What is an Art Connoisseur?

To find out whether you are a connoisseur, let’s start with a definition, shall we? According to the dictionary, a connoisseur is “someone who understands the details, technique, or principles of an art and is competent to act as a critical judge.” A secondary definition specifies “one who enjoys with discrimination and appreciation of subtleties.”

Is it sufficient simply to appreciate art to be considered a connoisseur? Not according to the dictionary, alas. Even in the second definition, one is called not just to “appreciate” but to “discriminate”, detecting various subtleties to do so. Love just does not suffice: intelligence is a necessary determinant, as least according to Webster’s.

Before I continue refining this definition, let me introduce myself.  I am an artist and also an author.  In my latest book, “The Joy of Art: How to Look at, Appreciate, and Talk About Art” I set out to give readers a tool kit they can use to gain a better understanding of art that includes a working art vocabulary, general, and specific criteria in evaluating any work of visual art, some answers to basic questions and conundrums, and lots of comparisons of works in a variety of genres.   

My plan was to arm readers, who I imagined already to be art lovers (why else would they be reading?) with that “appreciation of subtleties” the dictionary calls for.  I did not specify that my aim was to make readers into connoisseurs, but perhaps, in the end, that’s exactly what I accomplished. Readers presumably already had the love–all they needed to become connoisseurs were those fine distinctions and the language to describe them.    

What does a wine connoisseur have that the average wine drinker does not? They can probably distinguish the type of grapes used, maybe even the vintage, can surely tell a Pinot from a Merlot, and tell you why Cabernet A is worth $36 and B is on the shelves for $8.  

And an art connoisseur? An art connoisseur is probably familiar with the basic elements of art, and can opine on the way the light is understood, the iconography of shapes and textures, and may even advance a judgment on the artist’s intention in a particular work.  They will probably recognize the medium employed, and have an idea of how that choice effects the message of the work. The connoisseur might instantly recognize a Matisse or Picasso, but so might the ordinary art lover, the only difference being that the connoisseur might be able to elaborate on the influence these artists had on their contemporaries and descendants, and where they stand in the pantheon of Art with a capital A. 

An art connoisseur is just a bit more informed on the general subject, and I would venture to say, that extra knowledge, the care taken to compare and contrast, has the general effect of intensifying the love and respect he has for the art forms, and the artists who deliver them. Knowledge is power, but it is also love, and the more of it we have, the more we can truly appreciate wine or art.

I encourage you, if you love art, to put in the work to become a connoisseur. I’d love it if you start with my book, and then move on to delve more deeply into what you find there that interests you the most.  Become an expert on the artists you love, and study more intently the ones you don’t. You may find that your tastes and judgments fluctuate and morph the more you learn.

Enjoy the journey!

Carolyn Schlam is an award-winning artist and the author of The Creative Path: A View from the Studio on the Making of ArtThe Creative Path: A View from the Studio on the Making of Art, and The Joy of Art: How to Look at, Appreciate, and Talk About Art. She also writes and illustrates books for children.

To learn more about Carolyn and her work, please visit www.CarolynSchlam.com.