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Ask HN: Has anyone learnt to love art?
13 points by eelliott on Nov 7, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments
I don't feel much emotion, if any, when viewing art. I know I'm missing out on a universal experience (http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/17/what-universal-human-experiences-are-you-missing-without-realizing-it/).

Has anyone else faced this challenge and overcome it somehow?

You might just not have seen good art. Like someone who has tasted only dark chocolate might summarize that they simply "don't like chocolate".

I find that good art is actually a way of crystallizing and capturing emotions of a period of time. Many of those emotions don't resonate with us as they were in some period of history unfamiliar with us.

Music tends to capture emotions much better. There's the anger in Eminem's music, the helplessness of Linkin Park, the depression of Nirvana, ambition and energy of Queen.

Art paintings and sculptures tends to target art viewers. It's not meant to just be beautiful but say something. Like memes, they much of it is a fresh take on a common thought of the period. But looking at it as an outsider, they're hard to get.

You might appreciate architecture more. There are things like animated sculptures or huge ones crafted from steel. Or things more subtle, playing with light.

Or if you want things that captures and enhances natural beauty, photography and food is a kind of art too.

But what I find to be the rawest kind of art is war memorials. The most memorable art experience for me was visiting war memorials in Canberra. You can also go to places like Holocaust museums.

Good point. What are your interests eelliot? May sound strange but I absolutely love looking at video game concept art.

That's not strange at all - I fondly remember flipping through the pages of the Art Book I got with the first Dark Souls - I still use it for reference to this day, the motives make good drawing practice :)

I'm not sure if it's my 'interest' but the art that seems to interest me most is that with some kind of stated science/anatomy/geometry/clean lined architecture

I would suggest not to stress over it. If it's natural for you, you'll come along and join the journey sometime in the future.

I have had a similar "issue", I never understood what do people see in art and why it always seems so hyped up. But just by getting more mature, and exposing yourself to different things and people, your perspective changes. That is what happened to me. I've started to notice that my eyes were getting more and more attracted to visual things. Photographs, paintings, etc. I've started to notice more details, more things came into place, the reason behind some of the works I've seen.

It's just my personal experience. I liked the natural transition. And it's still happening. I think it will never end. But if you're naturally leaning towards it, don't rush it. It's art. You don't have to understand it to love it, but over time you'll love it even more as it reveals itself.

I don't feel much emotion when viewing art, but I'm a huge art lover.

Go to a museum and take a guided tour where they talk about the artists. You should start to feel intellectual curiosity at the very least.

Best advice I can give to people who "don't get art" is to go to a museum and get lost for a while.

Second best advice I can give is to not try to "figure art out". Don't try to assign deep meaning to a piece that you think should have it. Yes, lots of art works on multiple levels - in concept and in execution - but none of that matters if you can't connect with art in the first place.

Personally, the first time I ever saw a Mark Rothko painting in person create a seismic shift in my understanding of art and more specifically painting.

To me, viewing art is like listening to music you really love. You will know immediately if you enjoy the piece, and will learn to appreciate it more and more every time you look at (or listen to) it.

People get too hung up on the "meaning" of art. What is the "meaning" of your favorite song? My guess is that your connection to your favorite song is rooted in familiarity, nostalgia, or pure enjoyment, and not in the literal meaning of the lyrics (although that is entirely possible!).

Go and see art in person. Looking at it through a computer screen is bad for you and bad for artists. Go to local gallery openings, museums, or art studios.

There's a museum in Florence that I went to where you could see many statues in various states of completion. It was fantastically beautiful. They were clearly not complete works, Michelangelo had intended to do more. But for whatever reason they never were finished. Despite their state of incompleteness, you could see the craftsmanship involved in getting them to their current state. But you could also see beauty in this unfinished state, as if the men (predominantly) of stone were climbing out of the rocks themselves.

Show someone an image of the Statue of David and it's not that interesting. But see it in person. The immenseness of it. The detail that went into it. See these other statues nearby, like stone timelapse photos. The whole thing is quite fascinating (intellectually) and can be quite emotionally moving (not in the sense that it brought me to tears, but more of an awestruck feeling seeing this work).

I was just there recently and there are rooms off to the side of the David which had so many sculptures. I remember it vividly because they all had these black markings sticking out of them in symmetrical places all over the faces and bodies. Is this what you're speaking of? I can't remember seeing the works in progress, as you mention.

I thought it was at that museum, perhaps it was another. The statues were clearly incomplete. The arms and legs were often still just a block of stone, uncarved. I'll dig through my photos later to see if it was a different location.

I'm going to say first and foremost that I'm an artist. I sell occasionally (rarely), but constantly create. I'm often prolific. I'm nearing 40 and have done this stuff since I was a child.

Yet I really don't have an emotional connection with art (there are exceptions, but this is rare). I hold a few things I've made dear to me but would sell them in an instant. I don't think this is in any way necessary. Whatever you feel - or don't - is just how you see it.

But I like art, overall, especially surrealism, fantasy, and abstract work. I think they are neat to look at when done well. I'm sometimes in awe of well-done landscapes, portraits, still life paintings, and things depicting current events and situations. I don't really enjoy these, though, since I find such images boring after a while. In fact, I'm the type of artist that would make something up if someone insists on "getting" my art or asks me to explain a few things. Or refuse to explain altogether. I know folks expect this stuff, so I'm prepared to jump into that role if it ever becomes actually necessary, even though I know it would be a farce.

It is OK not to have emotion. It is OK to like art because you find the image interesting to look at. Because you find it neat, pretty, absurd, or whatever. So long as it captures your attention, that's enough. Regardless of what an article says.

All that said, though, if you want an emotional connection, I suggest learning about art. See a lot of examples, read up on what artists have written about their own work or the reactions of critics and regular folks that saw the work. Look up "classic" popular artists, look up not-so-popular artists.

Expand into other fields. Maybe visual art isn't what you connect to- maybe you find your connection with music or poetry. Maybe you find you are a sucker for good animation (old Disney films have watercolor backgrounds and Dali did some work with Disney: Newer animations are marvels of digital animation at times). Once you have a feel for your preferences, explore how you think and feel when you look/listen/read what you like.

Whatever that last one is - the things you think and feel, however it changes - is your emotional reaction.

Thanks for the reply broken hippo

I am an MFA with a lot of friends in STEM fields some of whom express similar feelings. A couple of suggestions:

1. Look for art that you connect with. Some people weep at the sight of a Rothko, overcome by emotion, others say, "what the hell?"

2. Find a guide. There are bad art classes but there are also great teachers who can help you learn to see the "art" in the art. When I started I hated Shakespeare but after learning to read the language it is now filled with endless beauty

3. Consider what in the world inspires you emotionally. A loved one, mathematical concepts, food? Whatever it is that moves you probably has art that it has inspired. Seek it out.

4. Sometimes the spark of emotion gets buried pretty deep. At least 2 engineer friends have told me they have trouble with humor because their training has taught them to dissect things in a very linear and methodical fashion. If that fits you try let go of some of that from time to time.

5. If you have ever been choked up by a TV commercial or a news story or a film think about why and seek out art that explores those topics.

Best of luck to you. There is a lot of art out there from Peking opera to Gregorian chants and from Chuck Close to Goya. You'll find your groove!!!

Yes! I have. Years ago I was like "ugh art is just overpriced bullshit. this picasso dude and his stuff that nobody understands, it's just snobby stuff."

Wanna know what changed me a lot? Diverse friend circle, drugs and listening to Kanye West. Those things taught me to look at life in a different way, appreciate the emotion and experiences they capture or try to evoke. I love art now. I got a huge basquiat canvas on my wall (not an original ofc) and a bunch of paintings by artists that aren't remotely popular.

I'd love to know what drugs you tried, and your fav Kanye songs. I like his old stuff more, even the early mixtape stuff before college dropout, when he was a bit raw and battling his ego openly.

Art is a lot more than the visuals you see or the acting for example. Maybe it helps you to know, that any "artwork" gives you a clear view into the point of time, when it was created. If you understand this, you can better grasp what the artist wants carry over with his work, why the artist has done this and how this art influenced other artist's and society.

Just two examples to make it clear:

High Art vs Low Art (kitsch):


Going new Ways and influence Art (kurt schwitters):



And two Sites, that can give you a good sart:



John Stuart Mill talks in his autobiography about how he suffered from what we would call depression, and how this taught him the importance of feelings, via the arts:


Hey thanks so much for sharing this link

It might be helpful to think of most of the art you see as being part of a conversation. Various features or characteristics are a response to what came before. Seeing a painting without knowing the context it was created in is a bit like overhearing a sentence without hearing the rest of the conversation. Taking a guided tour or using one of those audio tours some museums have might help you with this.

Another thing to consider is that art isn't just paintings in a museum. It can be photographs, sculptures, architecture, images created on a computer and never printed, movies, music, etc. Maybe some other medium just matches your personality better.

If you think you really don't enjoy art you should check out Maurizio Cattelan. His work is pretty amusing and pokes fun at what people tend to think of as art.

The fact you don't have an emotional reaction would suggest to me that it's not a universal experience.

There's a bunch of stuff that we used to think was universal but we've relatively recently found out isn't. One example would be "forming mental images of things".




Is there nothing at all that provokes any reaction? No film that triggers anything?

I've been reading a lot of books about stuff I know/knew nothing about.

One of the books I read was "What Are You Looking At?: 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye", by Will Gompertz[0].

It's fantastic! The book is great at making you "get" art, and it's significance. Art is not so much about "emotion" as it is about showing and telling the same things in a different way. Or just doing something completely different!


Decent programme by someone with the same issue, [solved]:


art can take any form, from poking the viewer to challenge misconceptions and beliefs to anything else. it can be a series of photos of you dropping something sacred and valuable or just a really well done drawing that tool a lot of time and skill.

art is also like music, if there is ANY music you like, then there is an ART you will like.

last. don't feel weird not getting or liking art. you are coming at it from wrong angle.

You're trying to look at art as it is, but you should learn to see art as you are.

Read John Berger' Way of Seeing.

I happen to think that a lot of people don't feel "emotions" when "viewing art" because the art that's obviously available is either totally irrelevant to your life (e.g. bourgeois portraits of rich people from the 1600s, vivid scenes from places you've never been, full of religious symbolism) or totally alienated in the special contemporary way (performance art, most of the random crap made by self-absorbed young artists, etc).

There's also a thick nearly opaque wall of posturing involved, so that talking about art is often an anxious display of cultural capital.

Learning to love art, like learning to love wine, is heavily tied up with class and the attempt to "understand" the acquired tastes of the upper middle class.

Staring at paintings in exhibition rooms or museums is also a very unnatural thing for a human being to do. Great art from the past wasn't made to be "exhibited" like that, it was usually part of a context, from which it was later extracted, or literally stolen.

You can think of a painting in terms of "how would this subtle affect my mood if I hung it on the east wall of my living room?" That's a function of art, too, and probably a more authentic and real one. A lot of art was made to hang in churches for inspiration, so if you're inspired by religion, that's a whole thing.

Maybe you'd like to try going to a museum of history and viewing some ancient everyday tools, coins, and jewelry. Those are things that were carried around by people or kept in their homes, and people wouldn't usually stand around staring at them and admiring them, so you're not experiencing them as they did, and there's no need to feel "emotion" in any romantic or dramatic sense... but those artifacts are still very interesting, beautiful, and provoking the imagination.

You can also be interested in paintings in this way. Go to an art museum, find a painting that seems interesting in some way, not necessarily because it overwhelms you with feelings, but maybe just because it seems odd, strange, or curious... Or you just don't understand it.

Then you can realize that a single painting, because it contains so much information in the whole tapestry of its context and history, is like a portal into another world that you can explore, if you want to... and that's kind of amazing.

I think the idea of a painting as a radiant artifact that makes people swoon with awe is pretty strange, and possibly only applies to people with a certain abnormal genetic kind of synaesthesia.

Van Gogh painted a lot of scenes from nature, because he loved nature, and walked a lot in the countryside. What I think is amazing about Van Gogh is that he paints those scenes not just as "beautiful" in a simple sense, but sometimes in a way that makes the landscape looks lonely, sad, or even distorted in a strangely vivid and almost scary way.

I doubt Van Gogh himself would say that his paintings "lived up" to the lived experience of being in the countryside during a sunset, say. But they mirror it in an interesting way, and having seen those paintings, one can see the countryside in a somewhat different way, or with more complex resonances.

His letters are fascinating to read. Some quotes:

“What I want to express, in both figure and landscape, isn’t anything sentimental or melancholy, but deep anguish. In short, I want to get to the point where people say of my work: that man feels deeply, that man feels keenly.”

“Many a worker in a factory or shop has had a strange, beautiful and pious youth. But city life sometimes removes ‘the early dew of the morning.’ Even so, the longing for ‘the old, old story’ remains. What is at the bottom of the heart stays at the bottom of the heart.”

“What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity or an eccentric or an obnoxious person – someone who has no position in society and never will have, in short the lowest of the low. Well, then – even if that were all absolutely true, I should one day like to show by my work what there is in the heart of such an eccentric, such a nobody.”

He's a very different person from me, but I found his paintings strangely interesting, and after reading the letters I find his whole life fascinating, and that gives me a bit of an entrance into being interested in the whole scene of the Impressionists in Paris where his style changed so interestingly, but also the "old Dutch masters" that he was emulating at first, like who were those people, what was going on there, what were they trying to show...

Hey mbrock,

Thanks for your great reply. I think I might read about Van Gogh and try to understand him now. I saw some of his paintings at the MET, my girlfriend was blown away but I was pretty meh at the time. Perhaps I can understand more from his words

I had your same kind of problem, or more like just not having any kind of robust interest in art, and I was living in Amsterdam for a while which of course has great art museums...

I also didn't have an internet connection at home nor a smartphone, so it was really easy to build new interests, not being dopaminergically tethered to the world wide web...

So I decided to get a "museumkaart" which is a cheap way for residents to get endless museum access for a whole year, and to write a little journal about a museum every weekend.

Because I'm a kind of obsessive personality and I didn't have anything else to do I ended up reading quite a bit of whatever relevant stuff I could find to flesh out the journal entries, and that's why I read the Van Gogh letters!

So yeah, I also recommend finding a way to be more disconnected from the internet on evenings and weekends. :)

Good on you, I lived in the Netherlands for 6 months but didn't have the insight yet to engage in such activities.

The boredom of internetlessness has strange side effects...

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