Observing Project: Not Just Pictures

Bryanna Walker

Professor Jones

ENG 101

20 Oct 2014

The Visual & Performing Arts Gallery: Not Just Pictures



Pictures, sculptures, and paintings can tell a story without even having any words beneath to label what the artist is trying to say. Like drawing, painting has its documented origins in caves and on rock faces (Howard and Hoffman, 2013). The finest examples of what believed by some to be 32,000 years old (Pinna and Reeves, 2009). For example, in galleries or museums, information about the artwork and even the title of a piece is missing, leaving the observer to have to study the artwork to understand what the artist is trying to say. Can the meaning of a picture or painting be captured by a viewer just by observing the artwork? My purpose in writing the paper is to show how my observations had to go a little bit deeper for me to understand the true message behind the artists’ work.


I walked into the visual arts and performing building of UIS which is located in the back of the campus. In the VPA building, there is an open space that houses a student exhibit (gallery) area.Observation in the VPA gallery took place for forty five minutes, twice in one week. Notes about the room, footnote labels underneath the sculptures, and activities that took place during the observation period were taken.

A notebook was used totake down any new observations that were unnoticed the time before. During the observation I surveyed one student who had been spending a lot of time in the gallery throughout the week. For every picture or sculpture that I really wanted to focus in on, I would sit and write the observations that I noticed about it.


Most of the paintings were posted around on the wall and it was not clear on where the picture derived from or if there was a story behind it. One painting which stood out the most had two parts to it.  The painting had faces depicted in it and you had to really pay close attention to the detail in it. I think the part that stood out most was how creepy it looked until you payed close attention. When you first looked, you saw what seemed to be faces all over. After studying this painting for quite some time I noticed that there were several different facial expression represented. That is the thing I like most about the art that is placed in the gallery.

I was able to study a painting that reminded me of my childhood and it brought back all great memories. The painting was a work of a student from the school and it had a child holding their mother’s hand. I believe the painting portrayed a message of a mother’s love for her child. I noticed that the painting made sure that the mother held her child very close and looked like she was in a protective stage over her child. This reminded me of a time where me and my mother went walking down the street and she ensured my safety by placing me on the sidewalk instead of letting me stand on the side of the street. When you actually focus in and take away all the other elements of the picture you can look at it in a totally different way.

I also noticed a display of pictures that showed a timeline of inventions such as the telephone, the clock, television, and even irons. I believe this piece of work was chosen to be placed in the gallery to educate students that spend time there. You are able to get an understanding of when many of the inventions that we use today came about. You may also be a person that is interested in history and want to do a little research on one of the inventions. That picture can sort of guide you in what kind of invention you may want to study.


Most UIS students take advantage of the gallery that is offered to them, and spend time submitting artwork or taking pictures of it. I believe UIS offers this so that students in their free time will be able to go to some place where they can free their minds of any thoughts. I sat with one student and asked why they liked to spend so much time in the student’s art gallery. The girl then explained to me that is was a way of her being able to express her innermost feelings through words. For most people a picture can explain a feeling in so many different ways. I felt this way after visiting the gallery two times out of the week. I noticed that if you were to sit and take notes about everything that you see there is a story that ties behind all of it.

I noticed one sculpture that was a yellow chair that looked like it was made of mustard and had just been frozen. The first thought in my mind was trying to figure out who would want to make a piece of work that looked so complicated. Was this chair for people to sit on, just observe, or was it a reason for this chair being created in the first place. With most artwork, an onlooker has to observe the piece of work for quite some time until he/she understands what the message is. I believe this deep observation expands the minds of people to challenge them to think hard about the context of the pictures and the way that things were placed.


To help a person determine the message or hidden meaning of an art piece, visual art makes an individual use mind receptors that perhaps would not normally be used (Howard and Hoffman, 2013). I believe the experience was overall great because I can now connect visual arts with experiences throughout my life and take the context of a picture, drawing, and sculpture and know just exactly what the artist was trying to tell the audience.



Remember that art is a language all of its own that is different from our normal spoken language (Howard and Hoffman, 2013). The language of the visual arts like the other arts is feeling: emotion, intuition, and form or idea without words. Through paintings, drawings, and other visual arts, we can discover worlds of experience that are all around us–or inside of us–that cannot be described quickly or easily with mere words (Pinna and Reeves, 2009). The visual arts can help us give meaning to what seems meaningless and help us recapture feelings and experiences that we have once had or would like to have again. When you study a piece of work your mind may instantaneously think of a time in your life that you may need to reflect upon. That is the benefit of the visual arts because they help you to also remember events that happened throughout your life. When an artist creates a visual work of art such as a painting, he or she is communicating with us just as surely as if she were talking to us. Her “words,” though, are not spoken things, but rather are color, line, shape, and texture. There are so many other ways, too, that an artist can “talk” to us. We are supposed to feel something when looking at a painting or other work of art: we are supposed to react to it, even if the painting makes us react with tears, anger, or discomfort. Paintings and works of art in general are meant to move us, especially in ways that words often can’t. When we search for the meaning of a painting, we shouldn’t be looking for some kind of abstract symbolic meaning or other intellectual idea (Howard and Hoffman, 2013).

From my personal experience, I noticed that the more time that I spent in the gallery, I developed a better understanding of the artwork and through the observation, I was able to go into more deep thought.  Therefore, to understand what the artist was trying to say it really only takes a little thought. Sometimes when you take a step back and think the message will come to your mind so much quicker than it would you pointing out the obvious.




Works Cited

N.d. U.S. Department of Education. Web. 14 Dec. 2014. <http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/oii/2013/03/403/arts-gallery/>.

Howard, A. D., & Hoffman, D. R. (2013). A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: Building American National Identity Through Art. Perspectives On Political Science, 42(3), 142-151. doi:10.1080/10457097.2013.793517

Pinna, B., & Reeves, A. (2009). From perception to art: how vision creates meanings. Spatial Vision, 22(3), 225-272. doi:10.1163/156856809788313147