Monday, September 28, 2009

How to look at art

I am reading an interesting book published by the Getty as part of their Readings in Conservation series “Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage’. In it there is a fascinating excerpt from Kenneth Clark’s Looking at Pictures (he of the BBC’s Civilisation fame). It lays out how Clark looks at art and I was so struck by the fact that no one had actually ever told me how to do so, that I am blogging about it.

Here goes!

Clark sees 4 stages to the process, Impact, scrutiny, recollection and renewal:
Firstly is the impact, the first impression that takes in colour, form, shape and tone, and their relationship to each other. The initial contact with a painting is generally the most profound.
Secondly is the scrutiny, a period of inspection, seeing where the colour works well, identifying where particular skill has been used by the artist, enjoying the detail.

However this pure aesthetic sensation, as Clark calls it , rarely lasts longer than the enjoyment of the smell of an orange (about 2 minutes max) before one begins to tire, and it is time for the third stage. This involves what he calls recollection, namely recalling what we know of the artist, his life and times, the genre in which he operated, what was happening in his personal life at the time, the techniques he used etc. In Clark’s case, it of course helped to have an encyclopedic knowledge of such!

And finally there is the renewal stage, the collation of the previous stages and the return to looking once again at the artwork as a whole, and enjoying the aesthetic pleasure once again.
Try it. It doesn’t always work, but it gives a useful format for looking at art .

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