The Art Museum Insider

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What You’ll Learn in This Class

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Over the next five units, you’ll acquire a set of skills to help you evaluate most artworks, even if you have no prior knowledge about them. These skills won’t make you an expert or give you all the answers, but they will give you points of entry into any image you choose. Along the way, you will learn from illustrated examples, ask questions about what you see, and complete practice activities with sample solutions.

What You’ll Learn

  1. We’ll practice the most important skill for any art lover – looking. There’s more to it than you might think.
  2. Next, we will identify the visual building blocks that make up all artwork and practice evaluating how each building block appears in an artwork, which is the key first step to interpretation .
  3. Then, we will turn our attention to subject matter, discovering the different ways artists represent the world (or don’t) and considering how they impact our experiences as viewers.
  4. We’ll explore the fascinating process of interpretation next. Although we can only skim the surface of this complex topic, we’ll consider the many different types of meaning, discover the factors that go into an interpretation. We’ll both interpret works for ourselves and evaluate interpretations provided by museums.
  5. Finally, we’ll wrap up by discussing how to use these new art appreciation skills in the real world.

If you have questions and comments along the way, simply post them at the bottom of the relevant lesson page. I welcome and respond to your thoughts and feedback as long as they are relevant, constructive, and respectful of myself and your fellow students.

What You Won’t Learn

This isn’t an art history course. Therefore, you won’t learn about specific artists, artworks, or styles, and you won’t have to memorize names and dates. While there’s no question that art historical knowledge would take you further than the purely visual approach we’ll use in this class, it’s not the most efficient route for beginning art viewers. Acquiring this knowledge takes time and effort, and the relevant facts vary for different times and places in world history. I will, however, recommend some introductory art history material at the end of the course for those who are interested.

Visual Literacy

On your art appreciation journey, I would encourage you to look at everything as a potential artwork, from magazine covers to Instagram photos to objects in your house. The ability to analyze and think critically about visual imagery is called visual literacy, and it’s a valuable side effect of studying art. As we’ll see, images can be powerful, persuasive, and effective ways of sending messages. That is why we should always approach them thoughtfully. Someone who understands how images create meaning can unpack their messages and react from an informed point of view, rather than getting swept away without realizing it. Far beyond the art museum or gallery, this skill will empower you in your interactions with everything from television commercials and billboards to social media posts.

Read more about visual literacy and why it’s important in my blog post.