The wrong way to view art

Posted: September 9, 2013 in McBride family madness
Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Father’s Day, the family went to see the Monet exhibition at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria. One of the reasons we moved from New Zealand to Australia was to expose our children to richer cultural experiences and a wider world, and exhibitions like this seldom make it to NZ (and even if they did, they would probably only be shown in Auckland, which is at the other end of the island from where we lived). In the five years we’ve lived here, we’ve also dragged the kids to see the works of Salvador Dali and Gustav Klimt. Hence the strategic decision to attend on that particular day; experience has told us that our kids aren’t always enthusiastic about our attempts to enrich their lives, and if we went on Father’s Day, they’d have to be on their best behaviour and not whinge about how boring it was, and “Can we leave yet?”

Going to an art exhibition is for me akin to going on a boat cruise. I love boats, or at least I think I do. I always think any kind of on-water excursion is a great idea, and look forward to opportunities to go on one. And then I get out on the water and remember that I get seasick just by looking at boats (I’m not exaggerating; I can’t even watch those shaky hand-cam, found footage-type movies without reaching for a bucket).

My problem is that I know nothing about art. My own visual artistic abilities don’t extend much past drawing stick figures, and I have trouble telling the difference between adjacent colour swatches in the paint aisle in Bunnings. All the talk in the art galleries of brush strokes and perspective and impressionism is like static noise. My husband says that I am an artist in my own right, except that I paint with words instead of oils, but when we’re standing in front of an original Monet, it’s an uncomfortable comparison. Swap paints for prose and my masterpiece would be like a Garfield cartoon, only nowhere near as popular.

To make matters worse, I have this strange idea that there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to respond to art, and I get annoyed with myself when I respond incorrectly. Take this artwork, for instance, that currently stands in the NGV lobby – PixCell-Red Deer by contemporary Japanese artist Kohei Nawa.

2013-09-01 11.25.11

In an interview in The Age, NGV director NGV director Tony Ellwood said. ”He is commenting on the way we’re looking at images through a sort of pixelated format these days, so it’s a comment on that screen-based visual culture.” And the card attached to the deer says, “While this new experience initially fascinates and enchants us, it also subtly sheds light on our human desire to embrace uncertainty and encourages us to seek new perspectives.”

I got none of that. I looked at this thing and thought how all those bubbles on the deer looked like strange crystalline growths, like an alien virus had infected it and made it sprout glass pustules that could explode and shatter at any moment, spreading the contagion over us all. Knowing that there was an actual taxidermied deer underneath all that glass made it all the more creepy.

Wrong, McBride. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

But I do feel a story coming on.

  1. You are not wrong. I actually had the same thought about that deer. In my mind the greatest thing about art is its subjectivity. To you and I the deer looks like it has an alien disease, to someone else it looks like it was crafted with bubbles, and to another soul it might symbolize man’s attempt to destroy nature.

    The purpose of art is to make us feel. Be it paintings and sculptures, books, movies or music the point is to take us from reality for a moment and allow us to feel something.

  2. I wonder, if they cut open our brains, whether they would look different from other people’s.

  3. Kara Healey says:

    and al i can see is christmas! 😉

  4. arxtian89 says:

    I too, feel the compulsion to view art the “right” way when I go to museumes. However, I think the great thing about art in all its mediums is that it belongs to the viewer as much as the creator. And just like you, I see a giant, virus-covered crystalline god-moose. Maybe it’s because we’re horror writers…

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