“Because if you don’t believe in high culture, then what are you doing at a museum?”

The Pinkline Project posted a comment today regarding the article above.  I started responding to Philippa’s post but as I started writing I realized I had a lot more to say than was appropriate for a comment box.  So here are my thoughts on the Paper Monument article

This is a topic that has been rolling around my head for a while now.  How to create a sense of respect and importance for art while also realizing that it’s about the individuals experience with the art, and sometimes that experience is not fostered within a stuffy museum setting.  I love museums, I want to work in a museum, for me it’s the one space where I can quietly and contemplatively “See” art.  But I know this way of viewing and appreciating art is not necessarily the way for others.  Yet I still find myself annoyed at the casual passerby of the breathtaking Van Gogh who’s only comment on the piece is “That house is crooked”  True story, I was walking through the Musée d’Orsay a few years ago completely floored by the collection of Van Gogh’s and this teenage kid walks up to ‘Church at Auvers’ and says the house is crooked.  I was appalled.   Not appalled because I thought that this kid was somehow less intelligent of uneducated, simply shocked that he could find no other quality about the art that meant something to him. For me its more about respecting the works, and realizing that they are important pieces in their own right.  But I have to remember that importance is different for each person.  Maybe this kid views things with a heightened sense of architectural structure, and so for him the off kilter feel of the church was what rang true.

“Intellectual conversations, as a woman I briefly dated once admonished me, are like public displays of affection—fun to be in, but mortifying to observe, and in a museum you know you’re being observed.” (how to behave in a museum)

I believe art to be moving, and powerful, and influential.  I’ll talk about the lines of a piece, how painterly it is, not because I want to show my expertise in the realm of visual arts, but because that is what I see when I view the art.  However I always try to indicate the qualities in hushed tones so as not to appear elitist. I don’t want people to think I’ve been sucked into this idea of High Culture, because I do not believe in such a thing.  I believe that the idea exists in the minds of others, but for me I judge art on being good or bad, a completely subjective categorization, but I know what I like and I know what I don’t like.  I also understand the cannons behind various artistic movements, which give me a little bit more room within my judgements.  So, if perhaps, I don’t necessarily flock towards a certain painting, I at least give it a chance to prove itself by investigating the technical aspects and why it might hold some merit in the grander scheme of things.

I look at a painting and start to think about what materials were used, its technical aspects, where it came from, what was going on at the time, who were the influencers of the period ( my little anthropology brain starts doing overtime) because that is what turns me on, these are the things that make art mean something to me.  Not everyone takes this same approach, and there is, of course, nothing wrong with this.  So we have to come up with new and engaging ways to, well, engage, our average museum goer, and realize that the way I see art is not the way others see it.  It’s imperative that we create new ways of revering art within the context of museums.  After all museums and galleries have the resources to preserve the works in question, they are not obsolete.  I’m not advocating that MoMa turn into a 3-ring circus, because a certain level of decorum must be maintained, as it must pretty much anywhere you go.  But if you incorporate less formal exhibitions, allow audience participation, create new and innovative ways of engaging your audience museums have the opportunity to become space in which the arts are shared and appreciated by everyone, not just those who “know” what they are looking at.

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