How do we look at art?

In this series of articles I am going to explore how we look at art, the part that colour plays in our lives and how art can contribute to health and well being.  This first article considers how we ‘look’ at art.

To begin with I want to ask you to consider – what part of our body do we use when look at a piece of art? If I asked that question most people would look at me as if I was mad (which is a distinct possibility) and respond ‘with our eyes’ of course!

Kitten Flowers by Dorothy Berry-Lound
Kitten Flowers

In actual fact we don’t see the world through our eyeballs at all – the light shines through the retina and sends projections to groups of neurons in the occipital lobe where visual information is interpreted.  Different groups of neurons view components such as colour, orientation, shape, light, dark and shades in-between and facial-recognition.  Then other parts of the brain kick in to sift through your memories and that tells you what you are seeing, whether that is a kitten in a flower pot or a dead tree!

Venice Ripples by Dorothy Berry-Lound
Venice Ripples

As we get older we don’t see many things as unique because when we look at something our mind will raise memories of what the piece of art reminds us of.  This means some artwork gets dismissed without a glance because it is, to our mind at least, ‘same old’.  Some images will remind us of a bad experience, some of good.  So, when we look at a picture, memories and emotions also come into play and affect how we perceive what we are viewing.  So, for example, if you were frightened by a clown as a child you may still be freaked out when you see one as an adult.  If something bad happened to you in a room with a red rose in it, you may find seeing a red rose triggers the memories and emotions of what happened and you are repelled by the image – which makes you very much the odd one out for Valentine’s Day.  So, we also use our memories and emotions when looking at a piece of art, though a lot of this may be at a subconscious level.

But there is also another part of our body that we use when we look at art.  The whole of our physical body is light sensitive and the electromagnetic field which surrounds us, which is called the aura, is constantly filled with vibrating colours that change according to our state of health or mental well-being and respond to what we come into contact with.  Colour affects the whole person – that is the basis for colour therapy which involves treating a person with colour rays in order to bring their body back into balance.  When we are stressed, tired or ill we respond to colours in a different way to when we feel well, are calm or have been meditating.  So, under certain conditions individual colours will be particularly appealing to us and attract us to a piece of art.  On another day we might not even glance at that image.

Ben's Angel by Dorothy Berry-Lound
Ben’s Angel

When you watch someone walking around a gallery you often see what I call the ‘gallery walk’, a slow walk past all the images. This is heart wrenching for an artist when the person just glances at a piece and moves on. Until they come to a stop in front of an image and stare for ages at it.  It could be the subject, the composition, the unusual treatment of an image or the colour – or a combination of all of these.  Whatever it is, you can bet the viewer will be looking at the art with more than just their eyes.

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Dorothy Berry-Lound

I am a fine art photographer and visual storyteller and I promote life, work and energy balance through my art, poetry and writing. I specialise in photomanipulation which is also known as photopainting. I use my own photographs and then work on them digitally to develop the story of the images further using the application of colour and textures.

My art covers a range of subjects, reflecting my Brighton background, my life in Italy, the countryside and my love for animals. But I work from the heart so all pieces are developed with a little piece of me and contribute to the mood of the room in which they sit.
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Kathy K. McClellan

Wow Dorothy! Powerful food for thought.