Greg Mason Burns

How to Look at Art in Four Steps (when you don’t know what you’re looking at)

Have you ever wondered how something can be called “art” when it apparently looks like something you could have created using the leftover paint from painting your garage? Well, in this great video by University of Pittsburgh Professor Terry Smith, at the Andy Warhol Museum, he explains how to look at art using four steps:


  1. What: Look at the art and ask: “What am I looking at?” Share these thoughts with other people. Try
    The Chair in the Blue Room is an abstract oil painting of a red chair in a blue room. How to look at art in four steps

    How to Look at Art in Four Steps: The Chair in the Blue Room (2019)

    to describe it and keep an open mind. Describe the materials and think about how they may be linked to each other.
  2. How: How was it made? Take a look at the label to see the materials, but also think about the actual construction of the piece. How do you think the artist made it? How can you imaging yourself physically building it?
  3. When: When was it made? Don’t just view it from today’s standards, but think about the time the artist created it. Does the art fit into what you imaging the time was like, how, and why? And compare and contrast what other artists did from that time.
  4. Why: Think independently. Don’t be critical just to be critical, but try to form your own opinion on why the artist might have created the piece. Sometimes this is related to the above questions, but sometimes not as well.

Now when you go to a museum and you’re not sure what you are looking at, just follow these steps. It works for viewing art online, too. The visit will be much more enjoyable as a result.

Professor Terry Smith at the Warhol Museum from keir winesmith on Vimeo.