How to understand art in three steps

We all wish we could understand art a little better. One simple method has been adapted by an Australian art professor, Kit Messham-Muir, from an older technique by the renowned art historian Erwin Panofsky. His technique is screamingly simplistic when you first hear it, but it is all you need: look, see, think.

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The ‘look’ part of this method is about opening your eyes. This may appear to be the world’s most ridiculous example of stating the obvious; however, many of us walk past art and give it only a few seconds of our time before moving on. Next time, stop and look at each piece of art. Start to get a feel for the materials used, the colours, the textures and the subject matter. It is only once you have given it a proper look that you may start to see what is actually there.


The ‘see’ step is when we start to apply meaning to the art we have looked at. Once you have looked at a piece of art, it is time to try to see what is really going on with it. What is the artist trying to convey, and why have they used certain materials to convey this message? How do the individual elements of a picture build up to represent a larger theme, such as war, love or anguish?

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Once you have looked and have really seen the painting, it is time to think about the wider message that the artist was trying to convey, or perhaps about what it means in relation to your understanding of the world. Good art will make you think for a long time after you have first seen it.

The easiest way to understanding art better is to spend a considerable amount of time looking at a given piece, which will give you the chance to see and think about it. If you are taken by a certain famous picture, you can have it reproduced for your own home via fine art giclee printing from an established art printing firm such as

The ‘look, see, think’ process for understanding art is a wonderfully accessible method and one that we can all use next time we are standing in front of a piece of art.

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