I recently read an article that museums now are taking a cue from the video game world and creative an interactive environment to enhance the viewers experience. It's not that attendance is lacking, on the contrary, most art galleries are seeing an uptick in attendance. According to Michael Conforti, curator of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
“People are trying to connect with things that are more stable, that will be here.”
So why are art galleries and museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and others going to great lengths to remake themselves? Facebook, videogames, coffee shops in Barnes and Noble, these things keep our attention. We have become a culture of lookers not seers who's attention span has been reduced to that of a toddler.
If something doesn't strike us over the head, or is too complex and challenging we just walk away, we can't see what is really there.
As a visual artist I have been guilty of producing work from time to time that is more like a sledge hammer than a subtle breeze. I felt that if I didn't capture my viewers attention right away, they wouldn't spend the time to enjoy the subtle shades of gray that flow over the human form when the lighting was just right. They wouldn't notice that hey, this guy is pretty good.
My wife and I are members of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We have spent countless hours in the gallery looking at it's collection, but we too are lookers. We rarely go into certain wings of the museum because we just don't "get" the work and don't take time to actually see what it is, what makes this special. So part of what the galleries are dealing with is how do we educate a public. If the public is educated about the art, then maybe they will take the time to see what's there. I am educated, I have a degree in art and have a decent art history background, but works by say the Pennsylvania Impressionists to me are just not my cup of tea. So I haven't spent the time to really look at the work.
Thomas Campbell, the new director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York stated,
“We take so much for granted,” he says. “You walk through gallery after gallery and there’s really very little explanation of certain objects, certain paintings in these rooms. There’s an assumption that you have a general knowledge of the history of European art. Modern technology provides the opportunity to provide more information without turning galleries into intrusive didactics.
To this extent, I have to agree. On a recent visit to the Philly Art Museum, my wife and I were treated to Cezanne and Beyond, a wonderful exhibition of which I have written about before. What made it even better for me was the audio tour. I had on my little headphones and the digital audio device around my neck and as I walk through the exhibition I pressed the number of the painting into the device and received some wonderful information. It truly helped me see the work in a new light.
So maybe this technological shift will bring more people into museums eager to learn more about art. I hopes so, although I still feel that we, as a people, need to really slow down. Don't be so judgmental, and actually take the time to see the world around us. Whether it be Picasso's "Guernica" or a beautiful sunrise off the deck of your summer place. Take it in, savor it, enjoy it and really see it.