"Art offers something else--depth, involvement, a new way of looking at the world that we live in, a fresh approach to what we take for granted, a chance to experience freedom of the imagination."
-Meredith Monk, composer, singer, director, choreographer
(image by René Magritte via artchive)
I regularly visit online museums all over the world. I take virtual tours of The Louvre. (click here.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art (click here) The Art Institute of Chicago. (click here.)
But the computer screen cannot replace the experience of visiting an art gallery or museum. Here’s why.
Newly renovated after moving the collection off-site, MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art) in New York City features a newer, larger lobby and open, spacious ----photo_by_shamash:_View from floor three Museum of Modern Art, New York
rooms that facilitate the easy flow of traffic. Though I miss the old sculpture garden and the special room made just for Monet’s Water Lilies, the new design is, overall, an improvement.
Over the years, I’ve come to believe that the people who visit famous museums usually fall into one of the following categories: 1. The Paparazzi 2. The Serious Art Student 3. The Vacationers 4.The Cool European 5. The Cynical Browser
The Cynical Browsers are usually wearing scowls or looks of faint disdain. They make disparaging comments about each piece they come across such as "I could have done that!" or "Can you believe this is in an art museum?" They often criticize loudly, rarely taking time to sit with a piece, or offer it more than a second or two of their attention. Though the Cynical Browsers are annoying, the group of people who make me fume the most are The Paparazzi. They are the ones who visit museums with the sole intent of snapping pictures of themselves in front of famous paintings so that they have evidence to show their friends that “they were there.” They then move one, rarely pausing to appreciate a piece of art without a digital camera glued to their right eye. An example of this would be the tall man who blocked my view of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” so that he could get a good picture of his wife who stood grinning before the painting, her badly-permed hair but centimeters from the surface. After The Paparazzi get their multiple shots, from multiple angles, they move on. Their ---photo_by_shamash:_View from window at MoMA : Floor 4 Gallery
frenzied exuberance is infuriating, especially when they rudely block the view of other patrons or when they stop for their next shot before a well-known piece of art, posing before a painting as if they’d chanced upon Paris Hilton just released from jail.
Usually found in corners of art museums, The Serious Art Student is of a different breed all together. Serious Art Students walk slowly through the museum with somber, intent expressions reserved for funerals, weight gain, and tax problems. They can be seen drawing and contemplating, easily perturbed by noisy children or irreverent crowds.
Perhaps the more visible art-goers are The Vacationers. Like
The Paparazzi, The Vacationers consider the museum as “another sight to see.” ---image_by_shamash: Raindrops on MoMA skylight +71 Contrast (my own abstract art)
They push baby carts, feed snacks to the kids in the sculpture garden, and hold hands (especially if they are a mid-Western couple in post-nuptial bliss visiting the East Coast on their honeymoon.) Perhaps the most hip of the museum-goers are The Cool Europeans who spend the most time with the pieces of art from their countries-of-origin. The Cool Europeans are the Spanish in expensive leather loafers, the Dutch in their designer eye glasses, and the oh-so-fashionable French checking out their national treasures. (My personal favorite category is that of the Hill Billy / White Trash. They are so small in number that they didn't make the main list, but they certainly add spice to the museum experience.)
People visit museums for so many different reasons. Is there a single characteristic that we all share? Why do YOU visit art galleries and museums?
As for me, I’m curious about what makes “good” art “good” enough to be included in a museum collection. I’m especially curious about the lives of artists such as Warhol, Kahlo, O'Keefe, Pollock, and Lichtenstein and how their work developed over time. I’m curious about the composition and texture of a painting, the gloss of the medium, the “up-close and personal”, 3-D experience of seeing brush strokes, shadows, size, and perspective. These are all wonderful things that I can’t experience in a digital image. I also like the social experience of visiting a museum: listening to the reactions of others who speak in multiple languages, chatting up the security guards (they're bored, so I feel it's my duty), and hanging out in the sculpture garden.
I’m sure that an art history major would have a sophisticated definition of "good art" and a much more eloquent explanation as to why museums matter and why art is important to society. I once wrote about “What is Art and Who Decides?” here.
As for me, I'm not sure why I’m a patron of the arts. I certainly wasn't raised visiting museums; I'm the only person in my family who does so. All I know is that if I’m depressed or down-in-heart when I enter a museum, I leave inspired , my spirit uplifted, my soul revived, my creative juices all astir.
A friend's accomplished mother who suffers with suicidal thoughts once told me this: “I’ve promised myself that if I ever seriously think of taking my life, I will first go sit for at least a half an hour in front of Monet’s Water Lilies. I know, that after 30 minutes, I will leave with a reason to live."
Perhaps this is what art is all about: reminding us that we are not alone in our sorrows and, in its beauty, giving us a reason to carry on.