Monday, October 29, 2012

Discussion: How do you view art?

East Coasters, stay safe!

Everyone, take advantage of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal suspending their paywalls for Hurricane Sandy / Frankenstorm! (Articles! Free articles! Free articles for all!) No, really.

(Also, everyone, run to the Google search page right now. Right. Now. Happy little clouds.)

The NYT recently ran an article, “Heart-Pounding Art, Seen Solo,” on a study by German cultural scholar Martin Tröndle that researched how people view art, with such findings as:

[...] artists, critics and museum directors often walk into the middle of an exhibition space, scan it and then maybe look at one work before continuing on, while visitors with moderate curiosity and interest tend to move diligently from work to work and read text panels.

I definitely do the former when it comes to most gallery shows and some museum exhibitions (I tend to be more thorough in museums, but that just might be the history nerd / learning nerd in me). But is one way necessarily right or wrong or better than the other?

My last show, I CAN DO THAT, did explore this issue a bit. As I’ve mentioned before in various interviews, most people who attend gallery openings walk in, make a beeline for the free booze, find and chat with the people they know, and then leave, all without so much as even glancing at the art on the walls.

At I CAN DO THAT, not only were people staying and looking at the art, but the art was the focus. Guests were actively viewing, talking about, and interacting with the art (granted, that was the premise of the show, but still). And, most notably, people were staying.

Another finding from Tröndle’s research:

That visitors tended to feel more stimulated by sculptures and installations that impeded their progress through the galleries was also noteworthy.

Ah, yes, I am no stranger to sculptures and installations getting in people’s way. People tend to respond more to immersive environments, to art that engages as many senses as possible, to art that almost asks to be grabbed and touched or kicked over. And, interestingly, if you’ve been following my art travels and documentation of them, you might’ve noticed that I am indeed more drawn to and thus highlight the more sculptural works.

The article concludes:

[...] for an optimal art experience, museums have to be small, they have to be more empty, and they have to be, in the most positive sense, a place of contemplation.”
Of Mr. Tröndle’s suggestion that the more social one’s visit, the less one can remember of it, Mr. Wäspe said, “This means never go with your best friend through an exhibit, because you don’t do them any favors.” 

Do you agree or disagree with this assessment? Personally, I do prefer viewing art alone (which is how I prefer doing most things, as you can probably surmise by this whole I-want-to-produce-entire-exhibitions-by-myself venture). I’ve made exceptions, but, even then, that usually translates to my companion and me eventually splitting up and reconvening once we’ve both made the rounds.

What are your own art-viewing habits, tendencies, and preferences? Can the act of viewing art be social and have the same effect as when one is alone?

P.S. Don’t forget to vote for I CAN DO THAT as Best Art Exhibit! You have until Wednesday, October 31!

Also, if you haven’t done so, check out the official statement for the city-wide Dreams of a City project!


  1. I found the following phrase with humor "never go with your best friend through an exhibit, because you don’t do them any favors.". I like the assessment and your view regarding the perception of art.

    1. Thanks, Kenal. Glad you enjoyed it. (And I saw your retweet--thanks for that as well!)

  2. Replies
    1. Right? I first saw it late last night and it was such a treat [and may or may not have compelled me to spend a good hour watching Bob Ross videos]. Happy little trees!


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