Tuesday, October 25, 2011

5 Ways to Improve The Art of Seeing

After years of exhibiting my work in galleries and discreetly hovering behind viewers of my art to eavesdrop their comments, I've come to the conclusion that the public in general is unfamiliar with how to actually "see" and experience photography.

Rather than go into the art of image composition and elements related to reading photographs, I've decided to take a simple approach to enjoying images.  First off, I chose the word "see" rather than "look" because "see" infers devoting extended time in contemplation as opposed to the nano-second look which is typical of everyone now in speed mode.  So as not to short change the experience and forego a deeper appreciation I have some suggestions for the viewer of art.

Sunburst; © 2011, Joanne Scherf

  1. Slow Down.  There is actually a relationship between the art and viewer that needs to be discovered.  Take the time to engage your subconscious level and ask yourself what is going on beneath the surface.  There is always more than meets the eye.
  2. There's No Right or Wrong Interpretation.  That's why it's art; it's open to interpretation based on your visual acuity and life experience.  Rather than getting hung up on trying to figure it out, focus on your feelings, emotion, and what the image is saying to YOU; let it speak to you.  As Ansel Adams put it, "there are always two people in every picture; the photographer and the viewer." 
  3. Share Your Views with Others.  Engage in conversation with others nearby in hopes the shared perspectives will enrich the experience and interpretation.  Others may see things differently or actually see different things.
  4. Pretend You Are the Photographer.  There's always a million different approaches to creating an image.  Looking at the image ask yourself what you would do differently.  Color vs. black & white?  Vertical vs. horizontal orientation?  Different angle, perspective, lens, theme, proportion, composition, personal view, dominant feature, etc.?
  5. Re-Visit and Repeat.  Give the image more than one chance.  After viewing an entire exhibit, return to a few select images for another look.  You may be surprised that a second viewing results in greater depth of understanding or connection with a particular image.  The practice of seeing an image again and again provides greater chance of additional insight and ultimate enjoyment.  
Now that your visual literacy has improved significantly, here's another challenge.  What do you see and feel?

Beyond the Looking Glass, © 2006, Joanne Scherf

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