Art analysis through the lens of sensory perception — including tactile elements, spatial integration, and sound — opens a gateway to a richer understanding of art.
Analysing tactile elements, including material choice, in particular, offers insights into broader historical and cultural contexts that can shed light on artist intent, while consideration of spatial integration — how an artwork fits into and interacts with the space around it — also adds another layer.
Here, the viewer becomes an active participant in the unfolding artistic experience.
Finally, the intentional use of sound serves to enhance emotional resonance. Together, sensory perception provides a holistic lens through which art can be more comprehensively analysed and appreciated.
Sensory perception – Tactile elements
Analysing tactile elements can help you understand why artists chose certain textures and their connection to broader historical and cultural contexts, in turn offering a richer sensory experience.
So, when analysing art, scrutinise the artist’s selection of materials, and how they fit into wider historical and cultural influences. Take Anselm Kiefer’s “To the Unknown Painter” (1983) as an example — it’s a mixed-media artwork featuring lead, straw, and shellac.
See this work by Anselm Kiefer at MoMA
Kiefer’s choice of materials reflects a departure from traditional artistic practices of the time, aligning with the emerging avant-garde movement in the 20th century — something which challenged established norms and sought new avenues of expression.
Kiefer’s use of unconventional materials places his work within a trajectory of artists redefining the boundaries of artistic expression.
By exploring tactile choices in connection to broader historical and cultural influences, you can therefore gain a profound understanding of the artist’s intent and a more nuanced interpretation of the artwork.
Sensory perception – Spatial integration
Also, consider spatial integration in the sensory perception of an artwork: how the artwork interacts with and occupies physical space, influencing the viewer’s perception and overall engagement — therefore enriching your overall understanding of the piece’s immersive impact.
So, when analysing art, take time to consider how the artist integrates the artwork into the surrounding space.
Look at Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate,” affectionately known as “The Bean,” as an example — it’s a monumental steel sculpture in Millennium Park, Chicago. Indeed, steel is a widely-used material in art installations as it’s versatile, resilient, and capable of creating engaging and dynamic visual effects.
Image source Wikimedia Commons
Notably, “Cloud Gate” seamlessly integrates into the surrounding urban environment, with its reflective surface mirroring the cityscape, responding to its buildings, lights, and movement.
As such, the viewer becomes a participant and their understanding of the artwork is shaped in real-time.
As individuals move around and beneath the sculpture, the shifting reflections on the polished steel surface affect how they see the space around them. This consideration of spatial integration adds depth to the multisensory encounter, allowing the viewer to appreciate “Cloud Gate” as not just an object, but an immersive experience within its urban context.
Sensory perception – Auditory elements
Sound can play a crucial role in various types of artworks, ranging from traditional visual art forms like paintings or sculptures to immersive installations, as artists may intentionally use sound to either guide attention or evoke specific emotions, for instance.
So, pay attention to any accompanying sounds or music when analysing a piece.
Look at Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s “The Forty Part Motet” (2001) as an example: an immersive installation featuring a reimagined choral piece played through 40 individual speakers.
See this work by Janet Cardif at MoMA
The auditory experience, with each speaker representing a different vocal part, transforms the space into a dynamic soundscape.
By honing in on the auditory elements, viewers can better delve into the emotional and spatial dimensions of the piece. In particular, the rise and fall of voices, the crescendos, and the pauses all contribute to a strong emotional experience, ranging from contemplation to awe. In turn, the careful inclusion of the auditory elements fosters a deeper and more personal connection between the artwork and viewer.
So, when analysing art, consider the sensory perception – how the deliberate use of sound contributes to the overall sensory richness and emotional impact, resulting in a transformative experience for the viewer.
Sensory perception undoubtedly enriches art analysis.
By taking tactile elements, spatial integration, and sound into account, you can create a holistic lens through which art can be more comprehensively analysed and appreciated.
Briana has a lifelong interest in art, and spent five years working as an art historian. Since taking time out to start a family, she has rediscovered her teenage love of writing, and enjoys contributing to a number of publications, both print and online.