What to Look for in Art

In Uncategorized on August 3, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Today the writer Michael Kimmelman, for the New York Times, wrote an article that brought some clarity to a behavior I had always observed when visiting art museums and galleries. Why and how do people look at art and what do they see?

Most often this is what I observe – people walking at the speed of light past artworks, giving a work a glance, and most curious of all, posing, taking a picture with a work of art they either admire, connect with, or know is famous.

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

As we can see there’s a difference between stopping and actually looking at art (what a museum is supposed to be about and their primary purpose of existence) as we can see in exhibit A and people visiting an art museum as in Exhibit B.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

The article continues by noticing that it’s rare to actually find people who stop and observe and really look at the artwork.  An artist may go and see what the work looks like up close, how do the brush strokes fall on the canvas, how are the color transitions, what kind of edges are created, how does the light move across the painting or what does the texture of the sculpture look like or how does the sculpture interact with its space and surroundings? However, this isn’t enough I think for a complete experience.

An art historian might have a completely different perspective and purpose when looking at art. They could tell you who created the artwork, what kind of life they had, what was the social setting like and what kinds of ideas were bein thought about in aesthetics at the time. They might comment on the clothing, the physical features of the people, the symbols, the novelties from a chronological perspective.

The beauty of going to an art museum is that there is something for everyone. And no matter how many times you’ve seen something, you will always get a different experience if you go see the same work a few years later – probably because you have matured, you understand more, or are at a different point in your life and connect to somethng in a different way. The point is that the possiblities of viewing are endless.

The article Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus describes “Visiting museums has always been about self-improvement. Partly we seem to go to them to find something we already recognize, something that gives us our bearings: think of the scrum of tourists invariably gathered around the Mona Lisa.”

I once saw at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC several drawings by Sandra Gamarra, a Peruvian contemporary artist who focused on the people visiting art in museums as interesting characters and subjects to comment about (especially art students). Her drawings entitled The New Worshipers are suggesting that the typical museum goer views the art with a reverence equivalent to a God like presence.

Sandra Gamarra- The New Worshippers

Sandra Gamarra- The New Worshippers

An article in the L Magazine describes these as “poignant critical statements about the holiness of fine art, and the church-like quality of a museum, thus following in a tradition so central to appropriation art. But if every angle of appropriation fits in to this relatively small museum space, then nothing really fits in very well. The curator’s all-inclusive approach to technique and concept doesn’t serve the format: an hour-long museum visit. The downside of this show’s abundance of powerful imagery is the resulting extra wide through line that demands every viewer see above and between the frames.”

  1. Brilliant!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: