Visiting Museums

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One of the most uplifting experiences a person can have is to go to an art museum. A lot of people take advantage of museums in cities all over the world, and aren’t we fortunate that there are great collections of art. Artists remind us who we are as a human society and of the various cultures that exist and where we all come from in history. Art provides a document of humanity. I’ve always felt that artist have a huge responsibility to record and interpret the human condition and to elevate human spirit.  A museum experience is always an opportunity to learn and reflect.

   I learned from a friend how to look at art. It was her first visit to an art museum. She explained that she had no idea how to appreciate it, but noticed that when I went into each gallery of the museum I would scan the room and then go directly to one or two  works of art, study it and then move on.  She figured that with all the art in the place, there was not enough time to see everything, so I must be practicing time allotment. Actually, I realized that I do experience museums that way. Not so much to manage my time, but my mind.

   I feel attracted to a work of art for some reason and want to spend my time figuring out why it’s calling to me. It may be the color or composition that draws me. Perhaps the style (I love Pre-Raphaelite paintings) has an appeal to my essential self. It might be the expression on a face in a painting or the joy of form in a sculpture (Degas- Little Dancer Age Fourteen). But the connection that has been made between the artist and me is worth exploring.

   I offer a simple process for any one to enjoy viewing art. When you look at a work of art, be aware of how it makes you feel. The artist may have had an intention, but once it is put out for the world to see, it is open to interpretation.

First- Facts. What are the facts of the piece? What do actually you see?  Title? Study those details.

Second- Design Structure. What design elements and principles is the artist using to communicate more about the facts. Color may set the mood for an underlying story, pattern may be evident to show an ethnic culture, value would certainly determine how light effects the image.

Third- Interpretation. Once you see what the facts are you can analyze the use of design and then you can interpret what you see. Interpretation might be – what is the story or message. It might be why does it make me feel this way?Remember I mentioned tapping in to how the art makes you feel earlier.

   What is so wonderful, even if you completely miss the artist’s intention, is that you can still have a meaningful experience based on what your knowledge and life experience brings into play. Of course, you can always ask a docent (museum guide) or read the information available on the wall to help you learn more about what the artist intended. Either outcome, you will benefit from what you see. 

Visit an art museum. Most museums have restaurants and I always enjoy lunch in that environment. Plan an afternoon. I’ll share a few of my favorite museums later on.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Visiting Museums

  1. Merrilyn

    Sometimes I feel I could spend days in a museum and not see it all. What I do recommend, if available, is to spend a few more dollars and get an audio guide for the exhibit you are interested in. The commentaries are invaluable in understanding the artist’s intent and story behind the piece of work. We just went to Georgia O’Keeffe’s museum in Santa Fe where I could have spent more that the two hours we had.

  2. Eli

    Cheryl,
    What a wonderful surprise to stumble upon this.
    I’m an architecture student from North Carolina State University, currently designing a museum for my final project, and your writing was quite helpful and insipiring.
    Thank you!.

    • cherylkling

      Eli,
      I’m glad my writing was helpful to you.
      Designing a museum is a great project. The building design can be a work of art in itself. My favorite museums reflect the art that they house and the environment around them. An odd choice for us to visit this summer was Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center in Bethel NY. It is the site of the original Woodstock concert. The design is contemporary and preserved the integrity of the area around it (farmland). The original hill and stage area was left pristine and a new outdoor (covered) performance area was built behind the museum into the land.
      The interior has a multi media exhibit of the 1960s. It went around in a circle, yet it was laid out internally with alcoves and video rooms to seem much bigger than it was. A lobby/cafe was between that and another circle shape, event center, and a lower level gallery for special exhibits and education rooms. We’re not into tie dye, but we spent four hours there. I really appreciated how cohesive the design was for it’s purpose. It could have been a tacky disaster and yet it’s a very calming place.
      I’d like to design a building myself, but my math skills would most likely not meet code compliance for safety. I appreciate what it takes make a building that is not only aesthetically interesting, but technically functional.
      Good luck with your project. Maybe someday you’ll build it!

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