Picasso, SAM, and Passive Art

One of my big things, still, is deliberate consumption. Us humans are great consumers. We do it so effectively, and we do it so unconsciously. I really want both myself and others to be conscious of what they consume – because if you’re not conscious of it, why are you doing it? If you’re not putting food in your mouth for nourishment or pleasure, what are you doing it for? I ask this, yet I and others know the distraction from watching TV, or interacting with someone else, and having a once full bowl of food dwindle to nothing in no time.

This post is not about food, though, but about art.

Last night, Jon and I went to see the world-class Picasso exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. It was a members-only night, which meant the crowds were less thick, but it was pretty crowded anyway. I noted what another blogger had noted, which was that people were hesitant to get close to the art work. What I noticed more than that, though, were WHY people were not getting close. Many people were standing back about 10-15 feet from a painting, listening to a large cell phone-sized device telling them how to feel about the art. This caused a few alarming problems, as far as I could see.

1. People stood back, away from the art for long periods of time, blocking the flow of other viewers. This means that it was hard to get close to the painting, to move around the space, and to interact with the painting on my own terms.

2. People listening to the devices were not interacting with each other, though they were there with at least one other person. This meant that there wasn’t a discussion between individuals over the paintings, like “How do you feel about all these phalluses that are to make up a woman’s face?”

3. People were not interacting with the art.

I’m going to go off on this third one. My cousin and I had a discussion this past summer when I visited an art gallery in Houston. He has problems controlling himself in public, and has problems minding the signs of not touching the art. He said that he wanted to interact with the art – something that I agree is important – but our fundamental disagreement was how to interact with the art without touching it.

It’s hard for me to describe in words how I interact with art. I do a lot of thinking non-verbally, and my discussions with art often happen in colors and shapes, vs. words and sentences. Some art, like some people, I can have a conversation with (again, not verbal), where some art I’m more than happy to just walk by in a crowd.

Maybe that’s the thing about Picasso. I don’t feel like his art is something you can just stand back and view passively. While there might have been interesting factoids within the audio, I doubt that it did anything to enrich the personal experiences of the novice viewer. I believe that art has to be experienced on its own terms. While there is definitely something great about understanding the history and creation of a work of art, as well as the artist, there is the final experience, the viewer and the work itself, that is also vitally important. I could try to paint out my feelings on a work of art, and that might end up an interesting work in itself. It is part of the conversation. Another person, more gifted with words, could write an essay on their experience of the work. Yet another could compose music, or dance, or argue, or have a long talk over cocktails into the night.

We know the dangers of talking on our cell phones while driving. Our attention is so split, it’s as if we’re driving drunk.

Do we know the dangers of individual audio devices and viewing art? After last night, I’d prefer them to be thrown in a recycled technology heap never tobe seen again. I believe they’re fundamentally bad for art, and bad for humanity.