The Three Types of Knowledge You Need to be a Fan of the Arts

The Three Types of Knowledge You Need to be a Fan of the Arts

So… I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I’m so pumped to teach you how to love the fine arts more than you ever knew you could. The bad news is that you have to put in the work to get there.

Sorry! (And sorry for the “sorry” – I’m Canadian, I can’t help it.) The fine arts take time to understand. Sure, there are lots of effortless ways to start being a fan of the arts, and I love to share those here and through social media. That stuff is gold, for sure. But to get to the real juiciness that is loving the arts, you’re going to have to put in some effort.

To my mind, at least, that’s a good thing. A lot of things that are quick and easy to understand and derive pleasure from are shallow. They’re not the interests, hobbies, and passions that sustain you and colour your whole life; instead, they’re reality TV and snack food (which have their time and place, but man cannot live on Love Island and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos alone).

So, what exactly do you need to learn before you can truly appreciate the fine arts? Three things. For each of the fine arts – to be a true fan – you need to develop three areas of knowledge…

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Okay, I'm looking at a painting... now what?

Okay, I'm looking at a painting... now what?

First, let’s get one thing clear: I am not an art historian. I have very little formal education in art history, composition, and technique. 

I am, however, an art fanatic. I love – LOVE – the visual arts. So over the years, I’ve tried to learn more and more and more about how to engage with works of art. How to read them. How to understand them. I know I adore gazing at a giant painting from a Renaissance master… but why? And how do I make the absolute most of my time with a great work of art? 

As many of you know, I trained to become a professional opera singer, so when I take in classical music, I don’t have to think as hard any more – a lot of the processing is happening in the back of my mind, where I’ve tucked away all my knowledge of music history and theory. But with visual art, not having the advanced level of understanding has actually turned out to be such an interesting gift for me, because I get to actively learn how to love art as an adult.

My fundamental beef with most arts appreciation information (and not just visual art, but all the fine arts) is that it either (a) uses the assumption that you can enjoy the arts with zero knowledge base, or (b) starts way too difficult and intimidates the prospective arts lover…

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Why it’s okay to love the classics of fine art

Why it’s okay to love the classics of fine art

Last post, I went on a bit of a rant about why I think the canon (the most well-known works of each of the fine arts) is still absolutely essential and incredibly valuable. If you missed it, my rationale is that, (1) the works are still masterpieces – paragons of human creation – and the fact that they emerged from Patriarchal settings does not negate this; and, (2) because to understand not only these works but also the now emerging works of marginalized groups from earlier times as well as all the incredible art being made by a broadly diverse group of people today, we must understand creative lineage: we need to know who and what artists have studied and been influenced by.

So with that being said, today I want to talk about a bit of a funny topic, and I’ll start with perhaps a controversial sentence that will reveal how unfancy I really am:

I love me a novelty apron with the statue of David on it…

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How to go to an art museum

How to go to an art museum

Sometimes it surprises people who know me to hear that I like to do a lot of activities by myself, given that I seem an awful lot like a full-on “extravert with a capital E.” In fact, I actually consider myself one of those people who walks the line between extraversion and introversion. Sure, I can talk to anyone, I adore public speaking, and I’m outgoing and lively in social and business atmospheres. I’m a hardcore networker, and I’m pretty fun and talkative (and have been since birth). From the outside, I am the poster child of extraversion. I mean – I was an opera singer, for crying out loud! How much more extraverted does it get than screaming your guts out onstage in front of hundreds of people for 3 hours straight?

The truth is, while I enjoy my extraverted life, quiet time alone is incredibly important to me. I prefer to work in quiet places, alone (okay, with my dog). Even when I was singing, while I did love rehearsal with my colleagues and of course enjoyed performing, my most beloved time was alone in the practice room. And beyond working time, no matter what season of my life I’ve been in, I’ve needed a lot of time by myself or in small, intimate groups to focus and recharge. Otherwise, my extraverted side turns into my “bitchy with a capital B” side…

I used to travel a fair deal by myself when I was training to be an opera singer. Auditions, gigs, and training are rarely in your own city unless you live in New York, so I was always staying in random Expedia hotels and dealing with people and stress and stimulation overwhelm. I was also always killing time between lessons or concerts or whatever, which meant I was in the perfect position for my favourite solo activity of all time: going to a museum.

It’s the perfect self-date, especially while travelling, but also in your own city. It takes however much time you want it to. You can usually also eat there (since most museums have a café or even a fancy restaurant). You can take really cute Instagram pics. Most of all, you can have a beautiful, calm few hours all to yourself, where you see incredible works of art, pieces that might stretch your thinking, and celebrated creations by your fellow humans. 

So how do you do it?

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Where do I even start if I want to learn about fine art?

Where do I even start if I want to learn about fine art?

I still consider myself an in-progress art lover. But that’s why I really, truly love visual art: there is always more to learn, and the learning is so enjoyable. When I read about an artist, flip through a coffee table book or art website, or visit a gallery or museum, I can feel myself getting wiser – not just about art, but about myself. I’m taking in beauty, and making the inside of me more beautiful as I do it.

That’s why I want to tell you how to start learning about visual art.

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