I’ve often wondered what people are actually doing inside their heads when you see them gazing at a painting in a museum. Being of a naturally cynical bent, I often suspect they are mentally going over a shopping list, or imagining telling the boss what they really think of him! But what should one do when looking at art? When I went to university you only studied the subject you’d signed up for…and there weren’t any appreciation classes. I have read through the notes from art/dance/music appreciation courses but I discovered that these were not really courses on how to appreciate or experience the work but actually more like abbreviated histories of the range of art or dance the teacher exposed them to in class.
Maybe no one else wonders about this!! Perhaps this is just a problem for a cogitator such as myself. Not only do I think, but I check to see I’m really thinking in the “right” or “best” way! I used to feel I should spontaneously experience Deep Thoughts and Grand Emotions when standing in front of a masterpiece. There should be an explosion of gladness within my heaving bosom! I should leave the gallery a changed person. But so often it’s the same old me inside my head! Is this my fault? Or the fault of the work?
If you eavesdrop upon other gazers you learn very little: their remarks range from the disparaging “my child could have done this” ( then rush home with paints for the little monster!) to the pretentious “it’s his use of ultramarine, isn’t it?” And…..is it??
Yes, I know how to assess a composition and I often marvel at how frequently the greats keep “the rules”…but you know sometimes you can feel a little bit cheated by that – surely an artist of this caliber should have found a more interesting way of balancing the weight?
If you spot the technique too easily, then perhaps they have failed to give you (the viewer) anything to do. And I do feel a considerable responsibility for bringing my attention and my thoughtfulness to bear upon the work. I don’t, therefore, like the answers to be too easy – I prefer it if I must engage with the work to discover its meaning. Easy and trite solutions are not satisfying. I want to leave the room feeling that I’ve been enriched – not just by the piece itself but by the dialogue between the artist and myself. I think that if this happens, I will be able to become a better artist myself. If I can see and appreciate the nuances then I can create nuances of my own. It’s the difference between something quite prosaic and ordinary and something that speaks of the maker in a fresh and compelling way. It’s the same way that good writing doesn’t use commonplace idioms so many of which grate after just a few repetitions (have you noticed now how people are being “thrown under the bus” everywhere – it’s not even an accurate metaphor!). If it’s written well, the language illuminates and you think “that’s how to put that feeling into words!”. Memories resonate with delicious almost shivery awareness.
I shall continue to visit galleries all senses aquiver! I want to focus on the work right from the start…not idly saunter up thinking about something else…what does this piece say from across the room? Is there more as I approach more closely? Have I experienced this before? Or is it a new and beautiful visual expression of what the artist wishes to communicate. Is this a genuine feeling, or just pure bathos and sentimentality? What does the content of this work actually mean to me? Is my delight in it emotional or much more intellectual? How is the artist evoking this response in me? If I watch and think about my looking and thinking maybe my cogitations will lead somewhere……..
Well, if you have been, thanks for reading..and do tell me about your Grand Thoughts while viewing Art…I want to know!
It is important to learn how to see. Elizabeth