April 6, 2021

Viewpoints: How We Understand Art

You may have noticed that you tend to be drawn to a certain kind of art, and maybe someone you know (and otherwise like) has a different opinion? How can one artwork mean completely different things to two different people? Who is right? (You are, of course!) 

Center Space is Scottsdale Arts’ educational art gallery, located in Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Managed by Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation, the gallery seeks to entice visitors to interact with the exhibition theme, offering an opportunity to connect their own ideas and opinions with others in the community and learn a bit about their own relationship with art at the same time. 

Center Space is located in Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. This free exhibition is open Tuesday – Sunday from noon – 5:00 p.m.. Photo: Scottsdale Arts

The current exhibition in Center Space is called Viewpoints: How We Understand Art. The concept for this exhibition is based on a theory developed by many, and spearheaded by Dr. Mary Erickson, professor emerita in art education at ASU.  

The Viewpoints theory suggests that there are five distinct lenses people use to view art. They range from your typical knee-jerk reaction (That’s my favorite—I love the colors) to a more context-driven response (Having studied about the artist’s culture, I can see specific symbolism  in this work that would be meaningful to others in that culture). Most people have a tendency to use the same Viewpoint consistently, only varying their choice to another when the artwork demands it. Also, unless one has a certain level of art education or art exposure, it is difficult for them to use certain Viewpoints. This explains why many find it difficult to appreciate art that doesn’t realistically represent something or show obvious skill or craftsmanship. Likewise, many others who have studied art and have a broad understanding of art concepts and art history have difficulty appreciating the very same works that the former group tends to favor. 

When visiting the exhibition, you can test your viewpoints by grabbing one of the brochures and looking at art. Photo: Scottsdale Arts.

The exhibition showcases many different styles of work and is designed to elicit a variety of responses from viewers. In the gallery you will find a printed handout with a Viewpoints survey. It asks you to look closely at three different artworks and answer five easy multiple-choice questions, which will point to one or two Viewpoints you tend to use.  

The exhibition includes a variety of work from abstract to realistic and from two- to three-dimensional. Photo: Scottsdale Arts

So, really, you are both right. There is no wrong answer here, just five valid responses that often (but not always) reflect someone’s level of art exposure and education. 

This exhibition is also online and is our first interactive online exhibition. You can try the Viewpoints survey, digital verses analog, on this site. 

For more about Viewpoints, please visit Dr. Erickson’s own website.

Viewpoints closes on April 25, so don’t delay. You can visit the gallery, for free, Tuesday – Sunday, noon – 5 p.m.

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