There was a time when going to an art museum would leave me feeling a bit insecure. I felt intimidated by everything that existed in that space, and I believed that my thoughts and feelings of art could be wrong, and sharing my (possibly incorrect) takeaways could leave me looking like a fool. I have heard that I am not alone in having felt this way.
News flash: Your interpretations of and responses to art can never be wrong, and quite possibly, spending quality time with art can remind you how to think and feel for yourself.
While we are responsible for our lives, it’s no surprise that I and others have felt like we don’t know what we are talking about when it comes to art. How would we know how to speak about it if we had never studied the subject, right? And I mean, It’s not unheard of to bump into a pretentious attitude in such a space as a world-class art museum. As I said, we are each responsible for our own lives, and also, at times, life and people can get the best of us, right?
These feelings of inadequacy when speaking on a topic that we are not an expert on are not limited to the art world, of course. The list can be lengthy when we think of all the places and avenues through which we heard that our way of thinking, feeling, and observing was wrong. This list can include schools (of all levels), medical settings, relationships of all kinds, (social) media, governments, and the list goes on. Have you ever expressed your mind, heart, and soul and been told you’re wrong, even when you shared your truth and even when you’re confident that you’re onto something? Have you had folks attempt to snap you into a place of submissiveness and insecurity?
Maybe you’ve heard criticism of your thoughts and feelings for so long that now you hold this deep-rooted belief: “I don’t know what I am talking about.”
I have good news! Firstly, what you think and feel not only matters but is a gift to this world. You are a part of this world, and your perspective is essential. Secondly, your thoughts and feelings are a part of this life and deserve to be respected, explored, and shared if you so desire. Thirdly, when someone is reactive to what you say and feel and responds by silencing you, this says more about them than it does about you.
And guess what, you can take back your power any time you choose and regain or establish trust in yourself, your voice, your emotions, your way of thinking, and seeing the world. And one beautiful avenue for doing so can be through spending time with art. Splendid, yeah?
When spending time with art, you can learn how your brain ticks and your emotions respond. You can find what you like and dislike and how you feel about color and textures. Art can help you tap into your mind, body, and soul and discover your depths. You can decide for yourself what you think and how you feel. You can take these lessons you learn from your relationship with art and apply it to your relationships elsewhere.
If anyone told you that your thoughts or feelings are ridiculous, and you believe them, or if you silenced yourself when others diminished your observations, or if you have lost yourself in the process of pleasing the world, look at some art and discover yourself in its presence. You are a precious life, and art can be a trusty companion in reminding you of your brilliance.
Responding to art can help you strengthen your self-trust and self-awareness. When you ask yourself how you feel or what you think about art, and you take the time to feel it out, play around, and discover, you can (re-)learn how to trust yourself, your emotions, your thought processes. Remember, there is no “wrong” with art even if you have heard otherwise, even if you believe otherwise. Lean into this and let it guide you.
Art doesn’t need to have one meaning, relayed from the artist to every viewer. There can be as many responses to a piece of art as folks who view the art. You may find it challenging to decide what you think or feel about a work of art. It’s possible that you might believe that you are not worthy of sharing your conclusions or even having any at all. You may think that your reaction is silly or worthless.
Spoiler: It’s not silly or worthless and you can definitely have feelings and thoughts on art whether the world declares you an expert or not.
Have you ever found yourself walking through a museum like a robot? You read the placards learn the straight-up facts of the artist and art while failing to spend quality time with a piece? What about taking it slower and simpler? How about observing and feeling and wondering before anything else? Your experience with a work of art is yours. It doesn’t need to match the person next to you, and it probably won’t, at least not precisely. Your lens is unique to you, and that is a beautiful thing, and art can help expose you to your uniqueness. There is no lone takeaway from a piece of art, and anyone who tells you otherwise is putting limitations on you, art and life. Explore it from your perspective and learn to trust that you’re going about it in the right way because there is no wrong way.
Recently I found myself in San Jose, Costa Rica. While there, I went to the Museum of Costa Rican Art, which was a beautiful little place with lovely pieces and staff. I was half expecting the placards for each piece to be in both Spanish and English. (Does this speak at all to my privilege?) I was working on my Spanish language, but I was a beginner, and much of the language used to describe the art was too advanced for me. I could have pushed through, but I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to enjoy the art without being told what to think. In the end, this process helped me appreciate the museum in a whole new way, and in the process, I found some art that changed my life.
This experience ended up being a great practice in self-discovery. There were paintings, sculptures, and screenprints, and I decided to observe them without doing any deep dive on the pieces, at least not until later. It was an opportunity to explore, think, and feel for myself. Like anything else, thinking and feeling for yourself is a muscle that needs to be maintained. In this world, there is an abundance of information to consume. Getting right with yourself and discovering how you navigate information and emotions can help you better navigate the world and all you encounter.
Why not use art to remember who you are and discover how you think and feel?
What if you stood in front of a piece of art and felt whatever radiates and resonates with you? How about looking at the details and sitting with the textures and colors for longer than usual? What if you guessed what tools the artist used?
I don’t intend to disregard those informative placards. They guide us, sure. Of course, learning about the artist is essential, too. But are we in such a rush to arrive at an answer and fill in the gaps? What about the process of taking a sip of art, swishing it around in your mouth, and tasting it? What about looking art right in the eyes and seeing its soul? Why not give yourself space to decide how it makes you feel, think and wonder?
Art can remind you how to imagine and dream. It can show you what you like and dislike. It can even remind you what colors you love most. Art can offer a low-pressure opportunity to feel your body’s response to all it offers. Can you slow down long enough to make these observations and digest a work of art?
Do you have to know what the artist meant by this piece? Or rather, do you have to know now? What if you mulled it over for a while? What if you practiced thinking and feeling on your terms for even the time being.
Below is a list of questions to consider when viewing a piece of art. Allow these questions to guide you along. Feel free to add or subtract anything from this list.
1- How do you feel when you don’t know for sure what this piece of art means?
2- How does this piece of art make you feel?
3-What story do you think the artist is trying to tell?
4-When do you think this piece was created?
5-What do you think the artist was feeling when creating this piece? Can you feel it, too?
6- Can you feel them?
7-What inspired this artist?
8-How can you relate to them?
9-Do you notice texture? Or flow? or rhythm?
10-How do the colors play a role in this piece?
11–What do you like or dislike about this piece?
12-When is it time to move on to the next piece?
You can ask yourself these questions and see what comes up. There is no right or wrong. You are simply exploring how your mind, body, and soul respond to a piece of art. You get to discover it through your lens and learn about yourself in the process. This discovery is all a part of art appreciation, self-trust, and life.
There is no need to get too serious about it or be hard on yourself. Take your time, be patient, and be open to possibilities.
Imagine: declaring you like a piece of art, even when it’s less popular or underappreciated by others. Imagine: discovering how colors and texture in a particular formation can make you feel or change your life. Honey, know yourself from every angle, and you will be unstoppable.