Cookies or stars? What do you bring to art appreciation?

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk

Recently Cookie Monster went gallery hopping in New York City. His tweets from the Guggenheim, The Met, and MoMA reminded me of two quotes I’ve been saving for a post about what we bring to art appreciation.

Art can help us identify what is central to ourselves, but hard to put into words. Much that is human is not readily available in language. We can hold up art objects and say, confusedly but importantly, 'This is me.'

— Alain de Bottom and John Armstrong, Art as Therapy

We are, among other things, associating machines. Feed in an object (a smell, a word, an image) and it excites in the imagination a corresponding item (a feeling, a recollection, a hope). It is only natural that associations should quickly surface when we look at works of art (for they quickly surface all the time); certainly a large proportion of conversations in galleries involve people telling each other what the pictures bring to mind. This is one of the major native resources we bring with us when we visit a gallery or a distinguished building.

— John Armstrong, Move Closer: An Intimate Philosophy of Art

Regardless of who we are – beginners or art critics, or monsters of any kind – our associations and expectations colour the way we look at art. If we give it a little thought, we can see that looking at art is like looking in the mirror. Works of art have the power to reflect back to us what we project onto them.

We can catch a glimpse of who we are in the works we like, and face our preconceptions and biases in the ones we don’t like. Developing awareness of what we bring into art is key to better understanding ourselves and art.

What do you bring to your interaction with art? What associations come to your mind? Do you see cookies or stars? Do you ever ponder why? Are you aware of how your experience, expectations, likes and dislikes affect what you see or don’t see? What art makes you say, “That’s me” and why?

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