If You Go to a Gallery LOOK at the Art!
When I was thirty I had the good fortune to be in Paris, wandering starry-eyed through the Picasso Museum.
As I was standing in front of a piece, absorbed in the painting, I noticed a woman walking quickly through the gallery, a video camera aimed at the walls. She breezed around the perimeter of the room and then moved on to the next room and did the same.
Not once did she stop or spend time with a work. The only way she looked at the art was through the lens of her videocam.
I was flummoxed.
This was PICASSO!! Why look at art through a lens when you can actually EXPERIENCE THE ART? You know, BE with it.
This was not a one-time observation. Every time I go to a gallery or museum I see visitors “viewing” the work in the same manner, a device implanted between their eyes and the artwork.
Fifteen years later I continue to be flummoxed. People are now taking selfies of themselves with the art, not even looking at the piece but standing with their back to the work. Documenting that they were there, they saw the Artwork by the Famous Artist. Unless they have eyes in the back of their head, I wonder did they really see anything at all?
My most recent WTF? took place at the MoMA. I was endeavoring to navigate through an intimate, but very busy, exhibit of Andy Warhol’s early drawings and paintings. Surrounded by a forest of arms holding up phones and iPads, I at first tried to be polite, to give the other visitors space and stay out of their picture frame. Then I got frustrated, gave up, and just did what I came to do…look at the art (I wonder how many pictures I photobombed that day).
As I slowly perused the room that contained Warhol’s series of Campbell’s soup can paintings I wondered if any of the visitors with devices were noticing what I was.
Did they notice the minute differences in the works, or did they assume that all the paintings – with the exception of the text – were identical? Did they note that the bottom right of Chicken with Rice doesn’t possess the flare of the can that the other paintings did? Or that Bean with Bacon and Turkey Noodle are painted with a slightly warmer red? Did they notice that the fleur de lis embellishment on the cans is actually hand-stamped on each painting? And that the flatness of this stamp messes with the 3-D illusion of the curved can already established in the painting? In Old Fashioned Tomato Rice the line of the fleur de lis is interrupted by text. Did they wonder, like I did, if it is like that in the original soup can or if it was simply that Warhol committed a compositional faux pas and ran out of space? Did they notice that in some paintings the hue used to represent the tin of the can is the same as the background colour, and in other paintings it is darker?
I hope so, but I doubt it.
Sadly, this phenom illustrates the way that we humans generally move through the universe, always a filter of some sort between us and life.
People – please, please, please get rid of the filter. Put the devices away and treat yourself to simply viewing the artwork. Spend more time than it takes for your camera to focus and truly give your attention to a piece. Notice the colour and composition. The materials and textures. Experience the work with nothing separating you and the piece but the temperature-controlled air between you. Finally, take a moment to notice how the art makes you feel.
You will be rewarded for your presence, I promise.
Do you practice presence?