The visual experience is part of a circular chain of processes and events. It begins with an idea, the artist creates, and the observer views and forms an opinion. For this chain to come full circle — for the observer to understand or at least appreciate the work so they might form an opinion, it is helpful to have a receptive attitude, especially if the subject matter or style is foreign to them.
To the viewing of a photographic image we bring certain personal expectations — expectations of a particular response such as pleasure and enjoyment. And expectations that we will understand the subject matter and are able to make judgments of the image. It is important that we not allow our expectations to get in the way of seeing all that an image has to offer. Rather we should try to understand the image as it has been presented to us. If we do not strive to understand work that is new to us, chances are we won’t.
This is not to say that if understanding doesn’t happen the visual experience cannot be a satisfying one. It is, however, a most satisfying and artful experience when the observer is seeing and feeling what the artist intends. Then the visual experience has come full circle.
It is important to understand that satisfaction is not equal to enjoyment. We can have a positive, delighted response to an image that is not aesthetically pleasing. Conversely, we can experience sadness or discomfort from subject matter we consider to be beautiful. To get the most of the visual experience and to achieve understanding we should strive to reserve judgment until we have attempted to comprehend the idea behind the work, subject matter or style.
Excerpt from NATURAL DESIGN: Image Design for Nature Photographers