Museum Babies

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What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” George Bernard Shaw (from The Painter’s Keys)

Art museums are increasingly working to draw in children. New programs for children are springing up everywhere in museums. The museums are relaxing behavior standards in this effort. Where once a museum was a place of refuge where anyone could spend time in thoughtful contemplation of art has now become a refuge for the tired parent to dump the kids. How many children are able to contemplate art? Children are unquestionably creative and curious but is an art museum a good place to encourage this?

In an article for The Scotsman (through Artsjournal.com), Tiffany Jenkins discusses the drawbacks of having the museum doors thrown wide open to school age children with free rein. The museums are making a point to discourage the “shhhushing” of children in the museum, allowing children to run and play throughout the museum. Jenkins says of this policy, “It accommodates everything to those who don’t really want to be in a museum, rather than showing them something challenging and worthwhile.” Are museums encouraging children to learn about art or are they collecting babysitting fees?

A couple, with three small children were in the museum when some friends and I attended an exhibit of the Dutch Masters. While contemplating these wonderful masterpieces, we were treated to crying, toy throwing, screaming and other sounds of children being children. The parents made very little attempt to suppress any of this behavior. It went on for the entire time we were there. Some of the toy throwing came very close to these beautiful works of art. Like Tiffany Jenkins, I felt a bit curmudgeonly for thinking that perhaps the museum was not the best place for children of this age. I couldn’t see that the children were getting anything out of the experience either.

Are we helping children understand and appreciate art by encouraging them to use an art museum as a playground? The interactive play rooms that some museums have added is a good thing, but is allowing children to run and play through exhibits of art, teaching them anything about art? As my inner curmudgeon has come out on this one, I would love to hear what others have to say about this issue. Is it a good thing or not??

Imagine the following exhibit with children running around being children while you contemplate this art:

Gallery Medicine

Art galleries should be apothecaries of our deeper self.”  Alain de BottonScreen shot 2013-10-10 at 11.50.06 AM

A growing body of research is revealing what artists have long known.  There is healing in art.   As more research is conducted more will be known.  Medical and nursing schools are beginning to incorporate more arts in curriculum.  Even though artists know of the healing potential of art, do galleries and museums know?

Two studies, (Lazarus 2003, Riis 2000), have shown the potential for art to lead to a better understanding in medical students of the human condition by helping the students relate to various emotions depicted in art.  Students visit a museum and are encouraged to examine the emotion portrayed in the art and compare to situations encountered in medicine.  The results have revealed the students gain a greater expression of empathy.  In the second study, the authors conclude, “ …the humanities and the arts offer approaches and inspiration that are of the greatest value to the education of doctors of all levels, (Tidsskr 2000).

Yet museums have not seemed to embrace this.  In an article in The Guardian’s arts section, Alain de Botton suggests that museums and galleries arrange art according to emotion.  There would be sections for love, hope, mood and more.  He believes art has the ability to “rebalance our moods, lend us hope, usher in calm, stretch our sympathies, reignite our senses and awaken appreciation.”  As such, if galleries recognize these facts, they could promote art as healing

I have seen this aspect of art in my own work and wonder why the concept of art’s healing potential has not yet gained wider recognition.  It is a slow process and takes time.  Or that “science versus art” thing remains a major barrier.  Hopefully, the barrier will continue to come down and art will become a more widely utilized tool for the medical profession, in galleries and in hospitals.

Kathe Kollwitz was a master at depicting human emotion.  Visit the Kollwitz Museum website for more on her work.

References:

1.  Lazarus PA, Rosslyn FM.,(2003). The Arts in Medicine: setting up and evaluating a new special study module at Leicester Warwick Medical School, Medical Education, 2003 Jun;37(6):553-9

2. Riis P. (2000). [Humanities and art as a part of medical education]. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen. 2000 Dec 10;120(30):3738-40 (article in Norwegian)

The Stillness of Action

“All true artists , whether they know it or not, create from a place of no mind,  of inner stillness.”  Eckhart Tolle (from artquotes.net)Screen shot 2013-10-07 at 9.35.17 AM

What is stillness?  Is it a physical place or an inner place?  Do we need to go to a place of stillness to paint?   Stillness for every artist is likely different.  What do other artists say and do regarding stillness?

Canadian artist Agata Lawrynczyk states she paints early in the morning and late in the day to find the peace and quiet she is looking for to depict in her paintings.  She also states the subjects for her paintings are stillness.  Her paintings are of water and mountains, boats and sky.  Her blog, Agata’s Art Corner describes her process.  Lawrynczk is actively seeking to paint stillness.  Others may follow her habits even when not depicting “stillness.”

Because one is not seeking to depict “stillness” does not mean it is not inwardly sought while painting.  Looking at Wilhem De Kooning, I confess to an inability to see anything remotely resembling “stillness” in the artists work. Once while standing in a room filled with De Kooning paintings at the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C., I could swear I felt sizzling electricity.  In a brief biographical sketch about De Kooning, The Guggenheim Museum states the artist moved to East Hampton, New York seeking greater peace and isolation to create.  It appears De Kooning sought a place of stillness even though you would never guess from his work!

In a blog called With Real Toads, Margaret Bednar, visits two art museums to view paintings she sees as depicting, “Stillness” in the subject matter.  Using these chosen artworks, she asks the writers of the blog to describe stillness in words or poems.  The same directive for painting could also apply. Thinking about descriptive words for stillness may be a good method for getting to a place of “stillness” in the art making process, regardless of subject.

Ellen Lauren is speaking to theatre actors when she wrote an article for SITI.org titled, “In Search of Stillness.”  She believes actors require training to achieve stillness. It is likely the same applies whether the subject to be captured is of “stillness” or the artist is seeking the inner place of inspiration.  When stillness is achieved, creativity flows. Or so it would seem.

Ambiguity

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Andy Warhol 
 (from Artpromotivate)Screen shot 2013-10-03 at 11.58.29 AM

 

Do artists want an “anything goes” Art World where anyone can call anything art and put it up for display?  Does that forward the cause of Art?  While at dinner with several friends this topic came up.   One friend is astounded by an art piece she viewed at an art museum in Toronto titled, “The Black Bathroom.”  My friends all thought it hilariously funny that someone would call this art.  It seems possible that a certain elitist attitude has opened the Art World up to ridicule by this “anything goes” mentality.

Alicia Eler of Hyper Allergic, linked from Arts Journal visual arts section, has a wonderful article titled “At ArtPrize, What the F*** is art?”  She spent time at the Grand Rapids, Michigan annual art fest known as ArtPrize and makes the observation that at this art show anybody can display anything and nothing is turned away.  The major difference here is the judging.  Anyone can judge.  Visitors who do not normally patronize elitist art galleries can get in on the judging.  These every day people judges are not in on the “cryptic language,” as Eler calls it, of the art elite.  The judging will be released this week end and we will see what “the people” have judged as art.

From the descriptions of some of the art in ArtPrize, I can hear the comments of viewers not privy to the “cryptic language,” but does this further the cause of art or leave it up to more ridicule?  From the local to the national, art exhibitions have taken on the “anything goes” attitude and ridicule is becoming more vocal.  Another friend recently described a local large outdoor sculpture as “that Gumby thing.”  For me, I prefer the artist’s work that is less ambiguous.  If I am focused on trying to figure out the meaning of an artwork, I have lost the beauty of the brushstroke, the form, the use of color, or any of the indications of the skill of the artist and to me, that’s what art is all about.  But maybe that’s just me!