How to Look at a Painting

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11798

Why do you need to learn how to look at a painting? You just look at it, right? No, to appreciate art, you need to LOOK at it. Then, you can really SEE the art behind it. Learn the simple principles!


Visual Arts

Fine Arts
learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


You walk into an art museum and there are fine works are art framed here, there, and everywhere. What next? How are you supposed to look at them?

If you want to dig for interesting stones, it's not too hard.

After all, every kid with a small shovel can find some neat specimens. If you want to dig for gold or precious jewels, however, you are going to need more time and some specialized tools.

It's the same thing with looking at art. Most people have their own sense of what good art is based on whether the art looks beautiful and sensible or ugly and confusing, but there are other tools you can use to get more meaning out of art.

There was a man named Dr. Albert Barnes who came up with an interesting approach to looking at art, and he developed one of the greatest art collections in the world in a very special museum outside the city of Philadelphia. Barnes' gallery is unlike any other, and you will explore his method in the Got It? section.

First, read a little bit about the life of this interesting and complex man, Albert C. Barnes. As you do, write down information to answer the following questions:

  • How was Barnes able to compile such an impressive art collection?
  • What was Barnes' relationship with the art community?
  • What ideas and values seemed to motivate Barnes?

Read the article, The Legacy of Albert C. Barnes. Part 2. The Barnes Foundation by Eugene Garfield, Ph.D., courtesy of University of Pennsylvania. Write down the answers to the questions above. Share your findings with your parent or teacher, then reflect on the following questions and discuss:

  • What do you think Barnes believed about the role of art in life?
  • Is art too difficult for the average person to understand?
  • What would help people understand art better?

You can tell from his biography that Barnes was no ordinary man, and he did not have a conventional attitude towards art.

In the Got It? section, learn more about what made Barnes' art collection unique, and how he thought we should look at art.

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.