NEW VOICES: The Art of Observation

The Need for A New Model of Observation by Lydia Murrãy


‘The average person spends 17 seconds looking at a work of art. It usually takes much less time than that to identify an image. But understanding it? That requires slowing down and taking the time to see the details. This kind of thoughtful, close-looking helps us see that things are not always as they appear at first glance’

(Toledo Museum of Art 2021).

Woman Looking At Art

Standardise Observation

From what we know thus far on observation there are 3 main models, these are graded, ungraded and developmental; what these are and the purpose of these vary for each. I feel there is however, need for a model of observation that can be used within multiple institutions, despite varying age groups and subject specialisms; there needs to be a level of consistency to track and monitor the quality of teaching taking place. I propose that rather than having a set list of criteria, mis displaced power dynamics, hierarchy or the freedom to ‘do whatever we want’ when it comes to teaching, that we reimagine what teaching and observing really is; an art form. That the art of observing is recognised in its own right, just as the art of teaching should be. That these two art forms come together and happen simultaneously and that one may not be complete without the other. Professor of art Angel Fernandez states that ‘art can communicate information, shape our everyday lives, make a social statement and be enjoyed for (its) beauty’ (Fernandez ND). When I read this I think of teaching, teachers achieve all of this in everything they do and therefore this practice must surely be seen as art.

Teaching & Observation Must be Art?!

The artist Vincent Van Gogh said that, ‘art demands constant Vincent Van Gogh self portraitobservation’ (Van Gogh 1882) and here supports the concept I am suggesting. That in order for us to observe teaching, we must be watching art and that to observe in itself must also be an art form. He goes on to say that ‘it is looking at things for a long time that ripens you and gives you a deeper meaning’ (Van Gogh 1882). Observing teaching allows us a deeper understanding of the art and what it means to teach, the observer should be able to decipher through the areas that need addressing and celebrate the true works of art. Institutions should highlight areas of art that work well and the reasons for this so best practice may be shared between artists. As art observers we should be searching for the good in what we are observing and questioning that that we do not understand. Observers must appreciate that all artists will have differing processes and as such the art that is then created will take on many different shapes and forms.

We must, in order not to be too lenient, address the differences between good and bad art. Yet, art in itself is subjective and herein lies the problems associated with the subjectivity of observing; what one may deem to be good can be seen by another as bad. ‘One of the most subjective perceptual experiences is given by art and it is, perhaps, this unique and highly variable personal experience what makes art so attractive’ (Martinez 2011); here cementing, the concept of observing being an art form by the true nature of its subjectivity. We must allow for this subjectivity and trust in the knowledge of the observer, that what they are seeing is art and will be acknowledged as such.

Looking at People Looking at Art

‘The Art of Seeing Arts is a process for looking carefully and exploring a work of art on a deeper level – it is a series of six steps – look, observe, see, describe, analyse and interpret – that you can use when looking at any work of art’ (Toledo Museum of Art 2021). I think this concept could be applied to the teaching we observe, moving on from a developmental model in which the teacher addresses their own strengths and areas for development. Instead we acknowledge the experience of observing as two artists coming together to ‘look, observe, describe, analyse and interpret’; much like walking around an art gallery with a peer and discussing what is being experienced and observed. I feel this method allows a more holistic and perhaps enjoyable approach to the observation process for both parties and from the start creates an environment in which both are acknowledged and accepted as artists in their respective fields. This process may allow for the fear of observation to dissipate and instead highlight that what the teacher chooses to display is art and that it will be recognised as such by those observing it.

There are of course variants within this, teachers, or artists in this scenario, will have differing years of experience, but does this then make one more talented than the next? Just as artists use different materials, so will teachers use different strategies, specialisms and techniques; as observers we must appreciate the individual art form in its own right. Both parties must acknowledge that just as art is creative and engaging so must be the teaching taking place and that this is how it shall be observed.

By viewing teaching in this way, we may liberate teachers into redefining what they are doing as an individual expression of their own comprehension and practice; ‘arts encourage self-expression and creativity and can build confidence as well as a sense of individual identity’ (Tate ND). I hope for this experience to be freeing rather than feared and suggest that if what teachers are creating is art, then it must be put on display for all to see.

Art Critics

This method of course, means that observers are critics, one magnifying glass looking at a moonligh landscapr but through the glass it is summerdefinition of an art critic states that ‘an art critic is a person who specialises in evaluating art. Their written critiques, or reviews, are published. Professional art critics are expected to have a keen eye for art and a thorough knowledge of art history. The opinions of art critics have the potential to stir debate on art related topics’ (Definitions 2021). This should be the same for observers using this method, observers should be specialists in their field, they should have thorough knowledge of observation and education; updating this on a regular basis. They will have experience in writing reports to support what the have seen, from which, comments should spark debate between artists; tutors, observers and standardisers.

It is important to acknowledge the differing variations of observation, however also to accept, that as education changes so must the observation process. I believe the use for one model is necessary and by suggesting the ‘art of observing art’ as a model I aim for institutions to be able to observe in a more universal way, creating equality throughout the process of observation. I hope to have addressed some of the issues associated with observation such as ‘the fear factor’ for teachers, misplaced power dynamics and ill-trained observers. The methods for this model allow for observation to occur, reports to be created, for healthy debate to take place and to acknowledge the importance of both artists roles in this process; teacher and observer. By viewing observation in this way, I aim to make the process holistic and enjoyable, whilst also implementing the necessary structures demanded by observation.


Definitions (2021) Definitions for Art Critic, (accessed on – Dec 2021)

Fernandez. A (ND) The Importance of Art, (accessed on – Dec 2021)

Martinez. L (2011) How Do We See Art: An Eye-Tracker Study, (accessed on – Nov 2021)

Tate (ND) Why Study Art?, (accessed on – Dec 2021)

Toledo Museum of Art (2021) The Art of Seeing Art, (accessed on – Nov 2021)

Van Gogh. V (1882) Van Gogh’s Letters, (accessed on – Nov 2021)

Lydia Murrãy