Art appreciation 101: How to view art beyond the ‘gram

“What do you think will be the most Instagrammed art here?” Questions like this one are incredibly common when Art Fair season arrives. Let’s face it, part of viewing art in the 21st century is to view it through each other’s Instagram feeds.

“Think of it like Fyre Festival. Everybody wants to be in it, playing for vanity. They see art as a luxury item. It’s the perfect backdrop for such – the epitome of surplus in the height neo-liberal capitalism,” artist and curator Lena Cobangbang gives us her thoughts on the Instagram culture surrounding open art spaces like this. She made a strong statement with her project called “No Selfies” back in Art Fair 2017. It explored how Instagram culture can harm art spaces.

There are people who won’t bother looking at the description of the piece. Some will pose near an artwork that they think is pretty, then move on to the next. They won’t pause to think and reflect on how it makes them feel. Or if they will do so, it will be through their phones as they prepare to post it online. “[For people to appreciate artworks] they will have to go in treating the place like a library, and treating each piece like a book, observing and reading through each work as based on their form, how the form and medium come into play in being an artwork, and as an artwork how it plays up, or how does it fit in the whole scheme of things. Is it something that deepen their understanding of life, of society of humanity?”

People have the tendency to be careless or reckless when they do things for the ‘gram sometimes. Most of the time, they don’t look at the art at all. Sometimes, they would go as far as touching or destroying an artwork for the sake of a good selfie. It gets pretty toxic. Although I agree, the optimist in me is considering this: maybe they just don’t know how to approach art.

Read more: Young, broke, and ambitious: How to start your art collection in your 20s

We can’t deny that immersing yourself in art is a luxury. And as the film Velvet Buzzsaw tried to elucidate, the art scene has the tendency to be alienating and overall elitist. So we can’t entirely expect most people outside the art world to know basic art appreciation or etiquette. Sometimes, we ourselves don’t immediately know how to approach a piece. Photographs can be other people’s way to express admiration for aesthetic. But this isn’t always the best way to understand art pieces better.

So how can people who have no knowledge of art appreciation approach art? We roamed around the Art Fair and came across different people—from gallery assistants, curators, young artists, and veterans in the art world. We simply asked, how can newcomers understand art better beyond the ‘gram?

Explore the artworks by yourself

“Explore by yourself. Really take the time and appreciate the art alone, so that what you’re looking at isn’t something that’s fuelled by what your friends are saying or what anyone else is saying—the desire and opinion are really coming from your head and your own feelings.

Going with friends to events like these make it fun. You wouldn’t feel so lonely. And I think you’ll have good conversations with your friends ’cause you’ll be comfortable sharing things about something you have observed. But I think there’s also a certain beauty to seeing something by yourself and talking to yourself about something you see.” – Jenn Ban, artist

Look for artworks that strike you

“The first thing to do is to keep an open mind. Second, do not be influenced by any other artist, art galleries, or critic. The best art critic will be yourselves as individuals. Like for instance, just today, there are different art patrons here that are the so-called experts and connoisseurs. Even amongst themselves, they have varying tastes. And they don’t need to tell an expert or a guidebook to see what speaks to them.

So for any person who wants to understand or appreciate art, it really comes from observation. Take a look around and see what artwork strikes them. It might be a visual test or it might be an emotional test. Appreciating art is intuition as well. It’s a gut feeling. Whether you’re an art enthusiast like me or like someone who has an open mind, I think nobody can really dictate you what you should or shouldn’t like.

Appreciating art is intuition as well. It’s a gut feeling. Whether you’re an art enthusiast like me or like someone who has an open mind, I think nobody can really dictate you what you should or shouldn’t like.” – Edsel Velasco, co-founder of District Gallery

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Communicate with people from the scene to know different perspectives about the artwork

Pwedeng pinicturan mo lang dahil kilala ’yung work, pero ’di mo pala gusto. Mahirap kasing intindihin ang artwork, even to the people who have studied it or have observed it in the past. It helps to try and absorb the artwork then post later. Also, there’s nothing better than talking to the artist to understand the show or the piece. You can talk to them about past shows or their thoughts on other pieces as well. Seeing different perspectives is a huge help on knowing how to appreciate the art and to see how the art community moves.

Also, there’s nothing better than talking to the artist to understand the show or the piece. You can talk to them about past shows or their thoughts on other pieces as well. Seeing different perspectives is a huge help on knowing how to appreciate the art and to see how the art community moves.” – Vince Harn, gallery staff of Underground

Take interest in knowing more about the piece

Real talk: People here post on social media, kahit hindi nila gusto ’yung art. Pero bago nila i-share, mag-research sila kung tungkol saan ’yung art. Posting on social media isn’t exactly that bad. It helps the gallery, the artist, and the art scene. Walang masama sa pag-post. I know maraming nagagalit na, “Ah, pumupunta lang sila sa Art Fair para mag-post sa Instagram.” Hindi siya ganoon kasama since dagdag exposure siya para sa artist, especially the young ones. Maganda rin siya in a way, marami lang ang naiinis.

I know maraming nagagalit na, “Ah, pumupunta lang sila sa Art Fair para mag-post sa Instagram.” Hindi siya ganoon kasama since dagdag exposure siya para sa artist, especially the young ones. Maganda rin siya in a way, marami lang ang naiinis.” – Sara Martinez, artist/gallery assistant

Read more: Here are 4 Art Fair 2019 events beyond the exhibits

Don’t get intimidated and appreciate art in your own terms

The beauty of art lies in perception. What’s beautiful about events like this is art means different things to different people. For a lot of people, this is their first introduction to art. It’s been way too long that the art world and the big white elephant has been a turnoff. It has become almost intimidating for an average person to sort of walk into a gallery and sort of experience a what more seasoned collector might appreciate about art.

What you may like, I may find repulsive. And what I may like, you may find repulsive. So we need to allow one another the freedom to sort of understand art within our own terms. It’s not about whether 20 curators appreciate what I like. I like what I like. It’s my right to like what I like. And it’s your right to like what you like.

Whether the artwork is fodder for your Instagram feed or it’s a screensaver for your new iPad, that’s totally cool. It’s not up to people who are living in this sphere ‘the art world’ to make your opinion or what you choose to do with these photographs—that’s irrelevant. You will lose sight of what events like these are about if you give those people too much validation.” – Kebo, designer/creative director

Appreciating art is like unlocking puzzle pieces

The instant aspect of what appeals to the viewer visually. For me, it’s more of taking time to step back and just look at the art. Don’t be afraid to ask the gallerists because they’ll be more than happy to explain it.

Especially with our art community, a lot of things are done in a very cerebral way. It’s always done with purpose. You might not see it in the actual painting, but there’s a reason behind everything. And to discover that is like unlocking certain puzzles.” – Gaby Dela Merced, gallerist of Vinyl on Vinyl

Always maintain an open mind

“Kailangan mo rin maradaman ’yung piyesa, hindi ’yung tingin ka lang ng tingin. Minsan pa-selfie selfie lang sila. Gagawin mong profile mo. Ang magandang gawin nila ay kilalanin ’yung artist para maipaliwanag sa kanila ’yung gawa. Wag kang mataakot na makipag-usap, kailangan

Wag kang mataakot na makipag-usap, kailangan free ang isipan mo sa mga ganitong pagtitipon.” – Rafael “BOY’ Gozum, photographer/visual artist

Featured image by Renz Mart Reyes
Photography by Marx Fidel

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