Ideas About Viewing Art
We watch a film or listen to music in a line – starting at the beginning of the first film frame or music note. The content unfolds to us in a linear way, so we can absorb and experience the work fully. Movies and concerts require a fixed amount of time to absorb from start to finish.
While viewing a painting, however, we often think it’s a one shot deal. We see it and spend on average about three seconds per painting while wandering in an art museum or gallery. I believe that paintings are best viewed by considering the same linear approach we use for film and music. I have found that by slowing down the viewing process, while taking in a painting, my eyes seem to move through the piece like they’re on a road trip.
An interesting fact is that Westerners (who read from left to right) view a painting starting on the left side and move across towards the right. Perhaps those in other countries whose language is read from right to left might find the reverse is true. At any rate, paintings are their most inviting when there is some “entrance” on the left side of the painting. This could be anything that creates a diagonal movement into the work. It could be a light ray, a path, a tree branch, a figure, a brushstroke, anything that has an angle. If, however, there is some shape or form on the far left that is completely vertical, running up and down along the left side of the painting, then it can create a visual barrier. Without some sort of inviting angle, the viewer might not be compelled to look at the painting for more than a quick glance.
After some practice of viewing paintings in slow motion I have found even more surprising discoveries. Once the eye gains entrance on the left, it will happily move towards something bright colored, or something with high contrast that contains a light value (like white) next to a dark value (like black). This just scratches the surface of the visual tendencies I’ve found. If anyone is interested perhaps I’ll write more in my next blog. In conclusion, I have found that the more the eye can travel on a journey through the painting, the longer the viewing experience, and the more potential for creating a fulfilling visual and aesthetic experience.
Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.