I’ve heard that your average museum patron looks at each painting for less than 2 seconds, a fact I cannot verify but which has held up anectdotally in nearly every gallery I’ve frequented…until recently. I found the Arts Experience Initiative.
The research brief is actually quite entertaining as it weaves through history, painting a picture of engaged patrons that looks more like a sports bar than an arts event: “People came to the…gallery, and they talked to each other–before the show began, while the show was on and after the show ended. This was because the function of interpretation was understood as a cultural duty and a cultural right.” Every person on a Pittsburgh City bus feels entitled to an opinion about the Steelers; when did the everyman lose interpretive authority w/ art?
As with all things theoretical, this whole idea didn’t sink in until I found myself smack in the middle of a practical application: an exhibit of egg pictures, to be precise. For six weeks, I slipped down to a Southside gallery every Saturday morning for two hours w/ 8 other people, charged with the task of writing fiction in response the photographs. The idea was, if you’re comfortable in one artistic genre (writing), then you’ll feel authorized to interpret another (photography) using the first.
The results? You can judge the fiction for yourself. As to my persective on visual art, I can’t believe I ever looked at it any other way. In the past few months, I’ve sat on the cement floor of the ICA in Boston, scribbling furiously in shock at the detail of Shepard Fairey. I’ve kneeled on the marbel of the National Portrait Gallery, struck by th haunting masks of Lincoln.
Just a few weeks ago, I spent two hours at the Carnegie Museum of Art with just two Hoppers, a Van Gogh and an installation. From Two seconds to thirty minutes per piece: it’s changed the way I look at art. And the best part is, the rest of the paintings will always be there…I can go back any time. My only complaint after all this cross-legged writing through museum halls is, please, can I get a bench?