Looking At Art

Have you ever visited a gallery looked at a painting and thought that you would like to know how best to enhance that experience? Well, I hope that the guidelines Looking at Art will help you.

Following an approach to the National Museums Northern Ireland’s Ulster Museum, agreement was reached to set up a small working group to produce guidelines to help people look at art.

We set down the purpose of the SLP, a set of objectives, the make-up of the working group, and a timescale. The working group included a small number of people from Belfast U3A’s Art Appreciation Group – Wilma Chrusciak, Liz Hunter, Deirdre Kenny and Sandra Foster together with Colleen Watters, Head of Learning and Partnership at the Ulster Museum.

Using the many paintings in the Museum’s collection the working group looked at portraits, landscapes and abstract art. We began to develop a series of headings that related to the different categories of paintings.

We considered the following: –
• Portraits – staging, character, the artist, and the viewer experience.
• Landscapes – eye catchers, colour and tone, technique, and the viewer response.
• Abstract art – colour, subject matter, and viewer response.

Under each of these headings we drew up a series of questions that you could ask whenever you looked at paintings. To help with the questions there is a series of paintings together with some answers. For example in the part dealing with Colour and Tone, under the heading ‘What are the Main Colours’ – in ‘The Fox’ by John Luke (main photo ©NMNI) the answer is that the painter has used colours which are rich and deep in tone and are complimentary to help heighten the effect.

When the guidelines were in final draft form I asked a friend, Anne Levi, of Stewartry U3A to proof read them. So many thanks to her. Subsequently, her own Art Appreciation Group took an unofficial look at the guidelines and pronounced them very useful. It was good to know that our efforts were appreciated and were worthwhile.

The SLP provided its challenges, but as a group we learned at lot, and enjoyed the whole process of producing the guidelines, Looking at Art. A huge thanks to Colleen Watters at the Ulster Museum without whose help and enthusiasm this project would not have happened.

Thanks to Liz Hunter for all her hard work in uploading the guidelines to the website. If you want to use the guidelines, Looking at Art, you can do so by going to then go to Groups, Art Appreciation and Links on the right hand side.

You will be able to download or print off the guidelines. Please read Looking at Art, take yourself to a gallery, look at some paintings, and hopefully your experience will be more informed and rewarding

If you find the guidelines useful please let us know and if you have an interesting SLP to talk about please share it on the button above.