How to Talk About Art Without Sounding Pretentious | NZ Fine Prints

How to Talk About Art Without Sounding Pretentious

Art is something that we will all encounter in many places in our lives—whether it’s in the reception of an office where you are trying to impress, a friend's home as you pop over for tea, or in its natural habitat, the many galleries that house art up and down New Zealand. But there’s a problem with eyeing up a piece of art and deciding whether to make a comment - the all-encompassing fear of sounding ‘pretentious’. When did enjoying art mean that we must learn ‘art jargon’ in order to talk about it at a level that’s ‘passable’ within the art community? 

Surely, we can just learn to enjoy art and make a passing comment that isn’t unnecessarily snobby sounding. After all, it’s entirely possible to simply enjoy art and just talk about it casually; everyone loves a good yarn! So, without further ado, here are some insightful tips on how to talk about art without feeling queasy about it!

A couple looking and discussing some art prints on display.
What to say about your friend's new art prints? 

Use words everyone understands

Dispel the preconceived notion that you must learn a whole new vocabulary to talk about a piece of art. If you aren’t confident talking about art and find yourself hesitating because you don’t understand what ‘chiaroscuro’ means, then just try to say the words that do come to mind when you see a painting. There’s nothing wrong with just saying you like the shadows or the dark colours in a painting. It becomes a lot easier to talk about art when you start with what you understand. As you become fluent in your own art language, the more complex terms will start to make a lot more sense as well.


Keep the detail limited unless prompted

If you’re really encouraged to say things about art (for example, in a situation when you’re around an art boffin and put on the spot to talk about their latest piece) and you aren’t feeling super confident, then just keep your message short and sweet. Stick to one thing you like about the piece, whether that be colour, composition, texture, tone pattern or anything else. Say what you choose to say with confidence and assurance.


Tap into your own personal reactions or feelings

Talking about art is usually just boiled down to how the art makes you feel. If you don’t know how to talk about the specific details of the art piece, it can be equally as valuable to discuss how the art made you personally feel or react. Use similar words that you would use to talk about your emotions, such as ‘angry’, ‘calm’, or ‘excited’. It can be as simple as capturing your first impression and putting that into words.


Sound pretentious if you want to!

Maybe you’re actually extremely enthusiastic about a piece of art, and you’ve read up about its history and happen upon a piece of art that you’re extremely passionate and know a lot about. If you’re enjoying talking about the art, don’t worry about sounding pretentious! Don’t present a dulled down version of yourself just to conform to the rules of the art world - or anyone else’s world for that matter! Art is something that spreads joy, and if it makes you happy to talk extensively about it, then go ahead. Your confidence and enthusiasm will be a breath of fresh air for whoever you’re talking to. Depending on who it is, they may even enjoy learning something new.


There are no mistakes

As a great artist, Bob Ross, once said, “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents”. Take this piece of advice the next time you feel like speaking up about a piece of art, and just go ahead. If you like art, express yourself and enjoy it openly. Fill your home and your office and even your car with your favourite pieces. Share it with your family and friends! Never feel as though you aren’t qualified enough to say why you like about a painting.


Art Prints from Art Enthusiasts

When it comes to New Zealand art in particular, we get pretty excited, and we could talk about it all day! If you’re a fan of New Zealand art as well, then there’s no better place to shop for your favourite prints than right here at NZ's art print experts since 1966. From art deco prints to framed wall art of your favourite pieces, we’re your local go-to. Shop our range online today!

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