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How to See Art

Can art change your mind? Naselli talks about the importance of our vote in ArtPrize, and how to rise above personal preference to choose the greater good.
Artist from the Screwed Arts Collective installing mural at UICA.

Artist from the Screwed Arts Collective installing mural at UICA. /Photo courtesy of pairadocs

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Talk about the work.

"Rise above the GR Press anxiety about using, um, words, and articulate what you see the work doing and how it makes you see objects or space differently."

Yes, bad art has a place at ArtPrize. That does not mean we should elevate it. Think of the consequences! We’ve had to live with that damn pig hovering over Fulton Street for a year, waiting for it to lumber off and take flight. Bad art has its place, and that is on ArtPrize Worst, a hilarious ekphrastic response to aesthetic oddities of all kinds.


Our vote—in art, and other things—is not trivial. ArtPrize is a great civic experiment. Can we rise above personal preference and choose the greater good? Just because you like it doesn’t make it good. Just because it’s good doesn’t mean you have to like it. The question for ArtPrize isn’t who will win. The real question is will we let the best art work on us?


"My task . . . is, before all," wrote Joseph Conrad, "to make you see." For those who want some suggestions on how to meet the artist halfway, voilà:


1. Look. Don’t read. There’s too much to see. Skip the bios, artists statements, even titles. Good visual artists are masters of form, shape, material. Yes, I know you want to know the artist’s personal story. Yes, words are sometimes helpful in helping a viewer see how or why an artist chose one thing over an other. But really, none of that matters. And it certainly doesn’t matter where they went to school or where they live or what philosopher they think they are quoting. Let the artwork do the work.


2. Give the art time. It deserves it. What is the work made of? What is it doing? What does it remind you of?


3. Trust your experience. Does the work make you feel? Does it show you something you didn’t expect? Does it make you wonder how the artist made it?


4. Experience the art; don’t decipher it. It’s not a puzzle. You’re not stupid. The best works of art promise more than one kind of experience. Once you’ve seen a giant pig you’ve seen a giant pig. But how many times have you gone back, say, to that deceptively simple blue and white panel by Ellsworth Kelly in the front entrance at the GRAM and seen exactly the same thing?


5. Go with friends. Talk about the work. Rise above the GR Press anxiety about using, um, words, and articulate what you see the work doing and how it makes you see objects or space differently. What do others see? The richer the work, the greater the conversation. What is there to say about a Plexiglas rainbow and a plastic pot of gold? Oh look! The artist has taken you for a moron and told you they are symbols. Anymore to say about that? Nope. Well, check the tumblr.

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