Paintings expose us to cultures that we may not have the opportunity to explore on our own. 
Artists paint what they see and feel.  They paint their surroundings and the people around them. They could be painting their hometown or places that they are visiting.    
From paintings, we can thus see how people from another country or culture live; the clothes they wear, the games they play, the work they do, the food they eat, the religious activities they carry out, the homes they stay, the traditions they follow, the art they create.  
From paintings, we can also look at cultures from different view points; you can be sharing the excitement of an artist who is encountering the experience for the first time or indulging in the intimacy of an artist who has lived there all his life; you can be surprised at the things you never knew existed where you live from a fellow local artist or be reminded of what was important to where you are by a visiting artist.  
We may not be able to travel the world to experience the different cultures, but we can learn a little from looking at paintings. 

How to appreciate paintings? When we are appreciating paintings, we are learning valuable lessons from paintings too.  

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