how to look at a painting…

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12/12/2010 by Sarah Ritchie

I have just finished reading an excellent book titled “How to Look at a Painting“, by Justin Paton. Justin is (or was in 2005) the curator of contemporary art at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand. The book is fabulous for those who are keen to be educated on how to be educated. Here is an excerpt which helps to throw light on the murky world of art interpretation:

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Approaching a painting as a “thing” gets us past one common misconception, which is that art is unavailable to you unless you’re in on all its hidden meanings. In fact the opposite is true: painting is one of the realms in life where it’s impolite NOT to judge by appearances. So perhaps instead of asking what an artwork means, we should ask first how it IS. Is it smaller than you, or bigger? Does it wind you in, like a confidant? Or push you back, like a bouncer? Does its energy waft you upward, like an eighteenth centry ascension painted on a ceiling by Tiepolo, or pull you down, like a painting poured straight on the floor by twentieth century artist Lynda Benglis? Does it come at you in one big whack of colour? Or reveal itself in washes and whispers? Much that a painting has to tell you is already right there, in its body language.

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