Another title for this month's column is: The Trials and Tribulations of Crating and Shipping Art Internationally.
This is where the wonderful act of donating art collides with the grueling process of arranging to transport the work. It can be a harrowing task, especially if the work is large and the shipping is international.
I describe the details and pitfalls to avoid in this column at month's end. That's when we'll know how the shipment fared at the receiver's end. Hopefully all will go well from here on out.
The task so far has had more than enough drama. But the artwork and its intended destination at the Amego Foundation, a care-facility for special needs people and families, are worth it. Having just sent off the art from Canada in beautifully built custom-crates, I will be chewing my fingernails until it arrives, safe and sound, at its destination in the USA. All fingers crossed!
The full story at month's end will be helpful and valuable to all interested in donating art and shipping it across-borders. It should also have a few laughs and ah-hah moments for any who have ever done something similar.
A good thing now is that art is not elite. Art is now only a click away. See it on the screen held in the palm of your hand or on a computer anywhere. Even museums, themselves, are going virtual. It's fantastic to have this kind of access to art worldwide. But no one believes that viewing a painting in a photo or online is the same as seeing the real thing. Do they?
We're now emerging from the lock-ups and closures during Covid. Most of us, including me, are thankful for our virtual connections during this confined time. But nothing can replace reality. As real venues open up for us, I look forward, among other things, to visiting actual art in real places. I'm adding to a column I wrote in 2015 because it's so very timely. It's about the art of looking. It's also a commentary on what now brings people to art museums. Is it to see the world-famous art? Get a personal take on it? Maybe even to get a cultural-historical perspective? Not sure of the motivation, but it's a fact that crowds in museums reached all-time highs before the Covid pandemic. Museums welcomed crowds at a hefty admission price. Swarms of people thought it was worth it. That's a cultural breakthrough.
What does it mean? The triumph of art as a public attraction? That's impressive. But if we look at the people looking in museums, what do we see? Over the past decade, I've seen an odd, but by now very familiar, thing happening in art museums. You've likely noticed it yourselves. There's a constant click, click, click of the camera as people spend all of 10 seconds in front of an artwork. That's right, according to records collected. Only 10 seconds maximum, and that includes the time needed to point and shoot, as well as whatever looking happens.
Word got out: hey, art museums are a great photo op. That's the popular currency in today's museum visits There's a frenzy to take a snapshot and continue onward for the next piece of inventory to be tallied in our camera roll. Driven by a consumerism of sorts, it seemed to me like looting a brand-name designer store for only the tiny name tags sewn in the clothing! Sometimes the crowds were so large in museums (when they were open) that you had to swarm your way
through for a look. Otherwise, you just held your camera aloft and clicked!
Sometimes you took selfies or asked another in the clicking crowd to snap you alongside a famous painting, like having a celebrity shot of Mona and me. All this photo-opping may reflect a triumph for art in the public eye. But it's also unnerving, to me anyway, when the same people don't even look at the painting for any more time than it takes to click their camera. They leave the museum with a photo checklist of all they've spotted, a marathon race to the finish. And what's that amount to? Fun perhaps to have a bunch of Mona and me photos for social media or personal history. But what's been seen or experienced of all that art? That's the issue for me, one of the many art-lovers in the world. Having a snapshot has little or nothing to do with actually looking and seeing the Mona Lisa.
Hey, I like taking photos of art in museums and elsewhere. There's nothing wrong with wanting photo mementos. Museums are for the public, the more the better, IMO. I'm also very much in favour of museums permitting photos (and lowering entrance fees). But this rush to click impedes the "looking and seeing" experience: the engaging and real-time experience that art offers.
It really is a miss not to look. You miss that personal thing that happens when you look closely and let yourself see whatever comes. When you look, you experience whatever that artwork does. You may or may not like what it does. But you get to know, for yourself, what the work is about, what it means. And that's what I think art is for: the human connection to something vital that lives between the artwork and each of us.
That personal thing requires some moments, like meeting a new person does. Sure, some people already come with a reputation, good or bad, and we're set up to see what we've been told. If we're ready to look, however, it's our own impressions that count. Some art on first impression will seem odd, ugly, gorgeous, boring, or dangerously exciting. It's up to us to find out what they have to say to us: nothing much, something off-putting, or something uniquely surprising, touching, exciting, and meaningful for us. Art always does something. We miss that if don't take the time to look.
What does the fast-snap routine make of the art experience? If the snapshot is a souvenir of the time spent getting to know Mona, fine: that's like recalling something you want to remember. But when snapping the shot substitutes for actually looking at the art, there is no such experience to recall. It takes at least a few minutes to take in art with one's own eyes and body, and maybe some moments more to experience some reaction to it. SLOW looking instead of fast-snapping.
Here's a curious thought. What if snapping photos actually gets people to avoid the act of looking? Are we even interested in seeing an artwork? Are we afraid? Intimidated? Maybe we won't get it. Maybe we'll react differently than we think we're supposed to ... as if there is a right reaction. Are we overburdened by a cultural need to "acquire" an artwork, if only in our own camera roll? We take possession of it, without even a first date encounter?
I suppose it's a sign of our times to be rushed, overwhelmed with information, advertisements, opinions, distractions. So much is available, so much junk along with the valuable. So much to consume, so much to need. So many time-saving devices, so little time. So vast the scope of information, so little the attention to spare. So great the pull of celebrity, of headlines, of the visual/sound bite that we can hardly extract an individual evaluation of what's worth our scattered attention. Perhaps then all we can do is run through the kaleidoscope, trying to snatch a bit here and there. Just as virtual conversation becomes texting notation with imo, omg and :) "virtual seeing" leads us to record instead of regard what we see.
What's the antidote to this treadmill? Perhaps it starts with re-valuing the SLOW versus fast-track. Slowing down, slow food, slow walks in the park. Our enforced slowing down during the time of pandemic restraints may have made a slow approach more amenable to many of us. I look forward to freedom from our restraints, to job sites and play sites and art sites opening up, and to a balance that lets more of what's important in our lives matter in how we spend our time.
Taking the time to look is part of the creative experience wherever it occurs, inside or outside museums, in natural or human contexts. To experience a work of art takes a moment or two, as it runs through a range of emotions, thoughts, and reactions, including "what the hell!" or "is this ugly?" This becomes part of the artwork's meaning. It's what counts. Art is a vital interaction, not just something hanging on a wall. It needs viewers who look at it, like it or not, or it's just not vital anymore. Artwork that's not seen (as may happen to much wonderful work artists create) loses that vital spark. Until one day someone comes along, LOOKS, and sees. That's why there is always a renaissance in art.
That's why viewers who look are so important.
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A good thing now is that art is not elite. It's available to everyone. And it's only a click away. See it on the screen in the palm of your hand or on a computer anywhere. Even entire museums are going virtual. It's fantastic to have this kind of easy access to art worldwide. But no one believes that viewing a painting in a photo or online is the same as seeing the real thing. DO they?
Read more about the Art of Looking in the upcoming post for September-October. And please subscribe in the form on this page for updates so you don't miss out. Happy Looking!