Art Beyond the Surface

March 15th is “Everything You Think is Wrong” day.

So, we would like to take this opportunity to debunk common misconceptions and practices people have when judging art.

I remember the incident clearly. I was taking an Arts and Ideas class in college and we were discussing Vincent van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows”. One of my classmates raised their hand and, in a sour tone, made the statement, “I feel like this wasn’t all that hard to make. Like, I could paint this.” I was in utter shock after hearing this. How can someone make such a bold claim? How could they dare to devalue the creativity and struggles of Van Gogh when he painted this piece? Well, although it still triggers me to think about, I’ve come to realize it’s because the general rule people follow when judging art is if they could’ve made it. I’m sorry to say, this rule isn’t right to follow.

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows (1890)

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows (1890)

Art has this amazing potential to pull us in and make us think not only about ourselves but the world around us as well. Simply put, art challenges everything that we know. For example, think of Surrealism. Surrealist paintings embrace the irrational and take deep dives into the subconscious mind. From this movement we find paintings with a melting clock, a train coming from a fireplace, and lips floating in the sky. Anything and everything can happen in the world of Surrealism and any concepts of reality are considered null and void. The same can be said about monochromatic works like the blue works by Yves Klein. While you may think it’s simply blue paint on canvas, it’s more than that. Klein dared to use a singular color to create portals that are seemingly endless. They consume the viewer and all that they know, at that moment, is blue.

Yves Klein, Blue Monochrome (1961)

Yves Klein, Blue Monochrome (1961)

Art has tremendous power to enrich our lives in ways we didn’t know were possible. So it shouldn’t be limited to asking ourselves whether or not we could’ve created something we’ve seen to determine an artwork’s worth. It’s way more complicated than that. Art is something that should be explored and more critically thought about.

But, what thought should you have when looking at a piece? Here are some questions that can help get the ball rolling:



  • When was the artwork created? Was there a significant historical event that prompted the artist’s creation of the piece?
  • How has the artist used color (or lack thereof) in the piece?
  • What key ideas is the artist trying to portray through the artwork?
  • Has anyone created something similar to this piece in the past?
  • What emotions does the artist conveying through this piece?
  • What do I feel about this artwork?
  • Why do I like or dislike it?
  • What meaning does the piece have for me?
  • Is the piece aesthetically appealing? Why?
  • Does the piece serve to create feelings of repulsion or disgust? Why?
  • What skill was shown in this piece?

After working through questions like the ones above, you may have a totally new appreciation for an artwork and artist. This is because you took the time to immerse yourself into the artwork and it’s left an impact. Maybe you found yourself feeling emotional or lost in a created world. It’s also possible you might just find yourself questioning everything you know.

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