How to Talk Art

( Click here for the French translation )


“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it,
does it make a sound?”
~ zen koan
“If a work of art is made and no one comments on it,
does it matter?”
~ art koan

. . .

“I want that!” is something you might say to state your preference of an entree at a restaurant. To hear it spoken by spectators in a museum gallery is to bring another level of meaning to this phrase; it’s a telling remark as to how we as a culture identify and connect to art.

Usually the person who exclaims “I want that!” in a museum setting is not truly serious about acquiring a new piece of art, nor is the art here for sale. Rather the person is saying, “Wow, I really like this work; this art speaks to me.” Yet its subtext discloses a desire to possess something simply because one likes it, even though the person may not know why or know how to articulate the reason. This desire to possess is the indication that a work of art has value, is worth having. But without any real intention for ownership, “I want that!” is simply an empty statement that points to the need for better ways to Talk Art beyond our limited consumerist lingo.

You don’t need an art degree to be able to Talk Art, but you do need a willingness to be engaged with it. The easiest way to begin, is to comment on art as if you were commenting on the weather:

  1. Blue skies with big puffy clouds hovering just above the city…
    First, look at what is physically present. What do you see in terms of color, shape, size, image, material, texture, angle, placement, composition?
  2. I feel cold and damp from the rain…
    How do the physical elements make you feel?  In what way do they affect your 5 senses?
  3. The sky is darkening; I wonder if there’s a storm on the way…
    Examine what you are seeing by asking some questions, such as: Why did the artist choose this material, image, pose, etc.? How do the individual elements interact with each other? What is its overall effect?
  4. The crash of thunder scares me; it takes me back to when I was a little girl…
    What associations might these elements evoke? what memories, emotions are arising?  Is there a story forming before you?
  5. As the snow continues to fall, the air is filled with a graceful silence; I feel so at peace…
    Allow what you’ve seen, felt, remembered to help you develop an understanding of the work. This is the point when you consider all the evidence you’ve gathered to make an informed opinion: Is the work pleasing to the senses or is there some discord? How does it look and feel as a whole? does it seem complete? What might be the larger vision/intent behind the piece? Does the title provide a clue?


The steps listed above will ease you into an internal process of discovery about your relationship to a work of art. This process is meant to be fun and exciting. At any point during these steps you may choose to express what you experience, and voila! you have made a comment; you have engaged in the artistic process by participating in this very process of discovery.

How a work of art affects us is as varied and unique as each individual. You needn’t be shy about expressing your feelings around art. In fact, you don’t have to understand the work in order to say something about it, but you can acknowledge that something about it has made you take notice, has brought a certain awareness to you, has opened you to a new perspective, a new way of seeing. Perhaps the work isn’t to your liking, but is there some aspect you can appreciate?

Liberate your perceptions around art as not just an object to consume with your eyes– but with your Heart. Go deeper and see if you can enter the spirit of the work, or the spirit of the artist.

Ultimately, making a comment about art, or any comment for that matter, is making a comment about yourself. Maybe that’s why it can be so risky, just as an artist takes a risk with every piece that is created and shown.

. . .

Let us know if this has helped you. Make a comment! You can begin right here in Le Corridor as the testing ground for Talking Art, and sharing what you discover.

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