Viewing Art

How do you look at art in a museum? In September, we posted a New York Times article on Facebook by Michael Kimmelman about how taking pictures in an art museum detracts from actually experiencing the collection ( This is an interesting article, and equally intriguing were the comments and responses that were posted about it online ( Read through the quotes to see the public’s diverse opinions about how one should experience a museum.

Some of the comments on the Kimmelman article suggested that some people like the idea of snapping photos of everything because then they can go back to those photos later on and revisit their time in the museum. Other postings explained that certain individuals don’t like to use a camera because they want to see the art with their own eyes rather than through a lens.

In the book Looking at Art, author David Perkins discusses this topic in great detail. He examines how a person should spend time in front of each work of art, looking at all of its components and how they come together.

Here at the UMFA, anticipating the way our visitors view and experience our artwork is an important part of the exhibition planning process. We want to accommodate many different types of audiences with each exhibition, from the 4th grader on a field trip to the University student completing a class assignment. Oftentimes the artists that we exhibit also contemplate how their work will be viewed by the public, as well as the importance of the viewer’s understanding and interpretation of their work. Artist Trevor Paglen, for example, helps visitors see what they traditionally could not. As explained in a recent lecture, Paglen utilizes high-powered telescopes to photograph secret military “black sites.” These beautiful, mysterious landscapes have an almost impressionistic nature, and can be seen and interpreted in many ways by the viewer.

Another artist, Edgar Arceneaux, is known for creating works that foreground the role of perception in our understanding of reality. In his large-scale drawing Eyes Floating in the Abyss, Arceneaux included three pairs of eyes peering out from a dark, cloudy atmosphere, directly staring back at the viewer and evoking questions about the nature of vision and perception. Arceneaux will talk more about his work in a free lecture at the UMFA on November 5 at 7 pm.

It seems to me that viewing art in a museum is based on personal preferences and patience. I like to wander through the galleries, spending time contemplating why a piece might interest me more than its neighbor.. There is no right or wrong way to visit a museum. So, tell us, how do you view art?


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