(845) 246-6944 · info@ArtTimesJournal.com
RAYMOND J. STEINER
WHY IS IT that the same person who might hesitate to interrupt you while you were engrossed in a book, who would never be so rude as to begin talking to you during the performance of a philharmonic orchestra, will never think twice about bombarding you with questions and idle chatter while you are attempting to view an art exhibition? I rarely attend opening exhibitions precisely because the easy mix of conversation and viewing is taken for grantedno one really expects you to be looking at the art. A reception is a social affair and one is expected to bewellsocial. At best, Im not a very sociable guy but when I do want to mix with people, I rarely do so when there are pictures to look at. Since I must visit a great many art shows during a month, I tend to be somewhat jealous of my time and, when I show up at an art gallery or museum, I expect to look at art. I look at art for a reasonmost often to critique it, or to review it, or to learn more about it or, best of all, to simply enjoy it. In fact, the last two reasons Ive just noted are pretty much the same reason I read books or attend concerts. So how come I cant expect the same courtesies of silence when Im viewing art? Im spoiled, I know. When I attend press openings at, say, the Metropolitan Museum of Art for example, Ive grown used to the fact that no oneno onewill interrupt my train of thought. It is not only that other artwriters respect each others need for concentrationeven the museum staff stays out of ones way, never speaking to you unless you approach them. As professionals, all of them know that looking at art is just as demandingif not more demandingthan reading a book or listening to a concert. Unfortunately, one doesnt always find professionals at an art exhibitionreception or not. For more times than I am willing to recall, I have been startled out of my concentration by someone coming up behind me and asking "Well, whaddaya think?" or "Can I help you? If you have any questions, Im right here." If I were engrossed in a book, these same people might wait for me to close its coversor look upand if I were at a concert or opera, surely they would wait for intermission to barge in on my thoughts. Aside from courtesy, its really all a matter of education. Too many people simply do not know how to look at art. It is surprising (at least to me) how many think that reading about art is the same as looking at art. One reason art critics wield so much power is precisely because of this misconception. Many highly literate people assumewronglythat comprehending linear type is the same as comprehending color and form, or that explanation is the same as understanding. It is notas any artist (even illiterate ones) can tell you. No matter how glib the critic, if he knows what he is talking about, he has arrived at his glibness through considerable training in looking. And, at bottom, he can only tell you what he seeswhich is not the same as what you might see. Ultimately, if you really want to understand art, you must take the time to grasp it on its own terms. It takes as much effortand effort of a different kindto "read" a picture as it does to read a fine piece of literatureor to "hear" a sonata. So, consider yourself on noticeif you find me in a gallery, Im there to look at artnot to hear you talk. Artists deserve my total concentration; art takes my total concentrationnothing less. If you really want to talk, make an appointmentotherwise, just let me look.