If you want to learn about the importance of impact in visual messaging, consider this: the average amount of time a painter has to engage a potential purchaser of his work in a gallery is 15 seconds. That's about how much time people spend looking at any one painting as they're strolling through an art space. In 15 seconds, the artist who likely spent hours, days, or months creating a single piece of work must make that viewer think, laugh, cry, and wonder. 15 seconds to make an impression, or not. In other words, the painter must immediately elicit some type of strong emotion and curiosity or risk being passed by and forgotten.
In writing, we give authors a decent number of pages before we decide to continue or put down a book. We'll watch a TV show for a few episodes, a play for at least the first act, a few songs on an album or at a live concert. Visual artists barely ever get a fair shake. And here's why it's even more tragic: our minds physically cannot take in every detail of a painting in 15 seconds. But it's exactly those details that will make all the difference in our opinion of a piece of work. In 15 seconds, we aren't giving the artists nor ourselves a fair shake and my guess is that we are missing a lot of beauty and a lot of joy through this self-imposed limitation.
For the sake of the art world, here's my suggestion: slow down and open the mind. I'm guilty of museum fever. I have to get through as much as possible as quickly as possible just to say I've seen it. Bad idea. Very bad idea. I have a tough time recalling details of works if I take that approach. So on my last visit to the Met, I went more slowly and I did less. I went to see one small showcase, Raphael to Renoir, and then let myself just wander and enjoy whatever happened to catch my eye for about an hour. I spent that hour looking at a handful of works and I took the time to enjoy, appreciate, and question each one. It was the best visit I ever had to the Met.
The visual arts can be overwhelming but they don't have to be. Take small steps, question why the artist chose specific colors, textures, or points of view. Read the back story on the work if it's published alongside the work in a gallery or museum. Take time to consider all the choices that could have been made and why an artist specifically made the decisions to create the work that now stands before you. We'll be better off for this exercise - we'll learn how to see and appreciate more of the world around us - and visual artists will finally get a chance to inspire us at least as much as other artists.
The painting above, Blank Image, was painted by Kyle Waldrep and is on display at the School of Visual Arts on the UCF campus. Oil on canvas.