OR: Impress your friends at the art gallery without a BFA
Most people have favorite songs, or bands, or favorite movies, and they feel free to talk about them without any formal education about the subject. I share my opinions about film all the time, and I don't have any qualification whatsoever to do so! Don't you? Don't you talk about Lord of the Rings unprompted without a degree in film? No classes in film theory?
It's easy to think of "fine art" and movies as completely different things, but a lot of that comes from the effort to make the "art world" some sort of elevated, un-understandable-to-the-regulars spiritual realm. Also money. Film, of course, has its pedants, qualified or not. But generally speaking, film has always been low and for the people. It's accessible entertainment. Heaven forbid art become for the people.
Anyway, what I really want you to start off with is this statement: you are allowed to have an opinion about art, even if it is uninformed. You deserve to feel confident having one more interesting thing to do while you're out, one more way to engage with the world and culture. You are allowed to talk about it, and you are allowed to be confused. But hopefully, you don't stay that way. There is an incredible sensation that comes with a work of art unveiling itself to you as you spend time with it. Was that too much art-speak? Darn, sorry I'm really trying here! Let's go before it gets any more pretentious. Let's get into some tips.
Start Here: Do you like it?
Almost immediately you will feel one of two things: like it, or hate it. It's great to start there. It's also worth noting that you could say out loud, "I like this, but I don't know why yet," or the opposite, "I don't like this, but I don't know why yet." Yet is imperative because you have to look at this thing for a while, and try to decide at least that much for yourself. You are learning your own taste. If you react very positively or negatively, that is a great start, you should say if you have a strong reaction!
I know I am always drawn to work with any pink in it. This might seem silly, or basic, or whatever, but your reaction to colors used matters because this is your taste in art. Is it putrid yellow and green? Does that attract or repel you? Is it intense or calm in its use of color? Is it all just... blue? Talk about how the colors you see seem to inform the artwork. Pro Tip: use the word inform when talking about relationships of elements of the work. you'll sound super smart.
Does this work of art seem charged in anyone particular way? Are they showing you something beautiful for the sake of beauty? Are they telling you a story? Does it feel political? Say so, if you are getting a particular vibe. Vocalize the mood or vibe you're getting. No wrong answers.
Does this work of art give you one strong emotion, or a few entangled ones? It doesn't matter yet what, if any, emotions the artist intended for you to feel. Try to pick one or two feelings that you feel because of this artwork and tell someone what they are, even if it's still hazy. Here are some to start:
Choices, or why the thing was made
This is a big one, and will absolutely make you sound very knowledgeable and cultured if you can create some conversation around it. Every single thing you are seeing in painting, on a sculpture, in a video, etc.... Why did the artist do.... THAT? Think through that question and see what you come up with. Does it look like they it took ages of painstaking focus? Think about why anyone would care to do that. Does it look rushed and hurried with big motions? Talk about some choices you think the artist made, when they could have done anything else instead. Why does someone make something uncomfortable, or beautiful, or wild, or focused? This is a great way to get some dialogue with your friends.
Art is CREATED FROM NOTHING! It takes thought and action to bring it into existence Even if it seems like they didn't do much, they didn't do much on purpose. Think of the physical actions of the human body it might take to create the thing you are looking at. Imagine your body doing those things. Talk about the action
Art is about paying attention! Someone took their actual time and skill to make something. In representational art (that's fancy for "art that looks like a real thing") the artist is paying intensely close attention to something in order to recreate it, so that you can see it in a new way. Talk about what you think the artist cares about here. What do they want you to pay attention to?
READ THE STUFF.
Often times you can find some writing about a particular work of art, or an entire section of art will have a little or a lot of writing that can help give you a little history, some fun facts, or a story that can give you more information to work with.
It's OK to hate a work of art! Usually there is a reason, and I highly encourage you to really find the reason and talk about it, not to just dismiss it because you hate it. Let yourself wrestle for a bit. I myself hate anything that verges on feeling pornographic, even if it doesn't necessarily include nudity. You are allowed to say "I really hate this. I think this is why," because then you are still learning something about art, and about yourself!
Extra tips and phrases to use! (use with discretion)
When you like a particular area of an artwork, say "I like this moment, here"
Use your arms visualize some of the movement or direction you see.
Look up the artist on your phone to look at more of their work quickly to compare and contrast.
Talk about the art work in context of the artwork around it. Why was it put here?
Compare what you are seeing or feeling to music or other artforms when you feel it's appropriate. For instance, often times things seem "lyrical" or "rhythmic" to me so I'll say so!
And there you have it! I hope this was useful to you. I know so many people who just don't feel confident participating in "art talk" but just trying to formulate an opinion is enough. It's a skill, and it takes time, but I promise it's worth it to open yourself up to what art has to offer. Go be fancy!