Having perused many art galleries in my day, I have had the opportunity to not only view some great works of art, but also inadvertently witness the reactions to art that many individuals have. In fact, there have been occasions when I’ve spent far more time observing unwary museum-goers instead of focusing on the art that I came to see.
Many people seem to have found their way into the museum out of an obligatory sense to participate in a cultural experience but, unfortunately, do not necessarily have the tools to help them fully participate in that experience. I’ve often wondered why this is. Every adult there, presumably, has obtained an education, probably public, and were compulsorily exposed to some form of an art program. It would be reasonable to assume that they were given the tools to understand not only mimetic forms of art but the more abstract and even non-objective forms as well. However, the truth of the matter is that most art programs don’t cover how to observe and interpret the visual arts in as much of an in-depth a manner as, say, the schools cover mathematics or reading. Viewing art, particularly modern and post-modern art, is as much an exegetical experience as reading works of literature; however, the average 27.2 seconds most people spend on viewing a piece of art doesn’t lend itself to establishing a meaningful relationship with what the artist has created.
I think that many people don’t spend much time viewing modern and post-modern art for numerous reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that they simply may not know how to. People identify with what they can recognize–in art, this often means that naturalistic and representational works often win favor because the content is readily identifiable. Ask people what their favorite artists are and they’ll comeback with Monet, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Renoir etc. Colors that excite and objects or people that are well rendered are never out of favor *cough*Kincaide*cough* There is certainly nothing wrong with such work but it closes off a means of experiencing the world that can only be communicated via the means, methods, and materials that many post-modern artists utilize. It is akin to not reading any novel produced after, say, 1890. Yes, there was some fantastic literature produced prior to 1890, but a tremendous amount of significant work has been crafted afterwards as well.