Art appreciation for the novice

Art appreciation for the novice

by Sharon Olson
Stripes Europe

They say experience is the best teacher and when it comes to art appreciation. I can’t think of a better way to become an art connoisseur. Delving into the world of art doesn’t have to be intimidating, though it is sure to broaden your horizons and increase your confidence. Step into any museum, and let whimsy and your senses guide you. Here are some ideas to get you from novice to well-rounded art enthusiast.

One place to start is with a well-known artist, like the Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where visitors “get to know” the artist’s story. Think biography in 3-D. Van Gogh’s pieces are arranged in chronological order from his first pieces to the last paintings he completed before he died.

Without any previous art experience, it helps to visit a museum where you can learn a bit about the personality, quirks and nuances of the artist. The Vincent van Gogh museum gives aspiring art enthusiasts a storyline to follow.

The Rijksmuseum is a three-minute walk northeast from the Vincent van Gogh Museum, where I found a dozen or so artists sitting on benches, clipboard in one hand with pencil drafting on paper with the other. Sketching or painting copies of the masterpieces is another way to immerse yourself into the world of art. While I didn’t grab a clipboard and a sheet of 300 Series sketch paper, I enjoyed watching inconspicuously as artists created likenesses of pieces like Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” and Rembrandt’s “Landscape with a Stone Bridge.”

Exposure to various styles and eras is crucial to the novice seeking to truly appreciate art. Go wild and jump headlong into mass immersion by taking a day to visit four of Paris’ most renowned museums. In under an hour’s worth of walking inside the Louvre, the aficionado-in-training can view Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and — in the same room — “The Wedding Feast at Cana” painted by the Renaissance painter, Paolo Veronese.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is quoted as saying, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Be sure to linger while taking in his “The Rebellious Slave” and “The Dying Slave” sculptures.

Next, cross to the south side of the Seine River and walk about five minutes west to the Musée d’Orsay. Here, art is displayed within a building that is a work of art itself. The Gare d’Orsay is an early 1900s train station turned art museum. Filled with works from different eras, styles and genres, guests meander from space to space. Remember, follow your whimsy, ambling slowly through some rooms and moving quickly to the next exhibition when losing interest. The Musee d’Orsay is a favorite because of the way it explores different themes, displaying a wide range of artists’ masterpieces in order to give the viewer a broad perspective.

When finished, leave the main entrance of the Musee d’Orsay and turn east for a 27-minute walk toward Notre-Dame Cathedral. Make sure to pause to peruse street artists’ original personal works along the Seine River. You may just find the perfect masterpiece for your home. Or purchase a handful of handmade postcards as mementos and gifts.

Saunter through Notre-Dame, catch your breath, and take in the artistry of this Gothic cathedral. Then head north for a 12-minute walk to The Centre Pompidou, a contemporary art museum. The eclectic collection at Centre Pompidou includes many of Picaso’s paintings, black and white images of 1930s Paris by photojournalist Doisneau and fanciful sculptures. It was here that I learned to appreciate a pile of laundry on my living room couch ... as art.

Take this concept of experience, exposure and immersion, and apply it everywhere you go in order to form your own opinions, likes and dislikes. Once I got the hang of it, I implemented this “wash, rinse, repeat” technique in places like Rome, Prague and Berlin. Pretty soon, you too, will find yourself sipping champagne, feeling a bit more sophisticated and confident as you offer your own philosophies in the area of art appreciation.

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