Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..

Appreciating ArT – Some Tips and Thoughts

I initially got interested in art back in undergraduate school around 1972.  I took a Humanities course at New York Institute of Technology  and the Professor who’s name I can’t remember introduced the class to Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists. I had to write a paper about Van Gogh and researching him fascinated me. I actually enjoyed writing the paper and it spurred my interest to buy a coffee table art book about his life and art. I still have that book to this day. Its funny how a teacher can be a catalyst for ones direction and passion in life.


One of my favorite things to do is to spend a day at a great museum. Today I spent the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.  I love roaming the the galleries filled with great art created through the ages. There is so much mystery and information embedded  in art. There is so much more to it than initially meets the eye. Most people walk up to a work of art and just see it “face value”. They either like it or they don’t, but have difficulty explaining why.


Most viewers of art don’t have to tools that enable him/her to peal the layers off a great painting for example.  A person may like a Monet landscape because its pretty and serene and makes them feel good, however they really don’t know the WHY or HOW behind the creation of the painting itself.


That same viewer may move to the Romanticism Gallery and stand in front of a Goya and be totally turned off by the ominous/traumatic subject matter and dark, oppressively contrasting colors.Yet the Goya is still a great painting because it elicits an emotional response from the viewer even if it is a disturbing, distasteful, even gross reaction to Saturn Devouring His Son.


All art is not suppose to be pretty and serene like the Monet. So its important for would be museum goers to educate themselves to some basic art viewing techniques and visual literacy fundamentals.


Do a little research about the museum and its collection before your visit. What types of art do they have on display. Then investigate that art style and period, in addition to some of the artists that worked during that period of art history.

What is it about a Caravaggio painting from the Baroque period that disturbs you and/or makes you feel anxious and uneasy? You’ll learn it’s more than just the subject matter itself that elicits certain emotional responses. The earthy colors play a role and the harsh contrasts between light and dark called chiaroscuro. The diagonal line direction leading to the focal point of Goliath’s head all reinforce certain feelings and emotions you may have towards a painting like Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath.

caravaggio Can you feel Van Gogh’s intense passion and intensity busting out of his Starry Night painting? Much of this is caused by the swirling / jagged undulating lines and fluid spinning shapes clashing between the warm and cool colors. His paint is applied very thick so texture (impasto) plays a role  in reinforcing the visual intensity of his famous painting.


Now walk into the next gallery and stand in front of John Constable’s landscape painting the Haywain posted below. I would imagine an entirely different set of emotions / feelings are unleashed in you. Its calm, serene, peaceful, romantic and nostalgic. Constables painting elicits a sense of inner peace and tranquility – very different from the Caravaggio and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. These feelings are reinforced /enhanced by the horizontal lines in the composition, the S-Curve in the meandering flowing river, in addition to the puffy white clouds and green trees all topped off by the man in the wagon being pulled by the horses in the middle of the stream. Hmmm I wonder why he’s in the stream and not along side it?  Lots of questions still left unanswered and that’s why art can also be mysterious and leave us with unanswered questions IF you take time to really LOOK at a work of great art. Seriously scrutinize it!  Extract the tiny details and see how much information you can pull out of it instead of just walking up to it and immediately draw a conclusion as to liking it or disliking it and then moving on to the next painting, photo or statue.


Visiting a museum or art gallery can be a uniquely enriching experience if you just spend a little time educating yourself to the basics of art analysis. You don’t have to have a doctorate in Art History to truly enjoy and appreciate art. Art can give us deeper insight into the human experience and maybe even ourselves.

witchey.fig3Art created through the ages  essentially  addresses the important issues and concerns of any given culture / society in history. We see this demonstrated from the prehistoric paintings on the walls of caves to the Egyptians and their fascination with death and the afterlife to the Greeks and the concept of “Man is the measure of all things” and Christians using art to Spread the Word of God all the way to Jackson Pollock dripping paint on his giant canvases…..etc.

Without a basic understanding of the historical context in art through the ages and the visual elements of design we as viewers cannot truly extract (glean) all the information embedded in that work of art. Viewing art csuitarmoran be such an enjoyable and enriching experience if you have a basic understanding of the visual language and historical perspectives of art.

Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like to be living in medieval times. No creature comforts like we have today.

METegyptEach gallery in the MET gives me a glimpse into the hearts, minds and souls of those who came before us. I think what it would be like to be a knight and wear a suit of a armor carrying a long heavy sword.

I ask myself while walking through the Egyptian halls how ancient Egyptians  moved and carved out those giant blocks of stone and placed them perfectly into the pyramids. How did the ancient Greeks build the Parthenon with such limited antiquated technology? The art and architecture created in the past is a testament to the human spirit.

Every photograph, drawing, etching, drawing, sculpture etc., communicates a story – it may be a tiny sliver of a story about the artist, his/her subject and/or the world he/she degasportraitlived it at the time the art was created.

degasportait1I’m sitting among the great Impressionists as I write this in my journal. Monet, Manet, Renoir and Degas. Their paintings speak to me. Whisper in my ear sharing little tidbits from another time and place late in the 1800’s in France. Degas’s Ballerinas dance and strike poses, his horses gallop and his portraits stare back at me through their frames from another time in history. I wonder what these people being depicted are thinking. Some convey sadness, introspection, joy, worry, anxiety. Many of the same emotions and feelings we confront today in our lives. Rejection, fear, confusion, worry, sickness, death and torment.

I could spend an hour just sitting in the middle of the Impressionists Gallery. Everywhere I turn their is another window into a another world, another time, another heart, another human soul.


The one thing that disturbs me lately is how so many museum goers walk around each gallery with cell phones in hand taking snapshots and/or selfies of the art instead of really LOOKING at it and trying to understand and possibly gain some insight from it. It’s sad really – at least in my opinion.  It seems it is more about being there in front of the Picasso for example than it is experiencing the painting itself.

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle

11 comments on “Appreciating ArT – Some Tips and Thoughts

  1. stacey
    June 10, 2016

    amazing how beautiful and strange art can be ,when you look at the art you can see different things at different times

  2. Brice Bacon
    June 10, 2016

    Hello Mr.Keough, I completely agree with you about a teacher inspiring one to explore more about Art, throughout the course I am taking with you now. i am finding a deeper passions for it and one of the first steps I plan on doing when I get back to the states is seeing and going to more museums of art to broaden my horizon (without the selfies). On top of that your article was very well written and concise and helped myself gain more of an understanding.

  3. stacey
    June 10, 2016

    not sure if I added it in the right spot above .hope you are enjoying time with your family .I was born in N.J. I also have family in N.Y. and N.J . I really enjoyed reading your blog ,you can tell you, love Art. I agree with you about taking snap- shots of yourself instead of enjoying the beautiful works of Art. Plus I think there is a little poet in you . since I started this class I am really starting to appreciate Art and the meaning of the beauty of Art and the way you put so much passion in the way you describe Art makes me want to know more.

  4. Christina white
    June 10, 2016

    Hello Mr. K.
    I am going to NY my self this Sunday for a week or two going to west point for warrior games. I hate the selfie game that everyone plays if it’s not on snapchat or social media there is no proof. People can’t even enjoy something such as a mesume without their phones. Isn’t it amazing how we were just studying the Egyptian period and yet their is a canvass with such a beautiful piece.

    June 10, 2016

    Hello mr. K,
    First of all I want to say how much I love New York. I never did get the opportunity to go visit an art gallery while I was there. Art can have so many stories to tell if you spend the time reading about it and trying to understand. I personally would choose a piece that had a lot of emotion behind it because I am a very very emotional person. I actually like the very last painting on your blog I would be interested in finding out more about it and what was the story behind it I hope you enjoyed your time.
    Carrie morrison

  6. L. Hammond
    June 12, 2016

    Wow! This is on my places to visit when I go to NYC list! We will be going next month to visit family. You mentioned how many individuals are more concerned with taking selfies with the art, rather than admiring it; I can kind of see both standpoints of it. When I go to museums I admire, look and try to understand what was really going on in the particular artists mind when creating the piece. On the other hand, I seen a group of young adults taking selfies with a painting and I was bold enough and asked why was it so important to take a selfie with this particular piece. One of the young ladies went on to say that her grandfather was ill and this was his favorite art piece and wished that he could take his grandchildren to go see it. I found that it was so sweet and actually had a sentimental reason rather than the knuckle heads who just loves selfies. Thank you for inviting us to see the cool pictures of your NYC museum outing. Now I really can’t wait till I go!

  7. XiWEN Ni
    June 12, 2016

    Hi Mr K. Thank you for took me for a tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art museum with you. I have never been to any museum in the states since I came into the U.S. even I have been to New York and Washington D.C. several times. After reading your essay and had a visit with you together, I want to go to a museum to have a real experience. That might be awesome! My favorite artist is Picasso, I will do some research for a museum might have his painting. I hope I don’t have to fly to Paris to see his paint.

  8. Luke Warden
    June 14, 2016

    Hello Mr. K!

    I have been to New York, NY a couple of times. Once when I was a kid when my dad when on a business trip and twice for New Years with my wife. Now i will say, going for New Years isn’t the best time to go haha. Not all of the metro stations are open so for someone who isn’t accustomed to the area, it can be a bit challenging. I do hope to go back someday and visit what it really has to offer. And I also agree with you about the use of phones in museums. I mean, its ok to take a snapshot once in a while, but you really need to put the phone away and really enjoy the art. When you look at art, it moves you, it shows you perspective that is totally trough someone else’s eyes. So taking a selfie with a piece of art, is really just that, a selfie. Use the art to take yourself out of your own shoes and into something bigger than yourself.

  9. Stefanee
    June 15, 2016

    I can totally see how having just this basic knowledge of artwork could make viewing art a completely different experience. The Egyptians obsession with the afterlife or the different moods provoked by darker shades of colors. It is all quite interesting.

  10. Melissa Robinson
    June 20, 2016

    Wow! Thank you for the tour of the museum. I love taking educational journey’s that are free of charge. I only wish this area in which I reside in had more cultural exhibits to frequent. Your post was awesome Mr. K. You have away of opening the door for art that makes an individual curios enough to step through the door.Life is full of so many uncertainties its good to step back and admire art as well as nature. When I visit a new location, I try to visit the landmarks or museums while i am there in the area. Art holds something for everyone and yes, I tend to stray away from the more gory sights like Saturn devouring his son. But to each his own. I like to get my own personal spin on what i take from the piece of art. Now, I can peel away layers and have a deeper understanding on art as a whole. I love things that catch my attention.

  11. Mindy Etienne
    July 5, 2016

    Awesome! It’s amazing how art speaks to you and you’re able to find the depths of it’s beauty. You’re passion for art and it’s history is mind blowing, the tour was honored to have you as much as you were honored to have them. I love Monet’s art, even though a lot of people might be find it pleasing. Art speaks from many different aspect from society to political etc. but you have a great way of explaining it with it’s history, themes, figures, and purpose.

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This entry was posted on June 9, 2016 by in ArT and tagged , , , , , , .
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