your home?

Art isn’t just about thinking outside the box. The truth and beauty of art is that it’s all around us in everyday things. If you feel happiest when viewing things just as they are then realism is the style for you. If you enjoy looking at the paintings of Picasso and how he stretched the boundaries of how we see faces that’s just fine. Art is what you want it to be, there is no right or wrong way to look at it. Whatever makes you happy and inspires you is what real art is, no matter what the critics say.

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