Looking for Connection: Art and How to ‘Get’ It

by Jillian Taylor
It’s no secret - the art world can be intimidating. I know plenty of people who don’t feel like they’re ‘qualified enough’ to have an opinion on art. So many of us tend to focus on whether or not we understand the meaning, which can leave us feeling uncomfortable and overwhelmed. It’s a bit like having your grade school teacher call on you when you don’t know the answer to their question. Not fun. The belief that we’re ‘out of our depth’ can be hugely discouraging when we’re trying to engage with art. While I’m no expert, I do believe that the honest truth is this: everyone has the ability to connect with art.

Regardless of how many words you may (or may not) know to describe colour, composition, or technique, there is an indescribable feeling of magnetism that will always draw you to certain artworks. That feeling gives those of us who are new to the art world a place to start, and it can also be a great touchstone if you want to expand your familiarity and knowledge. The ability to appreciate and connect with art is not a learned skill. It’s already there.

Ashley Mulvihill, founder of the digital art gallery Ninth Editions, shares in a Verily article written by Sienna Vittoria Asselin that "buying thoughtfully and intentionally based on how you connect with an artwork is the best approach."

Our ability to connect with certain pieces is arguably the most vital part of engaging with art, and it’s something that we all do, often automatically. We’ve heard it time and time again: Trust your gut, because it’s usually right. Art is no different! There will be plenty of artworks that you don’t connect with, and that’s okay. Spend your time with works that you do like, even if you can’t quite pinpoint why you like them so much.

Whether we know it or not, there are patterns of visual elements that draw us in to certain works of art. When we’re starting out as art collectors and/or appreciators, we’re naturally drawn to pieces that follow those patterns - even if we don’t consciously know what they are. The recognition of what draws you to a piece often comes after you fall in love with it, meaning that there’s no need to be an expert before you start collecting – if you trust your intuition, you’ll end up with pieces that inspire you.

As we look at more art, though, it gets easier to explain why we’re drawn to certain pieces over others. We notice patterns in what art we connect with, and what art we don’t. Recognizing the characteristics of art that you feel drawn to is a learned skill, but it develops naturally with time. Nathalie Soo’s article in The Artling assures us that as we gain more experience engaging with art, "you will train your mind and eye to identify the types of art you love and enjoy more than others."

Personally, I look for works with any combination of bright colours, bold shapes, expressive lines, and funky textures. Noticing these patterns took time, but it was also a gratifying process. By considering the visual elements of artworks that speak to us, we can start to understand the connection we share with them, and what’s more gratifying than learning more about a connection that just feels right?

You can start to do this yourself by looking at art and thinking about what draws you in, as well as what doesn’t. Art is very personal and very emotional, so ask yourself simple, feelings-based questions.

Do I like the way these colours make me feel? Do those abstract shapes confuse or intrigue me? Am I drawn to these smooth, glossy oil paints, or do I feel more at ease around softer textures?

How does this artwork make me feel, and what about it makes me feel that way?

It’s also important to ask and answer these questions in whatever way you like. Whether you’re describing those lines that caught your eye as “curvilinear” or “swirly” – there’s no wrong way to do it!

Above all, we need to remember that there’s no pressure to find the answers to any of these questions. If you aren’t sure, that’s perfectly alright. Growing these skills takes time, and we can get frustrated if we push ourselves too hard. If we’re too preoccupied with why we feel a certain way, we might forget to enjoy and appreciate the feeling itself. At the end of the day, all you need to know is that you connect with a piece. We’ve all got the ability to do so, whether we’re experienced art collectors, or completely new to the scene. Connecting with a work is powerful, but it’s also simple. And that makes it a pretty amazing thing to experience, if you ask me.