Are Your Viewers Looking or Seeing?

The job of the artist isn't to give people something to look at. God knows we have enough to look at.
The job of the artist is to get people to see. – Richard Tuttle

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Deep Thought Thursday

This week's deep thought is courtesy of artist Richard Tuttle, whom I heard speak at the Denver Art Museum last night.
What's the difference between looking and seeing?
Is it your job to get people to see?
How do you do that job?


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13 thoughts on “Are Your Viewers Looking or Seeing?”

  1. I feel it is very important to be clear in your statement as an artist, but also to have a statement for each work that you create. This takes the “look” into a “see” and draws the audience closer to your work, context and intent. There will always be the first “look” which is like an infatuation stage – seeing something you are attracted to, enough to take a second look and “see” what is really there. That’s where you come to the love of it all. 🙂
    Not only does having a statement for each piece help to draw your audience closer, but it also will draw you closer to your work.

  2. I do think my job is to get people to “see.” Many of my pieces are paintings of things you may observe every day but I try to draw closer attention to them either through close cropping in composition, light effects or by reinterpreting them through borrowed symbolism like gold embellishments in my Sacred Food Series. Like Janice Tanton, when I display my work I write labels for each piece that share more about their inspiration or meaning and I find that my viewers love having that “way into” the pieces.

  3. Being a new gallerist, I’ve experienced many visitors who are looking. I must say that with our current Lisa Call exhibit, people are really seeing. Your comment helps me explain the difference that we are experiencing at the gallery. It is amazing, and I now know that I need to attract visitors who see rather than look. I also agree with Janice, in that Lisa Call’s statements about each body of work help visitors see the depth of her works.

  4. To much of your information about any of your work could take the viewer away from finding their own interpretation of the work, thereby giving them a chance to reject you and the piece. Keep the mystery there and allow them to find their answers.

  5. Josh McCallister

    This is the main reason I went into art education – to teach people how to see. I don’t know if it’s always the artist’s job, though I am certainly against pretentious notions from elitists : people who don’t already understand are a lost cause.
    My opinion is that art classes should include good art history, which will help students to appreciate, or see new work.
    Last thing: as a portrait artist, making a piece to consider, rather than a snapshot to forget, that’s my business.

  6. What a great quote! It reminds of one of my favs from Ansel Adams:
    “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

  7. This idea is so important. I talk to my watercolor students about this, about when they are in the process of deciding what to paint, that they often look at something, but to take the time to really see what is there. When they do this, and bring it back to a workshop, its exhilarating to hear things like, “do you know how many greens there are in a tree?” My job in a painting is to express my ideas about what I see, and what my imagination adds to it, when then hopefully affects the viewers of the artwork. When it does affect them, and I see a change in their face, or posture, or even if they have just stopped to consider the work, to see it, it’s magic, unspoken communication.

  8. victoria pendragon

    How do I do that job? By choosing to paint that which others do not see when they look.
    Everything in my art is about the energy that lies behind things. My ‘self’ is a kind of a seer; I’ve been that since I was a kid. So I choose to paint how the energy of – a person or people or a pose – feels to me in terms of metaphorical images and color, taking the viewer right into an experience where, because they cannot immediately identify what they are looking at, they are forced to ‘see.’
    Those that don’t, won’t or can’t see deeply usually don’t even ‘see’ the art to begin with and will walk right by. Those who are drawn into the experience by the promise and the mystery become engaged in it and often spend a great deal of time ‘looking’ into the work…seeing what is there for them.
    I do pen descriptions for most of my work both to assist those who are learning to see and to open doors they might have missed. That was recommended to my by a gallery owner who carries my work and I’ve found that just the process of it has helped me to be able to talk with what I hope is greater clarity about my work.
    (Love that quote!)

  9. See. But even more, the viewer should experience. Feel. And walk away fuller. (Hopefully, with the painting purchased and tucked under their arm.)

  10. Lucie Shelbourne

    I like Bill Lesters remarks about not explaining too much about your work but instead to leave the viewer a certain amount of interrpretion of their own. I believe that an artst can be a vehicle to csomething that comes through them. Art cannot be ‘owned’ as such, in the sense that it is written that this is what it IS and can only be seen as this. Part of the process of being an artist is forming a link with your audience. A work is strangely enriched by others looking at it.

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