I find it refreshing when people discuss art in a down-to-earth manner, as opposed to approaching it as if it belongs solely in a rarefied, nasally, chichi atmosphere. I like when we can analyze an image strictly for what we see before us and let any background about the work only enhance our appreciation of it. I like to be able to stand in front of a scene and ask myself, What makes this “good”? What makes this effective? Or not, as the case may be—as art history classes I’ve taken through the years have taught me, sometimes perspective is off, sometimes foreshortening is mishandled, etc.

I like being able to break down why I like something and having the vocabulary to describe it, but of course, in the end, visceral reaction to a work of art is really what matters. It’s nice too just to relax and enjoy looking at something that’s beautiful and engaging.

TED Blog

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, starts his TEDTalk by telling a story of the first time he took an art course. It was taught by Pietro, an “irrascible Italian, who drank and swore much too much.” At one point he projected a very graphic image on a wall, with many figures of wine and cavorting, and asked them what it was. Campbell said it was a “bacchanal.” His teacher responded, “You fucking bookworm. It’s a fucking orgy.” He’s tried to bring that sense to his curation.

His own eureka moment came when he was studying the art of the courts of modern Europe, which was generally discussed in terms of the paintings. But in everything he read, there were descriptions of the tapestries, and for good reason: They were portable. “You could transform a cold, dank interior into…

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