Theories on why people don't 'see' art

Theories on why people don't 'see' art

The doorbell rings, the dog goes crazy and the friend I haven't seen in years  walks through the house to have tea and a chat in my kitchen. Along the way, she passes walls that are clad in art.

Some of the paintings are mine, showing a progression over the years. Others are by friends, or have been bought on impulse through galleries.

But my dear friend – a cultured and refined woman who knows that I have thrown caution to the wind in my pursuit of painting - says nothing. She does not look at the walls. Not even a glance.

As someone who makes art, this is puzzling. And this happens all the time. Rare is the visitor who stops and looks and comments on what I have hanging on the walls.

So I have spent some time developing theories about is happening here. Humour me, and let me know what you think.

1. They are not 'visual'

People's homes tell you almost everything you need to know about a person. The things they covet, how they spend their money, their dirt and mess tolerance, their design preferences, the image they like to present to visitors ... and what lies beneath.

Not noticing these things is, to me, like missing out on a vital sense, like touch or smell.

But it is possible that not everybody seeks and takes in this visual information. I find it unlikely that this is the case in so many people, however, so there must be something else going on ...

2. They don't know what to say

Now, this is a likely factor. There is a not a high level of familiarity about visual arts in this country - apart from the annual circus of portraiture that is the Archibald Prize.

That lack of everyday conversation about painting could mean that people are afraid they may say the "wrong" thing and expose themselves as unknowledgeable.

They may also be concerned about offending an artist with the wrong comment – so it is safer to say nothing. It is the same response they may give to "Does my bum look big in this?"

3. They are French

I remember reading Almost French by Sarah Turnbull some (many) years ago and  learning about how, in Paris, it was unseemly to comment on people's personal possessions and art.

Turnbull concluded that, to openly admire someone's art was to present yourself as someone who couldn't possibly afford to own such a valuable object. The appropriate and polite response was to ignore it, as if you always had lunch in homes that had Renoirs above the fireplace.

4. They are not interested

They have come to my house to see me, not my paintings. They want to know how my life is going, if I am happy, if the family is well and they want to tell me about their own lives.

They are not curious about what I have on my walls.

5. They are afraid I will try to sell it to them

I guess I may be nervous about asking my party plan girlfriend about her Tupperware.

6. They hate it

Well, there is that too ...

Back to blog


Since my divorce and selling up the family farm which housed plenty of artwork inside and out, I no longer take any house pride beyond being clean and functional. In fact, any decorations or artwork I have put out are the opposite of what I would have in my “pride” days. I’d say today, even though a practising artist myself, I would probably not bother about wall art but would definitely notice it. There is a festival in Sth America where artists spend time creating art and then burning it down – I tend to do the same with mine except on external hard-drive haha


So bold of you to bring this up. I have had the same experience. The “ignore”from one friend in particular who is a painter and whose work I always compliment when I go to her home, was almost laughable as she walked stiff necked out the door!!!
The main thing is most people have no concept of how much love and effort, and hopefully skill, we put into our work and that it takes courage on our part to “put it out there”. And sadly my husband is the same🤣😢💕

Karen Holland

I think number four sums it up best.

Neil Matterson

Loved reading your blog and comments before going to work. I’m a support worker part time and many of my clients have wonderful art hanging on their walls, it’s the favourite part of my job being able to ask people the stories linked to their art. I’m obviously not French ,although I adored Paris. I’m on a journey of art discovery so I can fill my house and hopefully others homes one day.


Ha ha!! Love it. I’m an artist too and I must have the same friends!! Like you, I’ve thrown caution to the wind to do my art thing.
I think these friends (a) don’t know how to talk about art, and only like what the see in magazines and if it hasn’t been tried and tested and given to them with a green light, then it’s a mystery.
(B) they don’t want to engage with you about it in case you try to sell it to them; and
© are probably engineers. Maybe French engineers!


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