Part 1: How & Why to Build Your Art Thinking Muscles

Teresa Cochran | Artist to Artist, In the Know, Reflection & Growth | January 15, 2020

How and Why to Build Your Art Thinking Muscles, Part 1 of 4

Building your capacity for “art thinking” is generally a lot of fun. It can be transformational. And it’s not just for artists. Anyone who wants to enjoy the arts more or understand them better benefits, and it can become a lifelong source of joy. There are four basic things you need to do to build up the part of your brain that understands the arts. In this post, we cover the first two: (1) experiencing a LOT of different kinds of art and (2) talking about and learning about it.

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

1. Experience a LOT of art. 

If you’re an artist, you’ll want to experience what other people in all areas of your art form are creating. But don’t limit yourself to your art form or even to art you think you will like. If you experience enough art, you’re sure to come across a technique, thought, or element you would like to explore in your own creative work. 

Whether you’re an artist or not, keep an open mind as you expand your arts horizon—you could discover a new passion . . . or a grudging appreciation.

Here are some ways to experience a LOT of art. Feel free to add to the list!

Go Places (with Friends, if possible): 

  • gallery openings 
  • music performances 
  • dance performances 
  • spoken word performances 
  • plays and musicals 
  • film screenings 
  • museums 
  • gallery/museum tours 
  • public art 
  • movies 
  • art spaces 
  • open mics 

Experience Art on the Internet 

  • YouTube or Vimeo 

"The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live. Be a man before being an artist! "
~ August Rodin

2. Talk with different people about the art you experience. Learn from people who know more than you. 

By talking about art, you’ll learn more about what you actually think about the artwork you’re seeing. Learning to articulate your thoughts helps to clarify your thinking process. Talking with different (and different types of) people diversifies the opinions you’ll be exposed to, which deepens your learning, even when you don’t agree. 

  • Talk with your friends about what you see together. 
  • Strike up conversations with other people who are at the same events you are, and ask what they think of what you’re both seeing. 
  • Attend artist talks and talk with the other people there as well as the artist, curator, gallery personnel, director, etc.
  • As with any field of endeavor, some people know more than others about various types of art. Seek out the experts. As Judy Kuhn writes in the song Colors of the Wind, “You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”
  • There are free online resources, including everything from funny videos to full courses from Ivy League universities. Sometimes just browsing through these resources sparks a desire to know more about a specific thing. Consider: MIT’s OpenCourseWare, EdX online courses

A few links for your consideration: 

Khan Academy Art History 

10-Free courses to help you understand and appreciate art 

3 great websites learn art history

Modern art ideas 

Your local library may have books, audiobooks, and online resources.

"Great art transcends its culture and touches on that which is eternal."
~ Madeleine L’Engle

  • Read/YouTube/etc., widely about artists, the arts, and the things that influence artists and the arts (history, political theories, psychology, current events, etc.). 
  • Seek out biographies/biopics, criticism, art/music/film/stage history. 
  • Your local arts council can almost always point you in the right direction. 
  • Community colleges will often offer inexpensive art, music, and film, appreciation classes. 
  • Theatre productions and performing artists will sometimes include a “talk back” or educational talk before or after certain performances. 

Check out How and Why to Build Your Art Thinking Muscles, Part 2 to keep learning about this topic.

This blog post was drawn from Engage Art’s free Choose Your Own Art-venture eCourse and Workbook

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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