Why You Should Look at Art in Real Life

Over the weekend, my husband and I popped into the Smith Klein Gallery on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado. It had been a while since I had seen paintings in real life, and I was absolutely floored by the experience. I'm not new to art galleries or museums, but with everything closing up from the pandemic, it had been quite a while since I had actually been to anything in person. I almost forgot the beauty and awe that comes from standing in front of a piece. If you can't tell, I feel very strongly about looking at work in person. Let's explore why below.

Photos Look Different


As great as photography is, it just doesn't do art justice. It never captures the depth, the glow, or the textures quite well enough. To get a feel for what I mean, look at a piece you've made compared to the photograph you posted online. Unless you work digitally, it's very likely your work feels extremely different from the photo. To truly experience a piece, in person viewing remains the unrivaled winner. It's awesome that we can see work from all over the world nowadays, but I'd bet anything that every single piece we look at would be even better if we were standing in front of it in person.

In fact, I've tried to show my husband a painting I fell in love with years ago, but the photo looks like a completely different piece. I saw Woodpecker by Fred Tomaselli when I visited the VMFA in Richmond, VA, and it has stayed with me for almost a decade. The painting has so much depth that the photo just doesn't capture. In order to fully appreciate and see the beauty of this piece, it must be seen in person. The same can be said for your work and every other piece of art out there. So take an afternoon and pop into some local galleries around you. It's such an inspiring experience to stand in front of a piece and gaze with our own eyes.

This is the Way


In my not so humble opinion, I think art is meant to be seen in person. Yes, we can look at pieces in pictures, but our brains work differently when we look at a photo vs. the real thing. Think about how you feel when you look at paintings in a gallery compared to how you feel scrolling on IG. It's just not the same. I feel that's due to the environment in which we view a piece.

On a phone or computer screen, we don't see the piece as it was meant to be seen. We look for maybe one second and scroll past. But when we stand in front of a piece of art in a gallery, it's in the ideal environment. No ads are auto-playing just below the image we're looking at. We aren't mindlessly walking around the gallery and exiting 10 minutes later. Instead, we're engaging all of our senses and looking at a piece with intentional focus. And this is why in-person visits make for a much better artistic experience than quickly scrolling through a phone. So get off your screen and see what art is currently exhibiting near you.

Art is Physical


Whether we like it or not, art is a physical thing. It exists beyond pixels and points of color on canvas and paper, through fibers and dyes, in metal and stone. The only way to truly interact with a piece is, well, physically. The most obvious example is interactive art installations. We can look at videos all we want, but we'll never know how something feels or sounds unless we go there ourselves.

Last summer, I was at an art gallery that had an installation about organic beings and the essence of the spirit behind our biology. It's interesting to read about, but I never would have grasped the eeriness of the installation if I hadn't been there myself. Just as Wicked is different in person than it is on the soundtrack, so is visual art. The emotions and energies of a space, other patrons, and your own mindset all combine to make an experience unique to you. So take advantage of that and venture into a museum near you.

Experts Are Nearby


One of the great advantages of visiting galleries and museums is the experts who run them. I know it can be a little intimidating to approach a stranger with questions, but so many of them would love the opportunity to have a conversation about the art in their spaces. Whether they're an employee or a volunteer, most gallerists and museum curators are there because of their passion and love of art. So take advantage of their knowledge and ask them about that piece that caught your eye.

At the very least, take some time and read through those information plaques beneath the various pieces. I've learned so much and gathered sources of inspiration from these plaques. I now have a long, long list of artists I revisit when I'm looking for a spark of creativity. Some of the information might be available online, but pair an in-person visit with that plaque, and I have an unforgettable experience that I'm able to recall at any time.

Forge Relationships


Believe it or not, one of the best ways to get your work in front of an audience is by being in the audience yourself. Artists, gallerists, and curators notice when the same people show up at every exhibition. And these relationships are crucial for getting your work on display. So pick a few galleries to scope out and attend their openings. Once you find a few you enjoy visiting, strike up a conversation with other gallery visitors and those in charge of the show. I know it's old fashioned, but word of mouth is still the most powerful advertising tool out there.

By developing relationships - and potentially friendships - you'll open a whole new world of opportunity. You could end up collaborating with someone or having a couple pieces displayed in a show! Lean into our shared social nature and create a network that supports and encourages you. The life of an artist can be lonely, so balance it out by talking with other artists who get it.


If you can't tell, I'm extremely passionate about the arts. Moreover, I believe everyone - not just artists - should have access and time to look at the art around them. And for the artist, nothing can compare to looking at a piece in front of you. Our minds work differently when interacting with the real world. Inspiration could be one gallery visit away. So what are you waiting for? You deserve a quiet afternoon looking at beautiful art.

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Thanks for reading and happy creating!