The Notion of Art

At times I struggle to come to terms with art, what it is or perhaps what it is not.

In the first sense there are so many genres of art to consider from people who ‘dabble’ in paint and pastel on the weekend to those who conceptualize and possibly create, to all sorts in between.marilyn1

Perhaps there is something fundamental about the whole notion of art that we fail to teach people about how to explore the genres and respect each for what it does for the person and its possible wider cultural context. From technical execution to conceptual creation and validation, which is ‘right’ is probably not a suitable response from an ethical perspective and showing respect for the person’s input and creation of an artwork.

What makes something what it is, is perhaps more a question for philosophers, the perception of reality, the notion of meaning, the use of the sum total of our experiences, values and beliefs for how people formulate their responses to questions about objects which may or may not have cultural significance.

Is that a measure of art, it’s cultural significance? Perhaps that’s too open, too broad. Perhaps there is another quality to measure art by that has nothing to do with culture. I am left to wonder if there is anything non cultural. Take a standard definition of culture, “patterns of behaviour” as a basic guideline, now try and explore the notion of no pattern. In our existentialist world all we do can be linked to some form of pattern.

Did I just create the answer to my question? Therefore perhaps everything is of cultural significance, but to what degree it is significant is another thing.

Did I just open up the concept that all things are therefore valid but the depth of validity will depend on the viewer and how they process the information provided based on their values, beliefs and experiences? Possibly.

In looking at what has been explored here I guess we can start to ponder how people get to learn what they learn and push boundaries around the value of that learning.

Have you learnt about art through some cultural dialogue, have you learnt enough to cause you to be respectful of others positions on art and what they may create? Have you learnt to conceptually process information and come to some notion of right or wrong about something not being art?


What do you want from art?

As a Student, or Artist, whichever position you are in, stop and have a think for a bit. What do you want from Visual Art.. and perhaps why do you want it.

Lets explore a little. Oh and feel free to give me feedback via the comments as I think this is a hot topic to think about.



Note at the Artist’s level the wants can be different to the student’s but there is a solid overlap.

Would working on these points assist or hinder the people involved? or would it provide a springboard for further discussion, development etc…

Let us know what you think!

Visual Art and Community Connectedness

Visual Art plays an interesting role in the community and if you ask practically any Artist they will probably agree, yet to the wider community you may have a challenge on your hands trying to convince them of that. The challenge is multi-fold, getting enough people involved and engaged in exploring it (viewers) and enough Artists to create and exhibit to the wider community, then follow that with selling the benefits to the sponsors and supporters of these sorts of initiatives.

Community based art initiatives show up in some interesting places. Pop up galleries, public murals (and graffiti), online galleries, through to organizations engaging the wider community by supporting Art activities in the community where there are a hundred and one ways  the community can get connected to Contemporary Visual Art.

Be it a school offering to connect Visual Artists with their students (Artist in Residence programs) or in a shorter term burst (an exhibition in the school by Contemporary Visual Artists from the wider community). Or community festivals where Contemporary Visual Artists have the opportunity to connect with the community

Perhaps it’s a series of community therapy sessions for communities which have been through massive group trauma (bush-fires or floods). Or even a simple exhibition as part of a fete or another community event.

Whatever the community connection, the aim is to cause some level of communication to take place, perhaps to instil a notion of community pride, an acknowledgement of the role Contemporary Visual Arts can play or a cultural connection at a personal or group level.

All of this is fine as a concept, but the task then becomes to figure out ways to make that communication effective and find ways to connect in ways which will be of value to both parties, the Artists and the wider community.

How then do Contemporary Visual Artists communicate their visions, their concepts and ideas to an audience which may be indifferent to having objects presented to them which can confront or at the least tackle their own ideas of what’s suitable to look at and make sense of.

I often think there are people to blame (perhaps Art Teachers) for not providing students with suitable knowledge to go forth in the community and appreciate what they see (if even to a small degree.) However I could say the same of high level Science and Maths as just a minor starting point examples.

Should we therefore stop connecting to the wider community even though we have excuses to do so? Should we stop creating Contemporary Visual Art for the community because ‘they might not understand’?

Perhaps the answer lies in seeing youngsters in an Art Gallery being given a cultural ‘shot in the arm’ by well meaning parents. The child’s wonderment and eager viewing through innocent eyes should be the catalyst by which we start measuring the value of things, and having the opportunity to explore that which is visually intriguing and getting fresh views on the world as we know it.

Perhaps the answer lies in Art being for Art sake and the Artists playing Hermit and hiding away, buried in a maze of self consciousness and avoiding connecting in any way.

Whatever the answer I hope the notion of connectedness to the wider community becomes a topic of exploration, so you can test constantly explore the value of Contemporary Visual Art and push it’s meaning/s (or not) due to the community being given wider exposure than might normally be the case.

Visual Art holds a place (although sometimes tenuous) in the psyche of a culturally aware community. I believe we should look to any opportunity to see it, meet with it, tackle whatever it might be it is aiming to communicate (or not) and take in its cultural significance so we as individuals and as a nation can sense some level of connection to Contemporary Visual Arts and what it has to offer.

Community Connections and Visual Art

There are many examples of the Arts connecting with the wider community, however I often find the performance Art areas seem to dominate, so it’s great to see the Visual Arts stand up and get counted with great examples like the St Michaels Grammar School in St Kilda holding their 3rd Annual Art Exhibition and Arch Angel Prize.

Hopefully over time more schools and community minded organisations will forge alliances and add depth to our cultural heritage in a similar way.

As readers of this site will appreciate, I value the role Visual Arts can play for many people. In this case having the ability to bring Visual Art to the Students is a great starting point to exploring it’s value.

I have long been of the view that many Schools should have Art Galleries and provide a ‘portal’ to the Visual Arts for their students, the staff and the wider community to be able to draw upon Contemporary Visual Art as a vital part of communicating, connecting and exploring all aspects of culture to give us greater depths of appreciation for the human condition.


Lesley Melody – 2011 St Michael’s Arch Angel Award winner – “Lunar Australis”

Fascinated with Visual Art?

Have you ever been to a big museum and watched children looking at art?

Some are keen to move on, others giggle at the ‘rude bits’ and some just seem to become totally engrossed. For me it was somewhere in between, I got a splinter in my foot because I took off my new shoes to slide about on the polished floor, thankfully mum had a pair of tweezers buried deep in her hand bag.


Wandering about in the gallery I had two opposing forces to contend with. My Fathers Engineering perspective was one of logic and sensibility, Mum on the other hand was a bit more open to things.

I saw a few rude bits, a ripped canvas (It was meant to be that way) and was in awe of the stained glass ceiling in one space, perhaps more to the point I marvelled at people lying on their backs in public! Then there seemed to be an endless array of old and seemingly dusty Art and Artefacts.

It would be many years before I took a strong liking to Visual Arts and visit that gallery again, but the memory of that wintry Saturday afternoon will last a long time.

There is a great sense of satisfaction watching people discover objects in a painting, being asked to look for more ‘things’ and think about who, how,why,what and where. Especially the young with their innocent minds and fresh approaches.

What drew you to being involved in Visual Arts? Was it a memory of a gallery or museum visit? Was it because someone significant to you was an Artist?

The Responsibility To Help Others Find Art

If you believe Visual Art is important then perhaps there is a way you can assist others to appreciate it too.

Maybe you are new the the Art scene and are still finding your way, or perhaps a seasoned Museum and gallery visitor. Whatever the situation there is still something in all Visual Art zealots which causes them to appreciate the benefits of exploring Visual Arts. If you can somehow pass this on to others by exposing them to the rich cultural resources available in many books and galleries, then you may well have given someone a seed of love for all things creative and or cultural.

I’m not too sure if showing art to others is a highly responsible thing or simply something to strongly consider. Either way, sharing the bounty you find, can open minds and allow others to find out for themselves if Art is a thing they might want to know more about.

Dear Teacher…

I sense there is an unease, a challenge, a difficulty but I am not overly sure if it’s just me or others are noticing it too.

It was always an issue when I taught and as a student… Art Theory.


Any time the Art Teacher came up with information which had to be written in Art Class the students TURNED OFF. then magically switched on again when the prac work was back in action.

So how then do educators give both the prac side and the “theory/history” side a workout in a way which suits the audience (I’m thinking secondary students mainly but leading on from there too).

Lets take a look at what happens.

Is there a better way, are Teachers doing more than JUST handing out info for students to struggle with the writing side of things? Are we causing students to be deeply engaged in learning, in Visual Art… or are we merely ‘going through the motions’ rather than searching for excellence.

Lately I have come across ‘game mechanics’ this is the science (and art) of engaging players in computer games and the various ways the developers use to get people in, to get them “addicted” to the game. (I was addicted to Pac Man as a late teen). Ibeleive it offers GREAT insights into ways we can develop things to be more engaging, to be more in depth, to provide information which students will find far more engaging in the long run.

I’m interested in what can be done to ensure students time in Art class is useful, informative, ‘fun’, engaging and generally of value. I would love to see things which were perhaps more short sharp shocks of info they can get their teeth into and move on from there.

Perhaps instead of a big sheet of ho hum text there could be small Art Cards, picture on one side, info on the other which they have to write about. What about short sharp tid-bits of info on Artists interesting factoids which get students thinking and wanting to explore further.

If you are thinking about handing out a sheet which will take a lesson or two to complete, then I HOPE you will think twice and explore a fresh approach.

Do you have ideas? Have you seen better approaches… Share in the comments below!

Analytical Art Speak…

When it comes to chatting about Art, people can freeze up, not really sure about what to say, while others will talk until everyone has long gone to sleep. For some studying how to use effective Visual Arts Language is a solid part of their course, for instance in VCE Studio Arts.


The key to being able to talk about anything is knowing the words to use which fit to the specific topic, in this case Visual Art.

Consider talking about a sport you may have an interest in. Over time you have developed a range of words related to the topic to give you the skills to discuss it, this may have happened purely to listening to people talk about the sport on TV, radio, reading newspapers and magazines. For many it comes easy as there are lots of ways the sport is described and analysed, It probably does not take long to get your head around the topic.

Visual Art on the other hand is often a challenging topic to discuss, for example many of us have seen the sunday afternoon arts programs which have an interviewer or critic ramble on about the complexities of some artists work, while the rest of us sit and think “HUH!”

The challenge is getting to know the words and what they mean, a bit like learning another language and for many the words used at the higher end of the arts analysis scale will certainly be that way.

How do I get started in learning this new language?

The written and spoken language we use to explore artistic endeavours helps us to appreciate the work and possibly give us an insight in to the work. Art does not have to be explored through daunting complex words, but in time you might find the complexity of the words diminishes as  you build  your proficiency.

Talking about art Part 4.

Straight talk.

The Artist in talking about their work may have the opportunity to tell a larger group at an opening about the works being presented, or on a one to one basis as people ask questions. In this article I wanted to follow on from the previous article in Part 3, which, was more sales focussed. lets talk turkey as they say and give the audience what they want, the real you.


For many people talking about something as personal as their Art works can be daunting, intimidating and generally stressful, while for others it’s as easy as falling off a log.

Those who find it easy, may well have a different degree of confidence about the way they present information, perhaps they have been experienced in public speaking, or theatre work, being on stage in a band or some such. Whatever the experience is they seem to be able to get on with it with ease.

One approach to the situation is looking at the works and saying to your self.

There are a lot more options than this of course but hopefully you get the idea. The real power in creating a series of responses to these and other questions is getting and building your confidence to handle all comers. If you don’t do this you may find the following questions and or statements might stray into your thoughts…

Note how all of these are thoughts which will probably not serve the Artist well, in fact they can lead to a downward spiral and negative thought processes which can be harmful. It may take practice to pursue the positive questions and statements but it’s a stronger stance to work from.

Many Artists have said “Having an exhibition is like nailing  your heart to the wall”, so be prepared to handle the emotional roller coaster which presents itself, or you might find you are the one whose heart bleeds from a nail hole!

Talking about Art Part 2.

Following on from Part 1 in this short series of Talking about Art. Lets tackle the topic of an Artist talking about their own work, and not from a sales perspective at this stage.


Let’s paint a picture of a person asking the artist about their work.

Does the Artist become coy and reserved saying little other than “Oh I don’t know I think the work speaks for itself really…” Or do they do their best to “wax lyrical” about the work and perhaps give an brief insight, or perhaps go too far and risk boring the viewer with too much information.

I would hope the middle ground could prevail, so the viewer who has asked the question can say “I got enough information to satisfy my interest” and then be able to walk away content with the knowledge they received.

Getting the balance right comes down to being able to “read” the viewer and figure out what sort of information they really want, and you can do this by asking a few questions. “Tell me about your work…” Might seem like a great starting point, but for the Artist it should not be the only cue to jump in and tell all. It should only be the start to “What would you like to know specifically?”

From here the viewer might say “I want to know about the inspiration for the work.” (it could be an easy smoke screen question to get you talking on a deeper level too). So you might ask, “My inspiration for the series or this piece in particular?” This way you will be able to provide an answer which best fits to their needs.

Perhaps an Artist might do well to practice a few scenarios so they can provide information which can fit to a range of starting points. Consider a bunch of questions you might be asked and then figure out how to respond to those.

There. that’s a bunch of starting points, how you deal with each is up to you, however the major factor is presenting confidently so the person you are speaking too can feel you are not wishy washy or unable to talk in terms they want to hear.

There are lots of resources on reading personality types, talking other peoples language (so to speak) and ways to engage them. The important thing about all that is finding ways to make them see your point of view by talking their language in a way which appeals to them.

Have a think about how you might respond to these questions and bring together your language skills in a way which, you can feel confident with the results.

Here’s the link to the next article in this series…

Glossary of art terms

As a student I was told to buy a dictionary of art terms and flip through it from time to time, look up points I did not know and generally have it as a resource. That was a good idea, but only some of the info stayed with me. For secondary level students (VCE Studio Arts) and Uni level students, this may serve as a very useful resource to develop a range of skills in analysing art.

I was shown another way years later which I like more, as it involves students at least cutting and pasting info they need and therefore see of value, over time the resource builds to suit their needs and interests.


Here’s how…

  1. Take a quick internet search for a glossary of art terms (probably just heading points at this stage) or create your own ready to use.
  2. Take the list and put it in your favourite word processor.
  3. Use the headings as starting points, get the info on the headings which interest you and paste it in.
  4. Save the info and keep adding to it, over time some of the headings will have multiple entries. Encourage web links and pictures as well. Make it into a PDF file and get the students to hand it in online…

After a few weeks the glossary will be a few pages long, then more and more can be added.

Extension activities

  1. Invite the students to share new or interesting points they have found which they have added to their glossary of terms. What a great way to get students chatting about art and using art terminology.
  2. Start Junior students with one and build on it year by year, by the time they get to be senior students they will have a solid resource and a great connection with the language and terminology of the subject.
  3. Want to avoid setting homework… or want to set some… simply give them this task and ask them to add to it week by week. In class you can remind them to add to it each week and put a note in their Student diary/organiser to remind them.

Analyse this – Slide show idea for Teachers

Dear Teachers… (Hey students, don’t wait for teachers to set this up, create your own!)

Often one of the tricky areas in art education is getting students to be involved in looking at artworks and providing some form of analysis of artworks, even in a fairly formal sense. The probem seems to come when Teachers say “Today we are going to do some Art History” this turns some of them off straight away… Here’s a way to hopefully break the cycle.


Make up a slide show (power point or the like) of about 15 – 20+ artworks of varying styles and types (prefereably images your students may connect with), then run a BRIEF session with the students where you flip quickly through the slides asking what the students see. When a few points have been raised about one image, move on and do the same thing with the next image. The aim is to get them to quickly see the basics, developing the skill of seeing basic “formal” elements. The key is doing it fairly fast, for a twist, flash an image up for 5 seconds, take it off and ask what they saw.

In the end the students will have had to think quickly about what they saw without making too many judgements, like “I didn’t like it…” stick to the basics and give them a few points, like… “What colours did you see, were there lines? Subject matter? Tones, Shapes, Form, Texture, Composition etc…

Eventually you should be able to show them a bunch of images and say nothing as they will call out what they see as they will be used to the process. (sneaky huh…)

Over time you could even create a series of these slideshows, to build a repertoire of images students can discuss in more depth. You could also add some details like the name of the artist, dates etc when the more in depth discussion and analysis needs to take place.

It could be a quick start to a practical art session where you might want to catch them off guard and cause them to think in a different direction for a while.

For more points to discuss and analyse with try this. or this…

A savvy teacher might also set up a series of online images on a school intranet and ask different questions for different year levels, just food for thought! Perhaps a great way to introduce homework for students via the internet, add a pdf file for parents to get involved too outlining the same process I have above, Enjoy!

Extension activities.

Art Analysis – Start here…

Okay Teachers (and Students…) You asked for it,  you wanted more info on Analysing Visual Art works so here are a few starting points to go with. Feel free to send me other resources you have found useful over time but for now here is my starting point to formal evaluation of artworks.

Artwork Analysis Helper


When describing the artwork, you should describe exactly what you see. It is useful to pretend you are describing the work to a blind person, giving all the details to help describe the work.


What elements can you see? Colour, line, tone, texture, shape, form (three dimensional). Describe the way these elements are used in the work.


What do you think the artwork may be about? What is its meaning? What evidence is there in the work to support your interpretation?


What is your opinion of the work? Do not just say, ”I don’t like it”! Tell us why you don’t think it is a very effective artwork. If you like it, explain what specific things you like about the artwork.

Try these points out for yourself by looking at a number of artworks and answering the above questions quickly and see what happens. no right or wrong answers at this stage, just ideas and options to get you checking out artworks and thinking about them in ways you may not have yet thought of.