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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

A black and white shot of Harveys Brewery in Lewes, Sussex, England. The brewery was established in 1794 and is renowned for its ale, said to be among the finest in England. The brewery sits on the edge of the River Ouse, with a large brick wall and ... 
This wonderful Victorian bridge with metal railings spans the River Ouse in Lewes as part of the main street which runs right through the centre of the town like a spine. The Cliffe Bridge sits in Cliffe High Street. On the first and third Saturdays ... 
This piece of equipment was sitting idly at the side of the road having done its job of taking off the surface of the road. The vehicle has large caterpillar tracks and a spiky drum at the front for tearing up tarmac and dig a trench. The driver had ... 
A few the trees and undergrowth in Stanmer Park, Brighton, England, towards the Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club Stadium. The stadium towers above the surrounding countryside and on this winter's day can be seen rising up behind the redbrick bu... 
A winter view from Stanmer Park in Brighton of the landmark Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club stadium. Just beyond the trees, a group of school boys are about to start a game of football on a grass pitch. In the background, the white structure o... 
A view of the landmark Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club stadium from Stanmer Park in Brighton. In the foreground a group of school boys are about to start a game of football on a grass pitch. The goal posts and net can be seen in the bottom rig... 
When we read the news today it brings clearly into focus how much we need to work with Gaia, Mother Earth, rather than continuing to pollute and cause damage to the world we all share. We are all part of the ecosystem and just think if a butterfly ca... 
Originating from Africa, the Streptocarpus is a popular house plant. The five-petaled flowers are reminiscent of orchids but there is also a passing resemblance to primulas, hence the common name used for this plant, the Cape Primrose. This Purple St... 
A group of succulents, comprising eight different varieties all in small pots waiting to be planted into the garden as a display. These have become increasingly popular in Italy, for example, where the long periods of hot, dry weather suits these pla... 
It is Sunday afternoon and the tabby cat is taking advantage of the sunshine coming in the window to stretch out on the bed and get really comfortable. Another lazy Sunday afternoon, she is completely relaxed, with her tummy exposed, back legs tucked... 
As indicated in the image, these road signs sits on the curve of the road on the outskirts of Paciano in Umbria just below Bar Boldrino. Pity the poor driver who has a split second to take account of this sign before choosing whether to go one way or... 
At the road junction as you leave Paciano in Umbria, Italy, heading towards Moiano you stop at the junction and it is time to choose. Going right will take you to Perugia, Castiglione del Lago and Panicale. It will also take you to the local cemetry.... 
Porta Fiorentina is one of three medieval gateways into Paciano in Umbria, Italy. A popular tourist destination, Paciano is a small medieval walled hill town with narrow streets. Only the brave dare venture in with a car as the streets are narrow wit... 
Looking up from below the main centre of Citta della Pieve in Umbria, Italy you can see the well known skyline. At 38 metres high the Torre del Pubblico dominates the view. The ornate belltower appears to be higher than the tower but this is an optic... 
A bright sunny day near Paciano in Umbria, Italy. The carriage driver has hitched up his matching chestnut horses to an old traditional wooden carriage and set off on a morning drive.They are walking along an unmade road and enjoying the dappled shad... 

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