Tuesday, January 15, 2013

30 Seconds Over Tintoretto

h/t Rachel Hooper of http://glasstire.com/

The average viewer spends around thirty seconds in front of an artwork. Seems unjust considering how long the artist likely spent making the thing. But I will admit that my first visit to any exhibition is spent quickly looking over every artwork, and there is something to be said for works that grab my eye even in that first glance and hold my attention. I usually snap a pic on my phone of works that catch my eye so I can think about them more and maybe go back to the gallery to see them again.

From a study published in http://www.museumsandtheweb.com/
Empirical data supports the view that visitors spend little time at individual exhibit components (often a matter of a few seconds and seldom as much as one minute); seldom read labels; usually stop at less than half the components at an exhibit; are more likely to use trial-and-error methods at interactive exhibits than to read instructions; that children are more likely to engage with interactive exhibits than adults, and that attention to exhibits declines sharply after about half an hour.  

To which I say, "well, DOH!"  The floors are frequently solid marble, there are few places to sit and contemplate. The hard floors give spines and feet a furious pounding. Further, many of the spaces are humongous, high-ceilinged, reminiscent of cathedrals, spaces designed to make humans feel small in the presence of greatness. Add to that the presence of guards who so frequently in American museums look like escapees from the TSA who walk around glaring at viewers to make sure that no one snaps a picture of something protected by copyright, or steps in too close to get a good look, or even in some exhibits prohibiting sketching.

As for the plaint that viewers seldom look at labels, I am ambivalent about them. There's either too much information or not enough. Labels are frequently too small to be read at the optimal viewing distance for the painting. Also, there's a tendency to give printed material precedence over the visual, so I would rather viewers spend their precious time looking at the art, not at the explanation, especially with my own work.

Having said all this, there's a way for the viewer to ameliorate this to some extent. Make a visit to the museum something other than a blockbuster event. Visit one gallery, then leave the museum. Come back, visit a different gallery, or go back to the first space, on an entirely different day. Obviously, the best strategy to pay for this is either with a museum membership or take advantage of free days and/or free hours.

Here's a sweet photo from my last visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, a couple of weeks ago, of a young boy sketching in front of a Roman head in the Of Gods and Glamour: The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art exhibit, which I encourage all to see, but wear comfy shoes always.
Nancy Charak, photographer

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