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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

“I Don’t Know How to Look at Art”

Inside the Mind of Picasso, acrylic, oil crayon and resin on wood, 24″x24″, 2003

There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot. But there are others who transform a yellow spot into the sun. Pablo Picasso

“I don’t know how to look at art.” More than a few people have told me this over the years. At my shows. At galleries. At museums. I’m always confused, because telling me you don’t know how to look at art is like telling me you don’t know how to have sex. What’s not to know?

Many insecurely believe there is some intellectual component to consuming fine art. Some creativity-appreciating gene. This misses the fundamental point of art’s inherent power to sweep over you like wind or water. To cool you down, heat you up and draw from you an emotion you did not even know was hiding beneath the surface of your daily life.

There is no more learning to look at art than there is learning to listen to music or learning to smell a rose. That lemony smell or that opening guitar riff in Reelin In The Years makes you feel more alive. More grateful. More eager. Or more disgusted, dejected, hopeless. I once stood in front of a Degas ballerina painting for fifteen minutes crying like a baby. Something about the dedication on the young girl’s face and the turn of her hand, which, mind you, was nothing more than a dab of ocher paint. And what the hell do I know? I got a business degree in college.

Sometimes I play a game with myself and pretend I have been blind for decades and just regained my sight. Then I look up at the sky. And that lone bird or ominous cloud becomes poetic, the thing that blind me would have given all the money in the world to see just one more time. Do that with a loved one. And watch their all-too-familiar face regain a magic moment of novelty.

So, those of you who think they don’t know how to look at art, just look in a mirror. Study your own face. It is an unbelievable construction. Or hit a museum. Or put a mask on and look at a coral reef. Or study your kid’s scribbles. Look/listen/taste/smell something. Notice whatever you notice. Whether you are basking or recoiling you are appreciating it as well as any up-his-own-ass art critic ever did.

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