Notes from an Art Lecture

by Peter

Here are a few of the major points from a talk I gave to two high school classes recently:

You don’t see the world very often.

– You identify things, but you don’t see things.  In fact, you can’t see things; you see color, line, shape, tone: light.

– Likewise, artists don’t draw or paint things.  They draw shapes and tones that are sometimes somehow similar to the particular sights we associate with things.

Visual beauty has to do with seeing and not with identifying.

– When you love a painting for its beauty, you are not loving it because of what it represents.

– Abstract art has just as much (or more!) possibility for the pure appreciation of its beauty as does representational art, because our identifier doesn’t get in the way of our ability to see.

Artists, before they are anything else, are masters of sight.

– They’re good at it, they love it, and they can command it.

Artists are also masters of their medium.

As a bare minimum, art appreciators need to be people who see well, too.


Art is not always meant to be beautiful.

– Some good art is ugly.

In fact, art can be made for many reasons.

– Some art is primarily meant to inspire thought, not aesthetic admiration.

– Some art is primarily meant to be a network of symbols.

– Some art is primarily meant to be the self-expression of an individual.

– Some art is primarily meant to be an effective optical illusion.

– Some art is primarily meant to be an exploration/presentation of the medium being used.

If you are going to correctly appreciate a piece of art, you need to first understand why it was made and judge it according to the standards of the category in which it is attempting to fit.