On the way home from Mass MoCa (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) today Jon asked me how I look at art when I go to a museum. It made me think about how the experience of going to museums has changed for me.
I remember being enthralled as an 8 year old seeing the Baroque rooms from European Mansions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then being starstruck as a teenager seeing in person, for the first time, all the classics from Hopper to Cezanne at the Whitney. The experience turned when I went to art school and started learning the history of art and about contemporary art. Going to museums and galleries became about what I knew and didn’t know. If I didn’t know an artist or couldn’t explain a contemporary piece of art, it made me feel stupid. I didn’t see it as an opportunity to learn more, but as a way to feel bad about what I didn’t know. Later, when I was getting my Masters in sculpture, I felt if art was in a museum it was already over. The only art worth seeing was the stuff happening in yet unheard of galleries and public spaces.
Now, I look at art in museums more like I did when I was and 8 year old. I go without expectations and just look. If I see something I like, I spend some time with it. I might read about the piece or the artist. If it doesn’t interest me, I walk right by. Some art is accompanied by lots of text, explaining the piece. But I don’t want to have to read about a piece of art in order to be interested in it. If it doesn’t have a visual or emotional hook, something that makes me want to look at it, that gets my attention, then I don’t want to read about it, no matter how interesting it may be. And I don’t mean the piece has to be big and splashy, it just has to connect to me in some way.
I enjoy going to museums now more than ever in my life. I think because it has become again about looking and seeing, more the way a kid might, with delight and an open mind. And my education has helped to keep my mind open in that I’m not cynical about the intention of the artist. I don’t have to judge a piece of art just because it doesn’t work for me. So I look at what I want to and don’t get hung up on the things I’m not interested in. I don’t think about what I should be looking at or feeling or learning, I just enjoy it.
And even though I can’t say specifically how, I do know that the experience of looking at art in this way informs my work. I think it all goes into the funnel, get’s processed in the subconscious then comes out newly formed without any awareness on my part.
Check out the Mass MoCa website for more photos and info if you’re feeling that visual or emotional hook.