SO YOU WANT to appreciate art. And you didn't take a course, or it didn't stick. Believe it or not, that's okay. Here are three homework assignments you can do right now, at your own pace, to make the art you see mean more to you.
Craft: Try Everything
With art as with drugs, the boldest approach is to "try everything once." Maybe you have tried your hand at practicing all forms of art, but if you somehow missed out in grade or grad school, do it now. Try drawing your dog. So many shades of brown: How to re-create them and where should they go? So many hairs... how to do those? He moved again, goddamnit. Try painting your houseplant. Sometimes green is green, but if you look closely, sometimes it's really brown or gold or gray. Try carving anything—even a smiley—out of a rubber eraser and stamping it on a piece of paper. You missed a chunk and now it looks all fucko. Try again. Guide a stack of fabric through a sewing machine. It's crooked. It's stuck. Pull out that seam. Dip prints in a darkroom. Carve a bar of soap with a pocketknife. You'll soon realize that making even the simplest thing isn't particularly easy. And once you've tried all the processes, I defy you to condescend to your grandma, to the craft-fair artisans, to the street portraitists, or the graffiti scrawlers. The fact that art gets made at all is a humanist miracle you're not fit to dismiss.
Abstraction: Track Your Taste
You have a favorite color—at least one. And when you dress yourself, which everyone must do, you gravitate toward certain patterns, colors, and prints. You have a visual identity. You must. And that applies to everything you like. Make yourself four pieces of toast. They'll all be cooked to different darknesses and imprinted with different smoky shapes. I'm not talking the Virgin Mary here; I'm talking faint sepia blurs... and you'll prefer one aesthetic accident over the other. This is not rocket science; just point at one of the things and grunt, "Uh." Same as picking out a favorite stranger at a bar. Same as picking out a favorite apple from the pile. All the apples are dappled differently, and you happen to grab that one. Pick your abstract art like that.
Sometimes in art, just like home decor, you walk in and decide something's hideous and you hate it. BUT! What a relief to see something hideous that you hate that you don't have to fix, because it's someone else's art and not a real atrocity from life! Breathe. Leave. And keep looking for that apple.
Interpretation: Find Memories and Meanings
If there is something that looks wolf-like in a picture, it's okay that it reminds you of an indigenous myth, or a fairy tale, or your hairy best friend, or your angry boss, or your trip to Yellowstone... regardless of what the artist meant. The artist is putting down something, and you're picking up something. Even if those interpretations are not the same, in this context it doesn't count as a misunderstanding. That's what it means to say, "Art is subjective." Let it do whatever it does to you. Let it remind you of whatever. You'll enjoy it more.
Maybe these tips seem so obvious that you think I'm an idiot for even saying them. Or maybe you've dismissed them because they seem so goshdarned easy and intuitive that they couldn't be right. I'm just here to say, "No, seriously. There's a simple path to arts appreciation. I have taken it, and you can, too." The steps cost practically nothing, and it's never too late.