A thought about art museums

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While admiring the many works of Rembrandt and Vermeer today at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I thought to myself “this is so great, being able to see the original works of art from these masters of painting.” Rembrandt is able to light portraits up by focusing on a few focal points with a painting and layering light paint on dark. Vermeer’s subjects are so peculiar and interesting that I can stare at them for hours.

My personal experience of wandering around art galleries and museums is great – if I’m wandering around by myself. I went to art school and learned about many of the artists whose name I read on plaques. I was also personally trained for a few years under a master oil painter, from whom I learned about temperature, color, light and shadow. When I visit museums with friends who want to rush through all the exhibits, I try to explain as much as I can about a piece if I previously learned about its context, history and ideas.

I do this, because most museums will tell you about the piece and what it is (rather literally, sometimes metaphorically), but they won’t necessarily tell you about the evolution of that artist, unless the entire exhibition is specifically about that. They won’t tell you what makes the painting incredibly special.

They’ll tell you that it’s a lady with a child, painted in a style that mimics 18th-century London art. When they show a one-off painting that Picasso created late in his cubism phase, museums will tell you about the style, but they won’t always explain the progression of his work that led to this piece. Have you been to a modern art museum lately? How many people end up taking a photo of something that looks cool but is entirely meaningless to them?

Art museums have a tendency to reflect history and movements. They document thoughts, ideas and views from many centuries and artistic periods. I wish, however, that they would help the average person understand art more clearly. More than the “what,” we need the “why” and the “how” of art.

Science museums often have interactive components that help you understand the concepts behind each exhibition. What if you had an art museum with a section that allowed you to paint in the style of an artist or a design museum that lets you actually sit on different Eames or Jacobsen chairs or try out different types of tea kettles instead of displaying them?

Rather than making art an exclusive thing that we stare at on museum walls, we should make it more accessible. Then perhaps, more people will understand its value and purpose in everyday life. 

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