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being a viewer 26/3/19

I enjoy going to exhibitions where i don't need to read a massive amount of text in order to 'get' the work. (I am all about the experience of being in a gallery) Although i usually put pressure on myself to read all the supporting material so i'm able to talk about it  knowledgeably and make sure i know what the whole thing is really about in case someone asked and i looked stupid.

So many times when studying for my degree would i visit London galleries and pick up the press release straight away and read it thoroughly before even looking at any art, instantly tarnishing my own opinion with this written information that i would then actively search for in the work and then project as my own independent thought.When designing my artist website and uploading images of my work, i considered writing a lengthy description of each piece to accompany the image so that any visitors would know what the work was about. I ended up deleting the text and just writing the title of the artwork and the medium. Mainly because i didn't want to clog my site with loads of text, but also because i didn't want to influence anyone's opinion. There is of course an argument then that i'm lazy for not explaining myself and that my work has no critical influence and therefore no context, but i think art can exist without a smart explanation written alongside.


As much as I would prefer to be a viewer of art where there is no pressure to understand it, there i am still reading the press release and all the wall texts because i feel like i need to know academically what i'm looking at rather than trusting my own initial thoughts and feelings. Essentially though, as wordy and smart and critically engaged as the press release sounds, the artists intention isn't really important to the viewer's experience. There is of course a context and concept behind the art, and especially in a museum context, accompanying factual text is needed for learning and academic purposes (and background/historical research is useful for considering a different interpretation) but for more contemporary arty art, there is obviously no solid or definitive dictionary definition of the art you are looking at. The press release isn't a to scale blueprint of 'this is what this work is about, if you don't agree or come to the same conclusions of your own accord then you are just wrong', as much as some artists perhaps want (me included at some points in uni..) 

Sometimes i have read the press release and can appreciate the information, but there have been countless occasions where i've read everything  and still cannot understand what's going on. Then all these questions start sprouting; Why is this so engaging to art critics and being talked about so much and i feel nothing towards it?? Is there a level of understanding these people have that i don't and therefore my opinion is invalid? Am i not smart enough or haven't read enough critical theory books to be able to appreciate this art? If the artist's intention isn't obvious or doesn't come across to the viewer, has the work failed? I don't think so. I think it gives the viewer the freedom to take whatever they want from the experience of viewing the art and gives the artist a multitude of interpretations they weren't even considering. Because surely art is created to be looked at by others and not just purchased by rich people and collectors. It creates a communication between artist and viewer.

People visit art galleries and museums for a number of reasons, to learn, to do some research, to pass the time,  to look at something nice, to keep up with the current art scene, to use the toilets or all of the above. You don't necessarily need to have a encyclopaedic knowledge of art history or fine art in order to produce valid opinions about the stuff you see, which i keep having to remind myself. I don't need to be an acclaimed art expert to deserve to share my artistic opinion. It is also perfectly ok to not like something simply because, regardless of how groundbreaking or interesting the artwork is.

The whole beauty of the visitor experience is that you have absolutely no control over what that person is going to think or believe. You can't control if they think your work is well executed and critically engaging or if it is a pile of misinformed crap. Having put on my own exhibitions and having a purpose in mind for my work to have it be completely unwrapped by someone else is actually quite liberating and made me realise that whilst my own reasoning behind why i made that work is valid, it doesn't really matter that much to anyone else and i don't need to force my own opinions on someone for it to be successful. Any reaction is a positive one in my opinion. I've heard people say they like my work, they don't get it, its 'too fine art for me', and have had people literally just walk past it without so much as a second glance. I think any reaction, even no reaction is a response that is useful. It just validates the gallery visitor's experience as completely free and unabashed.

Reading the comments and feedback board at the 2018 Turner Prize was an experience in itself perhaps moreso than the actual show. The show itself was very politically charged to reference it vaguely, and was pretty much all film (which i personally liked). The majority of the comments were highly critical; "too political",  "where are the nice paintings" , "why is it all film", "i think all the positive comments are written by tate staff"  were some of my favourites. I loved the physical effort these people went through to write their comments on a postcard and pin it to the notice board and display their opinions for others to read. I loved that people were able to express their views so openly also.

Takeaways: People visit galleries for different reasons, people want different things from art, their expectation is not your responsibility. And your intention is not their problem. Your opinion matters. Your opinion also doesn't matter. Just because its popular doesn't mean everyone will like it. No one knows absolutely everything about everything, even if they sound like they do.

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