watching the watchers…

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14/09/2011 by Sarah Ritchie

Auckland Art Gallery

Have you ever observed someone intently looking at something? It’s quite an interesting exercise. Whilst touring through the newly-renovated Auckland Art Gallery, I often diverted my attention to watching the watchers as they moved thoughtfully from painting to painting.

I often wonder what is going through someone’s mind when they are looking at art. I know what goes through my own mind. Here is my usual process:

  1. First I make a quick judgement whether or not I “like” the painting (or am at least intrigued by it), and whether I will – consequently – invest more of my “valuable” time looking at the painting further.
  2. I usually like to read the title and explanatory blurb about the painting, in order that I might understand the work better. No blurb = frustrated me, for some reason.
  3. I will then flick between the blurb and the artwork trying to correlate the two, to try to understand the artist better.
  4. Only then will I start to look more closely at the work to see how it was constructed/painted, looking at the detail of the brush strokes or composition.
  5. Finally I will usually stand back and drink in the whole effect of the piece, making that final call of “do I still like it?” Will I remember it? Will I talk/write about it? Will I be inspired by it?

Very rarely will I look at a painting purely for the sheer joy of looking at a painting. I wonder what others think of when they look at art…especially in a gallery where it is so very quiet. All those thoughts bottled up inside of the watchers as they glide silently around. I also wonder who wrote the unwritten, unspoken rule of “you must keep silent in an art gallery“? How different would it be if strangers could gather in front of a painting and dialogue about their opinions? Granted, you wouldn’t move very quickly around the gallery, but it would certainly be an interesting experience!

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