We would like to find in a work of art insight into its essential message, logic, or expression.
According to David Perkins, our experiential intelligence does not serve us well here, as it tends towards the fuzzy, guiding us to easy conclusions that may not stand up to careful scrutiny. We catch impressions that may mislead, and lump ideas, feelings and images together.
We should, therefore, muster our reflective intelligence and use it to direct ourselves to get more systematic and analytical.
A few rules of thumb are given:
- Find a focus – Go back to something that surprised you and ask “Why did the artist do that?”; go back to something that interested you and ask “How did the artist get that effect? And why?”; look for something that puzzles you and try to unravel the puzzle.
- Consider examining what hides (the technical underpinnings of the work) – Make mental changes; look for “reinforcement” across the work; look for technical features of the work; compare the work with another you know that relates in some way.
- Think in words to help you manage your line of reasoning – Articulate to yourself your questions, the possible resolutions, the evidence, the message, etc.
- Sum up – Try to come up with some specific articulated, well-evidenced conclusions.
And how to progress from thinking about art to the art of thinking? Here are Perkins’s observations:
- Discoveries are reasoned out rather than thought up out of the blue.
- The disposition to think in a deep and careful way involves not only logic but the exercise of knowledge.
- Look for oddity – the detail that does not make sense. It is in the nuances, the details, the subtleties that people often find their insights.