How to Impress Your Friends in an Art Museum
Art history and art criticism are vast subjects that take years of practice and research to truly master.
Don’t have time for that? There are some easy changes you can make to sound art smart.
First, when you talk about a work of art, always think about the four categories:
- Perspective – the painting’s illusory depth. Is the space deep or shallow?
- Light- how are light and dark values treated in the work? Is there a lot of contrast? Is there a light source, where is it?
- Color- are the colors bold? muted? monochrome? warm? cool?
- Emotion- how does it make you feel?
You don’t need any knowledge other than your keen, observant eyes to talk about these four aspects. Art isn’t all about famous names and “isms”, it’s about what you see. Sometimes, all you need is to swap some vocabulary:
- Instead of: naked. Say: nude.
- Instead of: good. Say: successful.
- Instead of: bad. Say: less successful.
- Instead of: Baby Jesus. Say: Christ child.
- Instead of: blank space. Say: negative space.
- Instead of: beautiful. Say: aesthetically pleasing.
- Instead of: good at drawing. Say: expert draughtsmanship.
- Instead of: ugly. Say: grotesque.
There are a few stupid things people say over and over in museums– don’t be one of these people. Let me offer some suggestions:
- Instead of: My child could make that. Say: That relies on the concepts of abstract expressionism.
- Instead of: This isn’t art. Say: This is avant-garde.
- Instead of: I don’t get it. Say: This is highly conceptual.
Stuck? Here are some things you can say about almost any painting:
- Look at the quality of those brushstrokes!
- Look at that use of color!
- Oh, I just love this artist. One of my favorites!