How to Understand Art in 6 Easy Steps

Human beings have been making and benefiting from art for longer than our recorded history. While contemporary art might seem exclusive or confusing, all viewers have to do is meet the artist halfway. Here are six easy steps to help you appreciate art.

1. Stop Trying to “Get It.”

Art isn’t a knock-knock joke, and squinting at an exhibit isn’t going to elicit a punch line. Everyone — artists and viewers alike — will have a unique experience. As in the rest of life, there will be times when you can’t relate to the artist, or even understand where they're coming from.  Accept that, and move on. Don’t write off art, an entire genre, or even a particular work just because it doesn’t agree with you at the moment. As you go through life, your tastes will change. You’ve had adverse reactions to tequila and yoga, did you give up on those, too?

2. Don't Be Afraid To Like Something.

The best way to see art is to see it alone. Don’t be swayed by your peers or even your teachers. Remember that your unique experiences leading up to the moment you encounter a work of art will shape your appreciation of it, as will all the experiences that follow. Like what you like, even if you're not sure why, or can't put the reason to words.

3. Consider More Things As Art.

Anything within the context of art is art. It might make you roll your eyes to think about a highly paid artist flinging paint at a canvas like a toddler. But much as John Cage taught us the difference between noise and sound, seeing art that you disagree with can challenge your notions, or help you suss out your beliefs.

4. Trust Your Instincts.

Creativity is one of the many benefits of human intelligence. Our ability to make art and think critically about it separate us from dolphins and monkeys. I don’t care what you majored in, or how your figure drawings (or stick figures) always come out. Every human being has artistic ability. Trust in this.  

5. Make a Connection.

Once you’re comfortable with allowing yourself to feel something about art, take it to the next level. Try to go beyond considering whether art is cool or offensive, and find a personal connection to the work. Even if you're relating art to something as simple what you ate for breakfast, it’s a step in the right direction.

6. Make Your Own Art.

Assuming you have the aforementioned human intelligence, then you also have artistic ability. Anything that you consider to be art will be. Walk backward through a crosswalk. Take a photo. Instagram it. Experiment.  Cook an amazing meal (bonus points if you don’t look at a recipe). I guarantee you’ll feel better about art after exercising your right to create.