I once had a blog in which I explored art objectively. I would present the data I had gathered in a brief, reporter-style format which informed the reader of what critics and the artist had said about the work. Much of my study of art has been from this objective and neutral standpoint; observing art from a god’s eye view, relying on what others had to say about it, focusing on what the artist intended. This is how my interpretation of art has always been.
In terms of museum-goers there are two types of people, those who need the wall plaque explanations of the art and those who don’t. I remember one particular visit to the Menil collection, in Houston, to see an exhibit of one of my favorite photographers, Anna Gaskill. I threw a fit when there was no literature anywhere to explain what I was seeing. The Menil has a sizable conceptual art collection and I was livid that there was all this conceptual art but I was not able to read about any of the concepts.
I think a large part of the way I viewed art had to do with the way my art history research papers had to be written. A lot was expected of me by my professors in terms of research and information gathering but personal interpretation and opinion was not an encouraged element. The focus was on the information and the artists as opposed to my personally reflective contextualization of the work.
It wasn’t until my graduate level research methods class that I even began to see the value in using personal experience to illustrate a point or reach a conclusion. In this class we explored personal narrative. This not only changed the way I wrote but also the way I approached interpreting art.
Using narrative permits us to see how others view the world through an analytic and more meaningful lens. It captures subjectivity. Most importantly it is easier for outsiders to understand and relate to since people tend to organize their own experiences in narrative form. Because storytelling is such a universal tool, narrative makes research easier to understand, which makes it a natural bridge in helping people to embrace art.
In this blog I will focus on discussion based interpretations of contemporary art as the most engaging and thorough way to teach art history, with a particular emphasis on the decentralization of instruction that takes place in loosely guided conversation as opposed to the more traditional and stodgy style with which art history is usually approached.
Learning only about the masters makes art an unrelatable thing. Trying to copy masterworks only produces art that is inferior. This widens the gap between “non-art” people and their preconceived notions of what art is and what an artist can be. Instead of relying on more common methods which seem to distance people from a love of art I want to find tactics to help people make sense of what art means to them. This means that anyone can interpret art. Interpretation is one of the fundamental tools I use to bridge the gap between people and art. To realistically enthuse people about art, interpretation has to have more to do with opinions and less to do with what a disconnected and unrelatable scholar says is important.