Art Made Mine

One of the New York Times' most popular articles at the moment comments about how our museum habits have changed, particularly with the invention of cameras. The author blames cameras for a lot of it, noting:
Cameras replaced sketching by the last century; convenience trumped engagement, the viewfinder afforded emotional distance and many people no longer felt the same urgency to look. It became possible to imagine that because a reproduction of an image was safely squirreled away in a camera or cell phone, or because it was eternally available on the Web, dawdling before an original was a waste of time, especially with so much ground to cover.
But he goes on to talk about walking through Rome with a sketchbook, and links that experience to a comment about how artists approach art museums:
Artists fortunately remind us that there’s in fact no single, correct way to look at any work of art, save for with an open mind and patience. If you have ever gone to a museum with a good artist you probably discovered that they don’t worry so much about what art history books or wall labels tell them is right or wrong, because they’re selfish consumers, freed to look by their own interests.
All of which reminded me of a sketch I made yesterday. Kirsten and I were rushing through the morning, between our new apartment and responsibilities of the old, but she had to stop by LACMA for a class project. We didn't linger, but there was enough time to make a quick sketch of a Giacometti. On the facing page, I scrawled:
Always interesting to recognize how much of ourselves we put into our sketching. It is, I suppose, true of writing (in the sketches and empty spaces between scrawled lines), but not always as obvious. But always the traces in what we make of something like ourselves. What: A world always trapped between ourselves and truth.
I'd recognized something of myself in the sketch I'd made - and though it was true enough to Giacometti's bust, I was struck by how much of myself had slipped in. So when Michael Kimmelman writes in the NYT about the selfish capacity of artists, I recognize something of that in my sketch: Not only to make it mine (in memory), but to make it me.


Jordan M said…
Convenience losing out to depth again I guess, like in all media. Must be standardized and compact enough to be consumed.

The Louvre is a frightful place for those wanting to stand and enjoy, even when I was there in the pre-mass digital camera era of 2001. I guess digital cameras are better than people using their flashes on film ones and destroying the paintings. As to atmosphere, the overall feeling I recall is of a wait then a rush to see the 'highlights' rather than lingering around and trying to enjoy a small part of it.
Timur said…
My eyes have been staring at word processing documents for far too long, but two brief thoughts:
1. Your second paragraph echoes my own fuzzy memories of museums in Europe, but I think the description probably holds true in LA as well. Also interesting discussion about the role that museums play as the site for the consumption of culture. Insofar as our consumption cycles have sped up as much as they have in recent memory, that might parallel the increasing speed with which people move through galleries.
2. You say "convenience losing out to depth," but I think we need to be a little skeptical of the idea of "depth". I don't disagree with you, but would only add that there have been a lot of people thinking about the possibilities of an aesthetics of the surface (which need not always be about convenience).
Jordan M said…
I can see museums role as being that leaning towards preservation and evocation of culture meant for consumption, but a consumption on the level of not just 'seeing' a painting or sculpture but having it in context of other ones in the gallery (as they are usually organized) and bringing forth a holistic idea of, well, something. That's probably being a bit too specific but the looting of museums (recent examples being Nazis, Soviets, or in Iraq) is usually seen as a disastrous and depressing thing, the memory house of a nation being looted and scattered to the winds. Libraries are memory houses too that are meant to be consumed yet in a different manner.

Also while rereading your comment I started thinking about the physical nature of being in a museum, especially one like the Louvre. One reason I still go to them is for the tactile nature of the experience. Even if you can't touch the works you still interact with it on a physical level. The first two memories that pop into my mind as examples are 1) going to the Van Gogh musueum, familiar with his work yet not really a fan or caring much and seeing the paintings up close, the layers and brushwork stacked onto one another in thick layers and creases - now I'm a fan and understand a little and b) when we were at the Oriental Institute at U of Chicago at New Year's and out of nowhere came these massive Assyrian sculptures 15-20 feet high looming over whole rooms. You could see that in a book or on the web but unless you are there to walk around it and be with it on a human level you miss sort of the sublime awe that such a thing can create

Just some more thoughts

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