Why We Look at Art: What Happens when We Do

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Dog Ear Publishing, 2008 - Aesthetics - 119 pages
Why We Look at Art, What Happens When We Do encourages a new way of being with art by restoring to viewers the central role we play in our own viewing. Written by an art historian, it is not a work of art history and though it tells the truth, it is not exactly nonfiction. Consisting of brief meditations on key works of Western painting, it stresses the importance of experiencing art before it becomes a footnote to facts and it maintains that we miss more of what art is by not feeling than by not knowing. Each painting is discussed as a psychological event-one which is shaped by what we see and what we bring to the act of seeing. In this way, Why We Look at Art, What Happens When We Do reveals that experience is the forgotten condition of art appreciation.

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Really fun, interesting, thoughtful book. I feel liberated. This book gave me the courage to really embrace art. One of the best books on art I've read.

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Have you ever found yourself viewing a world-renowned painting and thought to yourself, “What is all the fuss about?” Or perhaps you appreciate works of art but can’t help but wonder “What does this have to do with my life?” In Why We Look at Art, What Happens When We Do, author and art historian Sherrye Cohn takes us gently by the hand, accompanying us on a journey through a pictorial museum of some of the world’s most famous paintings. Throughout the tour, she shows us how to view the paintings in such a way that makes them relevant to our own experience.
The book begins with portraits. From the mysterious Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci to the tender self-portrait by Rembrandt, to Frida Kahlo’s bold “Self-portrait with Monkey,” Cohn explains why people have been so fascinated by portraiture throughout the ages. She writes, “They elicit a silent communion with someone we will never meet which carries us beyond the narrowness of our own lives.” The next chapter is devoted to landscapes, with works by Van Gogh, Hopper and Dali, to name a few. Following landscapes is “still life”, then “the female nude” and finally “abstraction.” Cohn has chosen her selections carefully and mixes world famous masterpieces with lesser known works.
Throughout Why We Look at Art, What Happens When We Do Cohn urges us to forget about historical knowledge and go with our gut instincts when viewing works of art. Always patient and never condescending, Cohn is the perfect teacher for anyone who wishes to learn more about art appreciation. She focuses on the importance of the viewer’s eye, whether novice or expert, as she writes, “Our own response is the beginning and the enduring basis of art’s appreciation.”

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About the author (2008)

Sherrye Cohn holds a Ph.D. in art history from Washington University in St. Louis. She has taught at universities and museums, written catalogues for exhibitions, and published articles in scholarly journals. Her previous book, Arthur Dove: Nature as Symbol, describes the impact of science and occult is on the abstract art of this American painter. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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