On looking at pictures

I’ve had an analogy running around for a while.

It’s about baker and cakes sitting in for art and our experience of it. I wrote about it, and eventually got tangled up.  I’m re-writing it from scratch, in an attempt to strip it down. Keep in mind I’m dabbling in visual arts here, more than any other form.

Maybe a more complicated analogy, like baker for artist, display window for art, cakes for our experience of the display window, the bakery, the buying of the cake, the memory of it—would have worked better, but it’s spinning too intricate a yarn for me to handle, and all I want to do is talk about a small aspect of ‘looking at art’, or interpretation.

When we look at an artwork, we tend to think it’s either a pretty picture or it’s too complicated for us to grasp. But remember: there are no rules on how to look at art. Art is not difficult, and we should learn not to find it so. Saying you are ignorant of art is no justification for not having a meaningful talk about it. This is where context comes in.

Context is not a difficult concept to grasp. It is simply this: thinking of something in terms of something else. Thinking of cars in terms of the most fuel-efficient gives you a specific line of inquiry, while thinking of cars in terms of the history of car design or car manufacture in the USA, another.

In saying what I’m about to say, I may be putting myself in a perilous position, but my intention is simply offering a perspective on a way to approach pictures: the interpretation of pictures should start in the context of you. This is why art shouldn’t be difficult, because articulating what you think, feel, remember or reference when looking at a picture shouldn’t be difficult.

The key is to ask yourself questions. What is the picture showing? Does it remind me of something? Is there one thing I like about it? What colours are used and what do they make me feel? And so on. The more, the better.

In making these connections, you can lay the foundation for more inquisitive questioning, that hopefully leads to a richer interpretation and, ultimately, appreciation of the work. I assure you it doesn’t work for all pictures and it’s not a bullet-proof  technique.

But it does work. In finding what we like or don’t like, in making connections, in being confident about ourselves in the face of art, and most importantly, in not putting ourselves beneath the artist, we can find more things to say about the art. The artist is only human—he should be respected for his art and humanity, but he is only sharing ideas, thoughts, concepts, which can be dissected, analysed, and criticised.

The obvious issue of ‘who is the artist’ is not for me to discuss, nor is good/bad art; I dare not be pretentious. But art shouldn’t be regarded as difficult, as a gift of a breed, beyond our grasp, and art shouldn’t be purely a pretty picture either. Art is easy and it’s ok to talk about it, about how it makes you feel, what it reminds you of—no one is better than you at being yourself.

This is the reason I called this site or blog or platform ‘sieve’: we should be a sieve through which art is sublimated, as life and the beautiful things in it, are sublimated. You are a sieve to the world around you, and pictures are just part of our lives to be processed and articulated.


As a critic or artist or student or lover, learn to question, learn curiosity. Be a sieve.

It’s impossible to find all the interpretations, and anyway, who cares about all the interpretations? The one thing we should care about in interpretation is relevancy.

Relevancy to yourself should come foremost, but to what else, in context of what, is a question you to answer.



Image: Monet, The Water-Lily Pond, at the Albertina in Vienna.



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