Written by Pittsburgh artist Adam Grossi. You can view Adam's work at http://www.adamgrossi.com/.
Artistic expression is a funny thing. It remains crucially important to countless artists, and yet few (if any) believe that they can articulate exactly what it is they are doing. Creativity can be a nebulous force, and the galleries, museums, and texts that surround it often do more to complicate it than render it comprehensible. With all of the variety and innovation, transformation and interpretation, how do we look at art and make any sense of it?
It is essential, first and foremost, that you consider and respect another nebulous force: your own personal intuition. Even with a grade-school level of artistic education, we can recognize when images or objects interest us. We must trust our impulses as they lead us to more conscious discovery within the realm of art. At the same time, new experiences must be met with somewhat open minds. In a certain sense, art is what you make of it, and snap judgements will yield snap experiences. Miniscule attention spans will yield miniscule understandings. Try not to think about what you like or don’t like, because doing so limits your ability to perceive what you are presented with. Every encounter with a work of art is a fresh encounter, and every artwork has the potential to affect, inform, and influence.
The world of art is diverse and rapidly transforming. You can see the difference between two styles of oil painting; how about the difference between installations, performances, public art, and community interactions? Perhaps one general rule of thumb that unites all creative expression is its intentionality: you can rest assured that the artist had some sort of reason for making (and showing) the work. When you encounter an artwork that challenges your understanding it can be helpful to think from the perspective of the artist. What moved them to create? Perhaps this question will lead to a better understanding of the artistic processes involved; perhaps it will lead you to an inquiry into art history, to understand the preceding school of thought that is informing the work in front of you.
Contrary to what museums, galleries, and critics would have you believe, there is no reliable way to determine what constitutes "good" art or "bad" art. There is art that powerful people think is important, but that really has very little to do with what is important about art: namely, your own personal experience with it, which offers you your own personal opportunity to stimulate and transform your comprehension of the world.