We’ve all heard about the benefits of making art for our well being, but what about the benefits of viewing art? We could take a historical point of view and see how art was the first form of communication and storytelling or how it’s been used to record history and reflect humanity and even been used as propaganda or advertising. All of that is true, but when we are in the presence of a great painting, sculpture or drawing we know that there’s so much more to it because we feel it in that moment. So, the next time you doubt the importance of making art, I ask you to consider the following five reasons why viewing art is critical for our well-being.
1. Viewing art is a transformative and even transcendent experience. There’s no need for a chemical substance here! Just looking at a piece of art in person can make us feel like we’re in another realm. It feels spiritual and not because of the subject matter. You know that you will never be the same as you were before viewing it. I’ve felt this mysterious phenomenon whether it was seeing the Sistine Ceiling, a Rembrandt, a tiny little LaTour rose painting or a David Leffel still life. Like all great mysteries sometimes it’s best to not try to explain it, but just to enjoy it and appreciate the experience.
2. It brings presence. Time stands still when we look at art. It allows us to focus. We take in and receive what the painting has to offer us, and we’re filled with gratitude for the time that we have with it. During that time, we are deeply connected to the color, brushstrokes, and design. Viewing it can ground us, calm our nervous system, and make us hopeful for the future. It can bring back a nostalgic memory that comforts us or remind us of the daily gifts we have in a sunrise, food, or nature.
3. It brings connection and intimacy. As we’re absorbing what we’re seeing we connect with the artist and ourselves. We fill in the gaps and connect the dots. It’s almost as if we’re painting the painting with them. We travel from one corner of this world to another all the while imagining the creator making it. We ponder why did they do this that way? We postulate meaning for the painting. It’s a great mystery to us. In a way the work is a dialogue not a monologue and we as the viewer are a necessary participant for art to have purpose. The art was made for us to view. In that sense we are co-creators with the artist as well as the recipient.
4. It reminds us of the wonders of being human and raises ambition. Looking at a great painting reminds us that we are intelligent, creative, capable beings. That we can develop skills that are difficult and to be admired. I can’t count how many times I’ve stood in front of a painting, sculpture or architecture and been in absolute awe that we were able to make or build it. For me, I feel elevated when viewing great art. It makes me want to try harder and strive to be a better version of myself. Looking at a twelve-foot painting by Sorolla that he hauled down to the beach to paint totally jazzes me up and makes me want to do it too!
5. Art teaches us. As students and artists there’s no better way to learn than to study a painting in person. An image in a book or on the computer just doesn’t cut it. I’m sure you’ve probably had that experience where a painting you’ve seen numerous times online or in a book totally changes when you see it in person. Most of the time for the better, but sometimes for the worse. Either way it teaches us. To see the scale of the painting, the true colors, the layers of paint, the brushstrokes and the nuances that can’t be picked up in a photograph is invaluable. Not to mention other lessons like how it’s framed how lighting effects it and how a cohesive collection differs from a separate solitary piece by the artist.
I’ll never forget the impact of multiple Sorolla paintings exhibited all together in a light filled room! I knew this is how these paintings were intended to be viewed: in full light, just like he painted them and all together. Then I saw the opposite at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where one sunshine filled Sorolla painting was separated and mixed in with all other styles of work and hung on a dark and dim lit wall. Suddenly, his vibrant life filled painting felt dull, dark, and out of place. I don’t know how you could ever appreciate Sorolla if that was the only painting you ever saw by him in person. All of these are lessons that can’t be taught in art school. One must get in the trenches and go to the real teacher- the physical painting.
Now I want to hear from you! What benefits do you experience viewing art in person either in your own collection or in someone else’s?
P.S. I also want to say a big thank you for all the collectors who have added some of my work to their collection this month! You make it possible for me to continue being a full-time artist and every painting sale counts no matter how small.