The Etiquette of Art Appreciation

Modern Manners Guy explains why "What's that?," "I don't get it," and "I could do that!" are not the best ways to view art--or life.

Richie Frieman,
August 10, 2014
Episode #306

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As an artist (painting, drawing, illustrating, writing, and sculpture), I often look at quotes about art to inspire me. Like this one from Aristotle:

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

I can read this quote and totally embrace it. However, even as an artist, I understand why saying that may make me sound a little snobbish--and that’s why I wanted to write about the etiquette of art..

I’m not blind to the fact that people think art can sometimes be hard to understand, or is “soooo easy to do,” or, as many of my relatives told me growing up, “not a real career." So in this article, I’m going to touch on the basics of viewing art as what it is, or what it’s not…bascially, so we all can get some darn culture, y'all!

Here are my top three quick and dirty tips for the etiquette of art appreciation:

Tip #1: Say What?

When I was an art major in college (or what my PhD older brother likes to call, “not a major,”) I had a painting class taught by an amazing teacher who was always willing to offer some guidance when it came to bettering our work. One day, during critique time, we got to an older woman in the class who always painted abstract works. Her choice of work was confusing to some students, since this was not an abstract class--but again, to each their own, in art!

So on this particular day, I guess one student had had enough of this woman's “style,” and said, rather rudely, What is that?" First of all, he was totally out of place to say that out loud to the class. He could have thought it, or shared it with a friend, but he did not have to say it. In any case, he was quickly shot down when the teacher immediately and a matter-of-factly said, “It’s paint on canvas.”

And then a light when off in my head. I had never heard art explained as easily as that. What's not to get?  It's paint on canvas. It's an elementarty school answer to an immature question. 

Maybe I’m being too “artsy” and reading more into this answer, but with art, there is no right answer--and therefore, you’re allowed to think and do whatever you like! It’s like the Wild West, but instead of gunslingers with rotting teeth, the art world has creative minds, with awesome fashion sense...and most likely good teeth.

But what that kid did is very common when trying to understand art, and it brings up this lesson: it’s improper to say something is "incorrect," just because you don't understand it. You may think it’s ugly, or not "get it," but art can never be "wrong."

Just because you “don’t get" something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit. It’s incredibly rude to only think something receives a thumbs up simply because YOU “get it." If you think this way, it shows how self-centered and egotistical you are really are. After all, if you don’t get it, how can it make sense, right? Yeesh.


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