How to look at an artwork?

Ever wondered how to look at art? I mean, really see what the artist, art critics, seasoned collectors all see? This is a huge topic so here we will first dabble into it. In the coming weeks, we will do deep dives of how to really see, understand, feel art.

First Impressions

When we are in front of an artwork, our senses and reason intervene, as well as our ability to analyze and interpret. In our case, the act of looking consists of focusing our eyes on a piece of art, concentrating all our attention on it. Although the perception of a work of art responds to two faculties of the human being, the sensible and the rational, the first encounter is purely sensorial. Sight is what allows us to get in immediate contact with the world around us. When a viewer observes art, they receive visual stimuli. First, they perceive the whole piece, which prevails over the sum of the parts. Then comes the process of analysis, which consists of gradually separating the parts of the whole, to identify the elements that make up the artwork.

Ärbol azul - Tatiana Moya

See the Whole

An artwork can be two-dimensional - painting, drawing, graphics, photography; or three-dimensional (sculpture or architecture). It can be figurative, that is, made up of images that allude to the real world; or abstract, which does not represent recognizable objects or only presents pure geometric shapes. Whatever the case, all artistic work is composed of elements of visual expression. Knowing these ingredients in art is essential to analyze a work, its formal structure and then to understand the piece, the intention of the artist and the  meaning of the art.


Although there is no single model to carry out an artistic analysis, when approaching a work, the first thing we must do is identify what type of work it is; if it is painting, drawing, photography, graphics, sculpture or mixed work. Often, when observing a work, misunderstanding occurs. Many times, the viewer does not understand what he is seeing because he wants to quickly jump ahead to understanding the thematic content of the work and its meaning. Before trying to understand, one must enjoy the elements of visual expression with which the artist operates in an ingenious and personal way. You have to take advantage of the sensory experience.

Technique and Style

The viewer must pay close attention to how an artist structures his discourse with the ingredients of visual expression - line, color, texture, shape, light, value, space, volume. These individual components generate a composition where the parts are harmonically subordinate to the whole, thanks to a procedure that each artist uses in a very particular way, also known as technique. The visual aesthetics of his products acquires a semblance that, even being related to an artistic trend, does not cease to have the personal stamp that characterizes and differentiates each artist, which is also known as style.


Portales - Jose Caldas


If aesthetic sensibility allows us to get excited, feel attraction, admiration, surprise, joy, sadness, liking or disliking of an artwork, then we must move on to a second part of it which is the are of reason, intellect, mental process through which we deduce what the artist wanted to tell us, what their intention is, which inevitably will be conditioned by our culture, education, previous knowledge, and memories. To undergo this task of understanding a more detailed analysis is necessary, containing different readings of the artwork. This operation is associated with the themes, concepts and ideas that the artist wants to express or induce in the viewer through the elements of visual expression. Art is not only a carrier of sensations but also of meanings.

Written by our curator, Jose Gregorio Noroño

Serie Herencia. Ric Santesteban

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