I have posted so many articles about marine art that I have now lost count. So it’s about time that I wrote about my personal approach to the subject. I have no pretensions to being an art critic, much less an art historian. But I do have a passion for art that started in my late teens. The world of marine art is so vast that I have to continue educating myself. With that in mind, I should lke to share some tips for appreciating marine art, most of them applicable to art in general.

Give the artwork the time and attention it deserves.

Savour art as you would a cup of coffee. Take your time. Observe closely the distinct qualities of the artwork and enjoy the whole experience. An excellent painting, drawing or woodblock print deserves more than a cursory look. Unfortunately on social media, people tend to glance at a work of art, press the “like” button, and then skip through the rest of the page.

View digital images of artworks on a large, widescreen computer monitor.

Use a widescreen desktop monitor for a better viewing experience (I use a 22-inch monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1080). Looking at artworks on a smartphone or tablet won’t do if you are to really appreciate what you see. If a smartphone or tablet is the only device available to you at the moment, enlarge or view the work in fullscreen. Of course, there is nothing like seeing the actual works in a gallery or museum.

Be familiar with the sea.

Familiarity with the sea enhances your appreciation of marine art. When you get the chance, observe how the ocean behaves — the motion of the waves, their ebb and flow, and the changing colours of the water at various times of the day. Just taking in the sea breeze and smelling the salt water can help you imagine what artists like Claude Monet felt when they executed their seascapes en plein air (i.e., in the open air).

Learn the different types and parts of sailing ships, cargo ships, etc.

You may think that a painting is excellent even though the artist did not quite paint or draw the boat or ship the way it should be rendered. By knowing what the real thing looks like, you can avoid being easily impressed by a work that is flawed in terms of boat or ship design. This is especially true in the case of ship portraits. However, this should not prevent you from appreciating naive art, which has its own merits.

Pay attention to the way the artist used colour, form, texture and other artistic elements.

A work of art represents the intentionality of a creative mind. The elements that comprise it are not there by accident. There is a reason why the artist used certain colours or why he placed the ship at a certain spot on the canvas. That said, an artwork is more than the sum of its parts. It can convey a certain mood or atmosphere which you should be aware of.

“Savour art as you would a cup of coffee. Take your time. Observe closely the distinct qualities of the artwork and enjoy the whole experience.”

Ask yourself how the work of art affects you visually, emotionally and even intellectually.

Art can affect people in different ways. The thing is to be conscious of why you react to a work of art the way you do. What is it in the artwork that contributed to your feeling calm, sad, happy, angry, perplexed, etc.? Step back for a moment after viewing the work and focus on your subjective feelings (I call this “aesthetic distance”).

Take the time to learn more about the artist’s life and his milieu.

Not everyone has the time to read biographies. However, one can get key facts about an artist and his works from the internet– e.g., museum and auction house websites, Encyclopedia Britannica, and the good old Wikipedia. Knowing where the artist lived and studied; his family and social environment; and which artists influenced his style can enhance your appreciation of his works.

Familiarise yourself with the different art movements and styles.

Learn the main characteristics of the various styles and movements (Realism, Impressionism, Post-Imressionism, Fauvism, etc.). This will enable you to see an artwork in its historical context. An artist may be following a certain art tradition but has introduced some innovations of his own. Knowing this leads to a better appreciation of his artistic output.

Read online reviews of art exhibitions and articles about particular artists.

Those who write about art reviews for leading newspapers and magazines usually know what they’re talking about. They may have a degree in art history in addition to possessing a discerning eye. Their insights can help increase your understanding and appreciation of the subject artist.

10 Don’t be intimidated by art critics.

Many art critics are fond of using fancy phrases and highfalutin jargon. Their academic approach can leave you feeling cold. It is best to trust your own instincts and judgements, provided that you do so with a basic understanding of what makes for good art. Yes, there is such a thing as bad art.

~ Barista Uno

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