The Reason We Cannot Experience Art Correctly in Public

This past week in class I was particularly struck by Sam’s comments, while discussing Jeffrey Shaw, that when a spectator views a painting at an art gallery or museum, is the two minutes they spend in front of it enough time to really experience it? Do those two minutes really constitute a “correct” experience? For me, the answer is no. However, I do not think it is necessarily the museum-goers fault all of the time. Of course the majority of the people who go to a place like the Museum of Modern Art do not care to really experience art. They pay all of that money to get into MoMA and then to do not even attempt to understand it. But, for those who really care, the way museums are set up make it difficult to really enjoy what you are viewing.

Ideally it would be nice to sit in front of a bench for you to view your favorite paintings, but the truth of the matter is that most spaces do not offer a place to sit. Standing for an hour to watch a painting does not exactly sound like a relaxing experience. I myself know that I can probably only stand stationary for about five to ten minutes. Also, when you stand in one place for too long, the security guards tend to get suspicious, because the average person does not really care that much. Also, most museums keep so much artwork in one particular room that you almost feel forced to look at everything quickly, because there is just too much to see in one condensed space.

However, I would say for me, the biggest reason that I do not experience artwork correctly in a public space like MoMA is because other people ruin it for me. When I was there a few months ago, I had planned to sit on the bench located directly in front of Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis.


I even tried to psyche myself up by watching this interview with him.

However, when I got to MoMA there were two women and a young boy sitting on the bench in front of the painting.  I sat down next to them, like I had planned, and just stared. The boy was taken to the museum because he was given an assignment in school, where he was instructed to draw a painting and write a short piece about it. His mother told him that he should choose Vir Heroicus Sublimis because it looked easy to draw. The two grown women began to laugh at how simplistic they thought Newman’s painting was. In the end, the little boy was unable to draw the painting because the zips proved to be more complicated to sketch out than originally perceived.

During this same time, MoMA also had small room where they were screening four D.W. Griffith shorts, which included A Corner in Wheat and The Musketeers of Pig Alley. This screening room was set up with four benches where spectators could sit and view the films in a fairly correct manner. However, anyone could walk in or out of the room at any given time. The museums goers would not only randomly walk into the screening space during the middle, but they would talk and pass stupid comments about why there is not any sound. Many spectators seemed to like the idea that they were experiencing early cinema for about a minute before they would lose interest and just get up and leave.

Incidents like this not only ruin my day, but my experience as well. In fact, after this, I have not gone back to any museum or gallery because I am tired of people with no appreciation for art.

– Danielle Mantione


3 Responses to “The Reason We Cannot Experience Art Correctly in Public”

  1. My trouble with the way that film is shown in museums is that there very really seems to be any indication as to when the piece is going to begin, end or how long it is going to be. In some cases, such information would be superfluous (or possibly defeat the purpose of the film) but for others, it’s important to watch from beginning to end in order to properly appreciate it.

    A few times, I have gone into a film room part of the way through, spent a couple of minutes realising that I cannot follow what is occurring since I arrived too late for the beginning, and then left feeling slightly embarrassed. As a result, I tend to avoid viewing film in museums unless I happen to have the chance to watch from the beginning, or if the start and end point are irrelevant.

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