Look at the image or object for a full minute. Try five minutes.
What do you see? Use words that are as precise, descriptive, and vivid as possible.
- What is the form?
- What is the subject matter? How is it represented? Is it realistic or abstract, stereotypical or unique, exaggerated or minimized?
- What colors do you see? Which are most prevalent? Are they bold, vibrant, and highly saturated or are they muted and subdued? Do the colors appear natural or artificial?
- Is the work textured or smooth? Can you see evidence of the technique the artist used to create the work?
- Are there any recurring patterns or motifs?
- Is the work symmetrical or asymmetrical? Does it look organic or geometric?
- What condition is the work in? Does it appear old or new, tarnished or polished, well-crafted or roughly made, etc.?
- Is the work two- or three-dimensional? Does it convey a sense of depth or three-dimensional space, or does it appear flat?
- Does it move or convey a sense of movement, or does it appear stable and static?
- Is the work contained within a frame, or does it seem to continue beyond its edges? Is it on a pedestal or on the floor?
Try drawing the work. You will notice details you missed before.
- Where do you feel like you have to stand to get the best perspective of the work?
What do you think of the work? Why do you think so?
- What is your emotional reaction? What is your intellectual reaction? Why do you think you are you reacting in such a way?
- Does the work remind you of any other works of art? If so, which ones and how so?
What do you think the artist meant? What do you think the artist was trying to communicate through the work? Why do you think so?
- Why do you think the artist chose the medium (the material) s/he used? What do you think is the significance of the medium? What do you think is the relationship between the medium, the subject matter, and the message(s) the artist wanted to communicate? Consider the same questions for the technique and style.
- Do you think the artist had a particular audience in mind? If so, who? Why do you think this?
- Where do you think the work was originally meant to be seen? Why do you think so?
- What culture is the work from? How does this information contribute to your understanding of the work? What additional information would help you to better understand what the artist was trying to communicate?
Look with Someone Else
Talk to a friend, another visitor, or a museum guard. Tell them your thoughts. Ask what they think. What questions arise?
Look Into It
Investigate the subject matter, the artist, the patron (the person or group who commissioned or financed the work), the culture, the medium, the technique, the style, the genre (type or kind), or the context.
- Look for basic information on the wall label and then get started on your research.