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The Road to Los Alamos, acrylic on board by Gigi Horr Liverant

The Road to Los Alamos, acrylic on board by Gigi Horr Liverant )


Gaia, abstract mixed media by Hedi Lewis Coleman. Photograph courtesy of Barbara Nair

Gaia, abstract mixed media by Hedi Lewis Coleman. Photograph courtesy of Barbara Nair )


All That Glitters, pastel painting by Jeanne Rosier Smith. Photograph courtesy of Susana Powell

All That Glitters, pastel painting by Jeanne Rosier Smith. Photograph courtesy of Susana Powell )


A photograph by Sally Perreten. Photograph courtey of of Barbara Nair

A photograph by Sally Perreten. Photograph courtey of of Barbara Nair )

First Steps in the Gallery

Published Dec 06, 2018 • Last Updated 01:58 pm, December 06, 2018

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Navigating an art gallery can be intimidating. You might wonder what makes one piece of art "better" than another, or simply not know what to look for. Thankfully, experts are often happy to help. Here are a few tips from Susan Powell of Susan Powell Fine Art in Madison and Barbara Nair of Spectrum Art Gallery in Centerbrook.

What's something anyone can appreciate when they first visit a gallery?

Susan: You want to look for a work that you feel a strong connection to, whether it evokes a memory or whether it just makes you happy.

Barbara: Any piece of art is only as good as the response it gets from a viewer. If you are moved in some way emotionally, intellectually, or experientially the piece of art is speaking to you.

What qualities can you look for to appreciate an artist's skill?

Susan: I look for drawing skill, color harmony, mood, composition, balance, creative use of color—all of these elements make a strong painting. It's putting together an interesting variation of shapes and value contrasts in a creative way that draws the eye and makes a powerful impression; it's also using color to evoke emotion.

You have to understand balance and what makes a good composition and why it works. I also look at consistency when I am choosing an artist [for the gallery]: consistency in technique and the ability to adeptly paint a variety of subject matter. I also look for creativity in subject matter, I look for the narrative.

Barbara: I always suggest on any gallery tour we have at Spectrum Gallery that people look carefully and slowly at the different pieces—even the ones they don't like. Look at a piece's composition. Is it pleasing and why, or does it jar you and if so why? Look at the palette of colors used. Identify them and ask yourself what do they evoke? How do they make you feel? Look at the relationship of objects and people in the piece. Do they tell a story and, if so, what do you think it is?

And for me, most powerful of all is: can you see the artist's visual style, which I call the artist's voice. Try to verbalize what you think makes the style distinct. It is easily identified in the great masters, but it can and should also be there in emerging and more experienced visual artists.

What sources can help you develop art appreciation?

Susan: Talk to gallery owners who have expertise in choosing quality work and who have many years of experience. Come to the openings of gallery shows and meet artists and talk to them about their vision and techniques.

Barbara: There are ways to understand beyond the personal why one piece may be more evocative than another. There is the deeper understanding one can get from having studied art history and therefore understanding the meaning of a piece within a specific time frame in history.

What's the best remedy for being a novice?

Susan: I think some people are nervous: they say, "I don't know much about art." But you know what you like—that's why it's important to go to many galleries, many museums, and see shows and pay attention to what you like and that is how you learn and evolve. The more you see, the more you're going to learn. Go look at art. Go to galleries, pay attention to your own responses to a painting and what you like. This is how a collector develops his or her own taste.

Barbara: Soak in every visual opportunity possible. Visit galleries, museums, gardens, beautiful homes, read art and design magazines and enjoy!


Spectrum Art Gallery, 61 Main Street, Centerbrook, presents its holiday show, Myths, Fairytales, and Fantasies, through Sunday, Jan. 13. For info, call 860-767-0742 or visit

Susan Powell Fine Art, 679 Boston Post Road, Madison, holds its annual holiday show from through Saturday, Dec. 29. For info, call 203-318-0616 or visit

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