When we look at something, we often make assumptions about it. Many times we have already decided what it is because we have seen it before.
We need to teach people how to see; how to slow down, take their time and pay attention. Looking at works of art is one way to strengthen visual literacy skills. That’s because artists are adept at visual language and visual storytelling, making their works rich sources of layered visual meaning.
The Art of Seeing Art℠
The first step in the Art of Seeing Art℠ process, looking may seem pretty obvious. But it is so important that it is worth calling special attention to. Allow yourself to take the time to slow down and look carefully. Position yourself so that you can see the work clearly and comfortably.
Observation is where close looking comes into play. Observation is an active process, requiring both time and attention. It is here that the viewer begins to build up a mental catalogue of the image’s visual elements.
Looking is a physical act; seeing is a mental process of perception. Seeing involves recognizing or connecting the information the eyes take in with your previous knowledge and experiences in order to create meaning. This requires time and attention.
Describing can help you to identify and organize your thoughts about what you have seen. It may be helpful to think of describing as taking a careful inventory. What figures, objects and setting do you recognize? You can begin the process by identifying and describing the Elements of Art within a composition.
Analysis uses the details you identified in your descriptions and applies reason to make meaning. During analysis we can think about how the Elements of Art are arranged according to the Principles of Design. Analysis is also an opportunity to consider how the figures, objects and settings you identified in your description fit together to tell a story.
Interpretation, the final step in the Art of Seeing Art℠ process, combines our descriptions and analysis with our previous knowledge and any information we have about the artist and the work. Interpretation allows us to draw conclusions about the image.