How do we ‘look’ at art?

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

A black and white focusing on the connection, the love between a man and his black dog. 
The young cat is transfixed by a lizard on the wall which is just outside the shot. The focus is on the cat, sitting with perked up ears, staring intently at her prey but probably with little chance of getting it! This photograph has been given a sep... 
The young cat stares seriously at the camera as she lays down in front of a pot of succulents in the garden. With the black and white effect, her eyes look like they have been edged with black eye liner. She is cute even in black and white. 
The cat and dog, now firm best friends, are so comfortable with each other that the cat allows the dog to use her for a pillow. As the dog is fast asleep, the cat lays watching the world passing by, ready to wake him up for action if needed. 
The two black rescue dogs can't believe their luck having a comfortable sofa to themselves - well okay, shared with their feline sister who is washing in the background. But definitely furry guys only need apply to sit here. 
The little grey cat turns her head towards the light so that the camera catches her best profile. The soft lighting highlights her beautiful amber eyes and orange nose. 
A colourful floral display of double headed Kalanchoe flowers. Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is also known as 'Flaming Katy' and this image brings out the oranges and reds of the plants to enhance the pink the more fiery colours which go well with the name... 
The little grey cat lays comfortably on a chair gazing in front of her, queen of all she surveys. It makes a change for her to be able to sit on the chair as it is normally occupied by her doggy brothers as you can see from the dog hairs. Stevie Mous... 
A distant view of San Fatucchio half way up the image rising up to Castiglione del Lago with the distinctive fortress (rocca) standing proud over the lake. Lago Trasimeno is south of the river Po and north of the nearby river Tiber and is the fourth ... 
A view down the valley to Castiglione del Lago, with its fortress looking out over Lago Trasimeno and on the other side of the lake Passignano sul Trasimeno. As well as a road route around the outside of the lake there is a ferry service between the ... 
Isola Polvese is the largest of three islands on Lago Trasimeno in Central Italy. It is a nature reserve and is reached by ferry. At one stage it was occupied by the Romans. A monastery was built there in 1482 but was later abandoned. In 1643 the tro... 
A back street in Tavernelle, Umbria, Italy and your eye is drawn to two old buildings that seem unoccupied but have matching archways at the front of each building, three on each. They look like they were once used as warehouse storage. 
This walkway leads off the Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini in Tavernelle, Umbria, Italy. The initial entrance walkway goes up hill, passing a row of shop windows, towards a large double flight of steps with central hand rail, that leads up to a residential a... 
The Via del Commercio runs through the centre of the old part of the market town of Tavernelle in Umbria, Italy and operates one way in and one way out. This is the part of the road that is the way out of Tavernelle Centre and at the end it rejoins t... 
The commercial end of Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini in Tavernelle, Umbria, Italy. The piazza contains several banks and shops and is a real thoroughfare with traffic coping with the one way system that operates in the centre of this bustling market town.