April 1, 2021

"For a while now, I’ve been talking about art objects as 'machines for thinking': Our job as viewers is..."

"... to switch them on, and it’s almost impossible to do that when all you’re getting is a glimpse through the gaps in a crowd." 

Writes Blake Gopnik in "Experiencing Museums as They Should Be: Gloriously Empty/A critic discovers the joy of visiting Covid-restricted art collections, which lets him commune with van Gogh and the gang" (NYT).

This essay belongs in the transgressive literary genre, The Blessings of Covid. 

Have you spent much time gazing at museum art, anticipating lofty thoughts and emotional transport? It's hard to experience the contemplative level of awareness needed when there are always other people shifting around you, taking too little time, shattering your meditation with pointless little comments. Like reading the title of the painting out loud. Ever notice how many museum-goers do that? Or flatly stating the same factoid about the artist — the cut-off ear, the penchant for young girls...? They'll take a gander and pronounce the artist good at details. They'll opine on the looks of the person in the portrait as if it were a TikTok makeup video. The word "gorgeous" will recur so much that your meditation shifts to predicting the next time someone will say "gorgeous." And God forbid that painting you wanted as your own personal thinking machine is the next target of the wandering docent....

Amsterdam Notebook

44 comments:

mikee said...

Being alone is fine as long as you like the company you keep.
Some things are better shared with others: sex, Chinese food, river rafting, and so on.
Experiencing alone a place that is normally crowded is often delightful.

gilbar said...

This Seldom happens; IF the art object you're looking at, is a Tree...
And If that tree is more than a quarter mile from a parking lot.

This message was brought to you by Joyce Kilmer

tim maguire said...

I try to only go to museums at weird times for just that reason. I like quiet, I like to move at my pace, and I worry about getting in other people's way as much as I am annoyed by them getting in my way (doubly so if they don't seem to care that they're in my way). If it's crowded, then there's no point in going at all.

Kay said...

When I was very active in the art world some 15 years ago, I always went to art galleries in the daytime to check out a show, because the gallery would be empty, rather than absorbing the art during the busy openings. If I went to a gallery or exhibit opening, it was for social reasons. I’d come back later to see the art on my own.

Museums are like libraries to me. Unless there’s an event they tend to be pretty empty, for the most part. I found them to be already quiet and empty enough before the pandemic.

tcrosse said...

This is similar to residents of Venice, which is an open-air museum after all, glad to be rid of the tourists for a while.

Wince said...

Honestly, I don't know the last time I stepped foot in a museum.

But I feel this same "get the fuck away from me" urge when I'm shopping.

I guess that makes me a philistine asshole. But a self-aware philistine asshole.

Kay said...

The social part of art is just as important as the quiet contemplative part.

MadTownGuy said...

From the post:

"This essay belongs in the transgressive literary genre, The Blessings of Covid."

That, and how COVID stopped global warming, reduced STDs, solved traffic problems, and so on.

Sebastian said...

"It's hard to experience the contemplative level of awareness needed"

It may be hard but, judging by the post, Althouse nonetheless manages to experience just the contemplative level of awareness needed to feel the proper sense of annoyance and condescension toward the proles.

L'enfer, c'est les autres, and all that.

gilbar said...

i'll bet there are Plenty of pieces in museums (plenty of WINGS of museums), that get Very Little Traffic
Maybe the trick is:
If a Lot of people are waiting in line, to take selfies in front of a portrait of a smiling lady...
Maybe you're in the wrong wing? Maybe you're in the wrong museum?

Joe Smith said...

I don't like crowds but will put up with them if there is a good reason.

We saw 'Starry Night' at an exhibit ten years back.

It was horribly crowded, but we maneuvered ourselves such that when we passed the painting, we were in the front and no more than a couple of feet away.

I was surprised at how close we were because I could have leaned over the rope and touched it.

I can't even describe how beautiful it was.

After a lifetime of seeing it in prints and on video, I thought I had 'seen' it.

Not even close. The goddamn thing glowed as if it had a life of its own.

Van Gogh may have been a crazy fucker but he was a genius.

RichardJohnson said...

I do not view an art object as a "vehicle for thinking." If I want intellectual statements, I'll read a book or a journal article. Art objects, such as sculptures or paintings are to be experienced. Ditto music.


Given the nonsensical statements on politics that many in the art world have made, only a fool would take seriously any purported "intellectual statement" lying hidden in a work of art.


Howard said...

The medium is the message especially with pictures. Words are not even inadequate.

tim in vermont said...

Art viewing as it should be is to come across a piece of art you haven't seen a million times digitally and being affected by it. I was in the Van Gogh museum last year and saw the painting Almond Blossoms for the first time, I had never even heard of it, yes, my daughter rolled her eyes, but it was a great experience. An experience I never could have had had I seen it reproduced on everything from aprons to cocktail napkins until every drop of freshness has been squeezed out of it.

tim in vermont said...

If the artist views his work as a "machine for thinking" what he is really thinking is "a machine for manipulating," a.k.a. propaganda.

Amexpat said...

Yeah, art museums should be visited when there are no crowds. Often small, second or third tier museums are best for that. Big ones like the Louvre or the Hermitage are too overwhelming for me - both for the crowds and the magnitude of the things to see. My solution at the Vatican Museum was too speed walk through the whole thing and enjoy the fleeting images I saw.

Joe Smith said...

"My solution at the Vatican Museum was too speed walk through the whole thing and enjoy the fleeting images I saw."

If you read the right guide books you can find masterpieces in out-of-the-way places, especially in Italy.

We found the church with Michelangelo's statue of 'Moses,' the one with the horns.

I think we dropped the equivalent of a dime in a slot to get the light to go on.

We were the only people there.

brylun said...

I seem to remember there was a Heineken brewery tour nearby...

tim in vermont said...

I just looked at your drawing. There was a guy just like that in front of Almond Blossoms blabbing for about ten minutes while I tried to sneak peeks.

tim in vermont said...

I have such a dim view of Heineken because everybody said it was so great back in the '70s but you could almost never get a bottle that wasn't skunked. Maybe I should have gone to the brewery to see what it tasted like fresh.

brylun said...

Go to the Rijksmuseum first, then the Heineken brewery, and then maybe the Leidsplein...

rehajm said...

When I was a student we'd grab the little fabric stools out of the bin and wander around to the art prof's assigned works. When a couple art students park around a piece it tends draw a little crowd, so we starting fucking with people. The largest crowd gathered when we set up around the big plexiglass donation receptacle, studiously examining.

Performance art...

brylun said...

Leidsplein

brylun said...

Rijksmuseum, Heineken brewery, and watch a live performance in Melkweg...

Tim said...

I fear that does not work for me. I enjoy looking at art in many forms, but I look for beauty and feeling. Did the artist capture something to share with me that makes me happy, or sad, or awestruck, or tickled, or patriotic, or nostalgic, or thoughtful or enamoured? Those are what I look for in art. That is what I personally think makes a good artist. Even offended, but that is almost too easy. The art itself needs to be good though, and no one effect, such as thinking, is more important than any other to me.

Eleanor said...

I feel that way when I come across people playing loud music when they're walking in the woods. Or complaining with every step they take. People are necessary to an art museum's existence. The woods could survive quite nicely without them.

Earnest Prole said...

Hell is dopey people in museums.

Kate said...

It's not a cool thing to admit, but I find art museums too boring. I get so restless with the milling and the sitting and the hmmm, isn't that interesting.

@tcrosse mentions Venice. Art you see while in motion, either walking or boating. The whole city is the most magnificent museum I've seen.

ALP said...

As an art school dropout trying to get my art mojo back, I think about viewing art and what it means frequently. If you are trying to develop your own artistic skills - you want inspiration and education from what you are viewing. For me, NOTHING is more inspiring than the wide variety of art I can view on platforms such as DeviantArt, YouTube or Patreon. It isn't the master artists that we study in art history that are inspiring. No, it is the plethora of people that exude pure creative joy from their non professional, not all that good images they are proud to post despite being obviously amateurish. There are YouTube artists that revel in trying any type of medium they can get their hands on. Galleries and museums are nice, but I have don't yearn to visit them like I used to. I have plenty of inspiration at hand.

tim in vermont said...

I used to live down the street from a brewery, and they had a tap right there giving out samples to all comers. They used to give beer to their drivers free, which I thought at the time might have had something to do with the expression "suppose he gets hit by a beer truck."

Václav Patrik Šulik said...

Twilight Zone did it best.

Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He'll have a world all to himself... without anyone.

Rusty said...

Gopnik
Russian slang for hooligan.

RigelDog said...

Crowded museums are a waste of time. My strategy, if caught up in crowds, is to find some space off to the side near a promising piece and stay long enough to get some good looks at it, and to be able to feel some personal space while I do that. It means giving up on seeing quantities of exhibits but it's worth it.

The Tutankhamun exhibit came to Philadelphia a few years ago and I actually took off work on a random Tuesday, hoping to have a shot at touring without crowded chaos. Turns out there was literally NO time during the months it was here when it wasn't super-jam-packed jostling crowds. I ended up looking for less "glamourous" spots where the bulk of people weren't lingering, and was able to spend as much time as I wanted once I got close. I can still clearly picture standing right next to a clear box wherein was mounted a non-elaborate but still impressive crown. I thought, my head is just inches away from this crown, it's right here and I can practically lay this circlet on MY head, that Tut used to wear every day.

Michael said...

Not to mention the plague of selfies. It's a little hard to appreciate "Nighthawks" in Chicago with all the people standing squarely in front with their backs to it taking pictures over their shoulders to prove to their Instagram friends that they've been there - then on to "American Gothic." No flash, though, so that's something.

DaveL said...

But what's the name of the painting the Tour Guide is describing?

raf said...

Are museums supposed to be open to elevate the masses? I guess when they come in masses, they can't be elevated because the experience isn't like it is supposed to be. Museums should be restricted to those who know how to contemplate art properly. Any of the masses who yearn for elevation need first to be properly trained -- with a certificate to prove it -- before being allowed entry.

Of course, POC/LGBT+ would have to be exempted from the requirement, as otherwise it would be racist or some other ist.

Zach said...

Time enough at last!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAxARJyaTEA

Big O's Meanings Dictionary said...

docent - definition

Irritating son of a bitch who won't stop reciting a script while in front of an item I want to enjoy, interpret and appreciate for myself.

Events Company In Mumbai said...

Hartia event management can do your events,anywhere in India and have already executed events in Delhi,Jaipur Indore, Kochin, Goa etc. Based on your brief, goals, budget we can organize and manage the event for you. We offer our services in Corporate Events, Sporting Events, Special Events,Birthday, Promotions etc.
Audit in Telangana
Cantar Activity in Chennai

Mr. Forward said...

That last paragraph of this post is gorgeous. That's me out West at every wayside. It's GORGEOUS. No wonder the cowboys were the silent type.

Are W said...

All art is quite useless.
OSCAR WILDE

Rusty said...

Are W said...
"All art is quite useless.
OSCAR WILDE"
And quite necessary.
ME

mtrobertslaw said...

" Art objects " are "machines for thinking." Now that it is known that works of art are really machines, The next generation of "woke" artists will create their art in machine shops.

Jessica L. Smith said...

After being in relationship with Wilson for seven years,he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to someone online and she suggested that I should contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that don’t believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I meant a spell caster called Dr Zuma zuk and I email him, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened, that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him, that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem and who is different from all the fake ones out there. Anybody could need the help of the spell caster, his email: spiritualherbalisthealing@gmail.com or WhatsApp him +15068001647
you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or anything. CONTACT HIM NOW FOR SOLUTION TO ALL YOUR PROBLEMS