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How do we ‘look’ at art?

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This post written by Resident Artist - Dorothy Berry-Lound

Dorothy is 1stAngel Arts Magazine’s Resident Artist – April 2015
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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
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
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 a piece of 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
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.

New Artwork by Dorothy Berry-Lound

New Artwork by Dorothy Berry-Lound

Bold, bright and beautiful, yet soft and delicate, violets grace the countryside. 
This is where wild violets grow, peaking out through the leaf litter and the newly growing grass as spring takes hold of the land.  
Isn't it wonderful when daisies start to appear after the winter. I love them, they are so bright and perky. I made a daisy chain for my cat Stevie Mouse this morning, she was not impressed. But I sang her a song that we used to sing when I was a kid... 
One whole area of our grass terrace is a sea of beautiful yellow dandlions. The colour is almost blinding in the sunlight. Spring is such a wonderful time in Italy, with the wild flowers appearing, fruit trees blossoming and the sun getting warm. ... 
A beautiful clump of grape hyacinth peeping up through the grass and weeds. They create a wonderful display of colour against the green background. Vikram Seth wrote a sonnet that mentions the shy grape hyacinth and could have been written about my g... 
Briefly highlighted by the warm Italian sunshine, a clump of periwinkle sits nestled in the shade of a tree. These are fabulous ground cover for shady areas but on our land grow wild, providing beautiful spots of colour. I found this wonderful poem f... 
A white plum blossom offering its pollen to the world. The plum blossom is one of the most popular flowers in China, seen as a friend of winter, with many poems written about it and many pieces of art created in its honour. It symbolizes perseverance... 
The third in a trilogy depicting the Lago di Chiusi Landscape. This one shows Chiusi Lake in Tuscany, Italy as it tapers away into the countryside. The lake sits in a basin between hills, and forms the border between Tuscany and Umbria. The photograp... 
Lago di Chiusi Landscape 2 shows a broad view Chiusi Lake in Tuscany, Italy. The lake sits in a basin between hills, surrounded by farmland and forming the border between Tuscany and Umbria. The photograph upon which this image was based was taken fr... 
Lago di Chiusi Landscape 1 shows Chiusi Lake in Tuscany, Italy. The lake sits in a basin between hills, forming the border between Tuscany and Umbria. The photograph upon which this image was based was taken from the Umbrian side, looking across the ... 
The trees stand at the waters edge, bereft of leaves, the cold air whistling around their skeletons. In the shadows, their reflections show clear in the lake. Winter reflections at Lago di Chiusi, Tuscany, Italy.  
As you approach Citta della Pieve in Umbria, Italy, the first thing you see are the impressive town walls. Citta della Pieve sits high with an impressive view of Umbria and Tuscany below. It is very popular with tourists and holds many colourful page... 
Caught in a quiet moment, this street in Castiglione del Lago in Umbria, Italy, is usually heaving with tourists. There is a real buzz to the air with lots of people talking and the owners of the delicatessens that line the street calling out to pass... 
This wonderful ornate building is on the main street in Castiglione del Lago, Umbria in Italy. Once a grand mansion, it is now a series of shops below and apartments above. The building has ornate windows and intricate carving, beautiful architecture... 
Harveys Brewery in Lewes, Sussex, England is a family owned business. Their prize winning traditional ales (recognised by the Campaign for Real Ales - CAMRA) are sold throughout the South East of England through 49 public houses (pubs). This is t... 

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