The more we know the less we see

Ben is the author of the book How to Enjoy Art: A Guide for Everyone, a manual for anyone who really wishes to enjoy art. Even though Ben is a trained art historian, he promotes the idea that “the less we know about art, the more we look”.

He bases his thesis on the example of an average gallery visitor who moves from painting to painting, reads the caption, takes a brief glance at the artwork and moves on. In his view, the need to know details about the artist and the work itself in order to connect with it is a common misconception about art. People certainly don’t need to panic if they lack information. On the contrary, they should be guided by their feelings and try to perceive how the piece is affecting them at that moment.

“All art is contemporary”. This is another revolutionary idea the author elaborates in his book. Ben dislikes categorising works of art as contemporary or modern. They are never complete without the reaction they evoke in the spectator; therefore, each painting or sculpture works different every time, depending on one’s personal experiences. This is why he encourages us to give the works some space, to really perceive them and become critical of them. We should ask ourselves why they trigger these particular emotions in us. Our home is then the ideal place to allow the art to affect us over a long enough time span. That’s also why it is important to always rely on your own taste, as it is you who is going to live with the particular piece.

We must also keep in mind artworks are created in studios, not in galleries. Artists’ workplaces resemble neither neat gallery spaces nor collectors’ homes. So why do we think that galleries are the best places to show art? Unfortunately, they are not. They are just the most convenient solution now available to us. Ben compares this practice to a lion, for whom a zoo is also not a natural habitat. Different places can also lend different meanings to art objects. Here he reiterates that it always comes down to the particular beholder. After all, no artist creates with the aim that their work should express a single truth.