How to understand art

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Art is one of the most important symbols of modern society. However, it can be quite intimidating for the inexperienced eye and the casual viewer. For many individuals, the first instinct is to ignore art that they cannot seem to understand. After all, art is often reserved for the rich, which is too bad.

It is true that some individuals devote their entire professional careers to studying the smallest details of artists’ work, but you do not have to be an expert to develop a meaningful understanding of art. Interpreting art is actually easier than many people think partly because each person can have his or her own analysis and understanding of an artwork.

Most people often misunderstand artwork because they are looking for specific and concrete components with which they can identify. It is natural to want to make sense but when art has an unrecognizable subject matter, lines, shapes, and colors, it can be challenging to understand it. If you are like many out there, here are some tips to help you understand art:

Understanding artwork

There are three basic steps that can help you analyze and interpret any work of art. When we see anything, whether it is a poster or artwork, the brain performs a massively complex process of reading and attempting to make meaning, which naturally occurs in a split second. As such, when observing artwork, it is important to slow down the process, break down the image in a deliberate manner and hold off from jumping to any conclusions. The three basic steps of understanding art are:


Look at the description, what do you see? State the obvious and then try and dig deeper by identifying the elements and principles of design that you point out. Do the colors make you feel warm or cold? Does the artwork have symmetrical or asymmetrical balance or a repetition of certain components? The artist will have made some deliberate decisions about the style and the components which will feed directly to the overall meaning of the artwork.


Looking is about observing what is right in front of you while seeing is about adding meaning to it. What is the artwork saying to you? Is it a feeling of happiness or sadness? The title of the painting can also help give you insight into its objective or meaning.


Thinking is all about interpreting the piece. You must draw together what you have learned in the first 2 stages and construct possible meanings. Not every painting is going to speak to you but you must always start with something, which is often a common human experience to be able to understand the piece as a whole.